It is with some sadness I share that I’ve left Humboldt.
After 43 years in the area, I moved to SoCal to serve as Grow Manager for Glass House Farms. I’ll be working on exciting collaborations in the area of genetics and am excited to farm at scale.
We are maintaining our home in Humboldt and will frequent the area when possible. Regrettably, I am putting The Cannabis Conversation on hold for now as I get adjusted to a new pace of life and get settled into my new role.
In this farewell piece, I will share my experiences in writing this column and farming cannabis in Humboldt. I will also offer a few predictions regarding the industry.
The exposure the Lost Coast Outpost gave me was amazing. While my intent was simply to share ideas and create dialogue and spirited debate, the column put me in touch with some really awesome people. Along the way, I was able to help multiple farms in the Emerald Triangle with pro-bono consulting and made some really meaningful industry connections as well.
While my voice is just one of many thousands emanating from the cannabis industry, it was a joy and a pleasure receiving feedback, commentary, DMs and LinkedIn connections resulting from my work.
While many of my beliefs are unpopular among cultivators, I simply reflect on what I am seeing, hearing and experiencing as a grower in the world’s most competitive cannabis market. And while larger operations are increasingly normal, it’s still staggering to see the efficiency and economies of scale now deployed within the space.
With extensive capital outlays, operations are able to tool up, automate and produce products at a fraction of the cost of less efficient operators. I’ve seen a boatload of growing and finished flower over the past weeks and the quality from these greenhouse operations is good – in many cases, far better than mountain-grown sun-scorched, bronzing and foxtailing deps.
In fact, I’ve seen many Instagram posts recently of open-air, Triangle-grown deps that were cooking and bronzing with sucked-up, scorched pistils. No bueno. Presumably, people post things they are proud of … surprises me every single time I see this, and reminds me of my frustration as a hill grower with limited environmental controls.
While my heart will always be with my brethren in Humboldt and the Triangle more broadly, not much will be left of the industry there soon. Farms are laying off employees, lowering wages, getting further behind on bills and cutting corners with cultivation practices to control costs. Unfortunately, growing can become a downward spiral. Without sufficient labor or high-end inputs, quality suffers, offer prices drop, sales stagnate and things spiral out of control – quickly.
I admire the love, dedication, commitment and sense of community espoused by the Humboldt cannabis community. It’s hard watching people struggle, and I pray the market opens up in time to allow for the preservation of our history and heritage. Ethical farmers are among the kindest, most generous folks I’ve met and my sincerest hope is for continued prosperity for all who play by the rules.
Unfortunately, larger interests are slowing down the push for national legalization. A recent publication noted that pharmaceutical companies, known for large political contributions, lose significant value with each legalization event. As consumers move from dangerous narcotics to cannabis consumption for medical relief, stock values weaken, as do drug sales. Big pharma largely opposes cannabis (until they buy their way into a national market) and that is one reason political will to open up cannabis markets has lagged. Other issues, such as re-election risk, social equity inclusion, misinterpreted social externalities and concerns around high THC products and youth consumption also hinder progress.
While there is some renewed chatter about interstate commerce after a recent application of the dormant commerce clause in relation to medicinal cannabis sales, it seems that a functional national market is still a way off. With more competition from other states, permitted farms are having a harder time diverting products to the illicit market, which has been the lifeblood of most “legal” farms for years.
While some farms plan to lay fallow next season, hoping things shake loose nationally, elevated property payments and the increasing cost of living won’t allow farms to be sidelined for long. Money simply goes away too quickly. While some will dig in and spend savings to fight it out, I fear an even more pronounced rush to the exits after this season, further depressing property values and complicating a successful transition plan for most family farms.
In hindsight, I suppose we should have known better, that California, a state known for an industrial ag complex would throw family farms under the bus. After an entirely disingenuous road show garnering NorCal votes for legalization – things changed, quickly! We asked to be treated like agriculture and to be taxed, and we got both.
As I look to the future I see sun-grown greenhouse flower dominating the smokeable flower market. The large multi-state operators are heavily reliant on indoor production and I see that becoming increasingly problematic, not only from a production cost standpoint but also from an environmental one in a federal context with potential EPA involvement.
The MSO strategy of operating in the limited license states or catching states as they transition from medical to rec may make sense in today’s market, with relatively elevated prices for indoor flower in some place, but I see their business models collapsing over time. High-quality sun-grown greenhouse flower produced for $100-$150 a pound will ultimately displace most indoor and bodes well for California cannabis operations with scale and efficiency.
My experience farming in Humboldt was a mixed bag. Being immersed in the natural beauty of our mountainous regions was a life-changing experience I’ll never forget. Precious encounters with wildlife, working through the radical weather swings throughout the growing season, pushing my body to the limit, and connecting with nature and the higher purpose of saving and improving lives was magical.
Witnessing firsthand the blatant hypocrisy and lawlessness of many licensed farms was troubling. Far from the upstanding storyline around environmental stewardship and ethical operation, I never once worked on a farm in Humboldt that played by the rules. Illegal surface water diversion, product diversion, tax evasion, environmental abuses and worker abuses continue to plague the industry and destroy its reputation. Why do you think so few people care that the industry is crumbling? Why do so many localities ban cannabis activity?
A fair number of citizens recognize this and will never support an industry with so many skeletons in the closet. It’s a shame, too. Some farms are ethical in business and care for the environment, for community and for making the world a better place. Unfortunately, they are often tarnished by money-hungry or cash-strapped operators who break the law, burn plastics, bury garbage onsite, mask diesel spills with excavation, pollute the night sky and drain the creeks, springs and rivers, while talking about loving Humboldt all the while. I’ve seen a lot of repulsive behavior among licensed cultivators and find it ironic that such “earth-loving” folks would argue against generator regulations, surface water restrictions, environmental compliance and regulatory oversight.
My sincerest hope is that the challenging market conditions will drive the bad actors out of Humboldt once and for all. I hope for a national marketplace soon so that kind, loving, conscious farmers can shine brightly and tell their stories to the world.
I hope that Humboldt, and the Emerald Triangle more broadly, can diversify their economies and survive what promises to be a very challenging near-term disruption. Property values are coming down, people are being laid off, and I fear economic desperation will further exacerbate violent crime in the region. I hope that families can remain in the area they call home and sincerely hope that cannabis farmers can find a lasting foothold in the business they love.
It is with sadness that I say farewell for now. My heart is with you always Humboldt, and I look forward to gracing your shores once again.
Love and prosperity,