Note: The following opinion piece was submitted by Arcata resident Scott Davies.
Having just finished struggling through Netflix’s hyperbolic and sensational Murder Mountain, I offer the following thoughts.
Aside from the violence and loss at the heart of this series, the story of someone setting out on a quest for easy money is as old as time. The fact that such a venture did not end well is not, I submit, unique to Humboldt County.
The specific connection to the cannabis industry is a different story altogether, and one which resonates loudly here in Humboldt. Watching this series, I felt as though I was listening to the death-cries of the darkest corner of the cannabis industry lamenting its way into the past.
Perhaps that is the one kernel of value that we’re left with after going on this depressing trip: a reminder of the dysfunctional communities that can grow in an absence of regulation. In fact, the work so many of us are doing to forge a regulated cannabis industry in Humboldt County is an attempt, in part, to heal this wound.
It was disheartening to see the anger heaped on our Board of Supervisors for the collapse of the local cannabis industry. In truth, the pirate ship of easy profits sailed away with the passage of Prop. 64 and not with the efforts of our local politicians to provide a suitable berth.
If the Alderpoint residents interviewed for this series are any indicator, then altogether too many people were below decks while this particular ship was preparing to set sail. Additionally, in Murder Mountain’s warped perspective, no one is safe from the effects of shock-umentary editing. Even our law enforcement public servants, Sheriff Honsal and his department, tasked with a job of unmanageable scale, are thrown under the bus with a vigor normally reserved for illegal growers.
Ironically, we see the industry’s “founders” celebrating the genesis of a new movement birthed on the broken remains of the timber industry, only to turn Garberville into another company town propped up on a single industry that then suffers the same boom-and-bust cycle that hit towns like Scotia.
Netflix’s one-sided portrayal should act as a cautionary tale for any growers eager to jump at the chance for their 15 minutes of fame when the next pot show rolls through town. I’m reminded of Christopher Hitchens’ advice to “choose carefully your future regrets.”
If sunlight is truly the best disinfectant, then Netfilx’s story seems to act more as a wet blanket thrown over the dankest corners of our county. Let’s be honest: Unregulated cannabis cultivation provided an opportunity for people who, for a variety of reasons, do not possess the requisite skills (or desire) to succeed in a normal business environment, to earn wages far beyond any opportunity what would otherwise be open to them. Many of these people had more money than sense, and made life choices accordingly.
The industry transformation now underway has raised the competitive bar far beyond the ability or desire of these cultivators to compete, so they are going away, or being further marginalized. While this process is messy and painful, and is impacting economies across Humboldt, there was never going to be a path forward that didn’t include these painful realignments.
So what, then? All is not doom and gloom, fellow citizens! Aside from the fact that our county boasts some of the best cultivators in the world, with top-shelf business skills and a deep commitment to their communities, the story that Netflix elected not to tell is of hundreds of new sustainable living-wage jobs in clean, compliant facilities, tens of millions of dollars being invested in local infrastructure, and reduced traffic on our fragile rural roads.
There are more and more jobs available for industry workers. While they are not get-rich-quick trim gigs, they are sustainable, living-wage positions that provide more stability for employees and therefore confer benefits more widely across our communities. Trimmigrants take their wages out of Humboldt County; I prefer to see that money stay home and support local families.
Whether you’re in the cannabis industry or not is irrelevant to the goal of community development and the health of our environment. If Murder Mountain accomplishes anything, it’s to remind us that cannabis is woven so deeply into the fabric of our community that, in order to address some of the problems we face, we have to bring the industry under control.
While I acknowledge that this process has been a mixed bag, and that there have been serious economic consequences, Murder Mountain reminds us that there are sometimes steep costs outside of economic impacts that we must also pay attention to.
Scott Davies has been in the cannabis industry in Humboldt County for 30 years. He is the co-founder of Humboldt Legends and executive committee chair on the board of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance.