The air was humid with a microclimate of marijuana
June 10, 2014 5:17 PM   Subscribe

The Believer takes a longform look at Humboldt County's marijuana cultivation culture. Since the early ’70s, when growing began to replace a foundering timber industry in Humboldt, reliance on the marijuana economy has only increased. By 2012, it was thought that marijuana accounted for one billion of the county’s four-billion-dollar economy. During my stay, I don’t remember seeing a clothing store, bookstore, supermarket, bar, restaurant, supply shop, gas station, repair shop, pharmacy, or burrito shack that wasn’t patronized by someone with direct ties to a pot farm. You could smell the skunk, see the twenties. In parkivng lots, souped-up grower trucks growled by—mostly Toyotas, a status symbol in Humboldt. Somewhere along the way, that back-to-the-land exodus begun in San Francisco some forty years ago, when poor hippies left the city and went north, into the woods, in search of a simpler, cheaper life, their own piece of Arcadia on which food and intoxicants alike could be grown, to offer a thumbnail history—somewhere along the way, that movement morphed into a thriving industry.
posted by porn in the woods (18 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There is a town in southeastern British Columbia called Nelson. It is a fabulous place, and the region was a destination for young American men hoping to escape from the Vietnam war forty years ago.

It's also a bit of a strange place - Nelson is geographically isolated and, without any industry except a services sector and one small advanced manufacturing plant, no real apparent economic engine. But Nelson, unlike Nanaimo, a similar-sized city on Vancouver Island, is truly lovely and pleasant, even the downtown.

I used to work in government, in economic development, and on one of my travels to Nelson I asked a local rep of the Business Development Bank of Canada (the BDC, which basically provides easy government-back loans to small businesses as an ec dev tool) where all the money was coming from.

"Pot," was his one-word reply.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:41 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interesting read, but these articles are always surrounded by an air of unsubstantiated facts at best, total bullshit at worst.

Take this:

In recent years, many growers have reportedly left California for places like Wisconsin and North Carolina

O rly? Talk about [citation needed]. That makes little sense for any number of reasons, mostly notably, why wouldn't they continue to grow in California and just *sell* elsewhere? Sure it might be risky to ship across state lines, but that would seem to pale in comparison to moving a whole operation out of California's welcoming climate and culture to another part of the country.

I'm militantly anti-drug war, but I can't help but look skeptically at stuff like this that adheres so religiously to every cliche and popular idea about pot and its prohibition in the U.S.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:48 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yea, there's a lot of overly self confidently delivered eyerollium in there.

I have friends involved in this sort of stuff. A lot of it sounded pretty accurate, but some of the "omg gypsies doing tons of drugs!" and general attempted suspense/stakes/excitement building stuff was just writing to make it sound more exciting than it is.

One of the things he got right and a bone i'll throw him was that the people who go work down there transiently are usually smart, well educated, and generally interesting.
posted by emptythought at 6:16 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I was a single man I would move up there so fast and beg to be put to work on a weed farm. One of my hopes is that if Kansas ever legalizes SOME HOW then farmers 'round these parts may start growing. I suppose that could work except for the living in fucking Western Kansas part. I'm not even sure something like that would come to pass though; I could totally see Kansas being the only state, right in the middle of this freaking country, to not legalize weed.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 6:17 PM on June 10, 2014

AND be proud of it, I should have added!
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 6:17 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another point, to call BS on: the author mentions "bricks" and "bales"…

All in all, however, it's probably one of the better articles about the Humboldt scene.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 6:27 PM on June 10, 2014

That was a nice read. I would have liked a few more geographic details -- I was born and raised in McKinleyville, which is probably a little north and west of Ethan's farm -- but I appreciate why those details were left out.

The bit about San Francisco hippies moving north is true. I worked for a man who sold it all for a piece of land in Mendocino (the pygmy forest) upon which he and several others homesteaded -- they built up homes and gardens and everything from scratch. That guy's sons (one adopted) grew up into "hipnecks." I hadn't heard that term before reading the above, but it fits. Both worked on pot farms. Both have been in jail because of it.

Meanwhile, I've seen a bit of the other side of it. My father is a retired CHP officer and for several years he was the spotter/EMT in the CHP helicopter, which was the only (or one of the only) law enforcement aircraft in Northern California, and they'd join in on CAMP raids of wilderness marijuana farms. He was (and is still) an avid amateur photographer and got plenty of shots from the air, and a few from the ground on the one or two occasions he hiked in rather than flew.

Times certainly have changed.
posted by notyou at 6:39 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

drjimmy11: " why wouldn't they continue to grow in California and just *sell* elsewhere? "

They do, and one of the most risky/most profitable jobs is being a driver. Imagine the profit markup of 100lbs brought into South Dakota.
posted by wcfields at 6:45 PM on June 10, 2014

I haven't RTFA (yet), but I found this to be an interesting account from an East Bay punk who moved up to the neighboring county. The book used to be online in a first draft form online, but it looks like he took it down. Larry is kind of an abrasive curmudgeon, but he certainly had life experiences worth hearing about.
posted by lownote at 6:52 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Humboldt County, it isn't hippies vs. rednecks. The hippies are the rednecks.
posted by jonp72 at 7:17 PM on June 10, 2014

Headnecks if you want to flash out a bit of deep counterculture lingo.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:19 PM on June 10, 2014

I thought it was Hipnecks.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 8:31 PM on June 10, 2014

Either is acceptable.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:41 PM on June 10, 2014

Senate Bill 420 upheld the law

OF course it did.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:26 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just reading the words 'hipneck' and 'growling status-symbol Toyotas' screamed Nelson, BC to me.

One of my best friends grew up in New Denver, BC, a tiny remote village near there founded, as you might guess, by draft dodging Colorado folk during the war. He rants endlessly about starry eyed hippies who wash up in Nelson to plant trees and within a few years are pushing people off the roads in their oversized diesel pickups.
posted by mannequito at 12:57 AM on June 11, 2014

New Denver/Kaslo were once described to me as hotbeds of 'wife swappin', which I took to be a total fabrication until I read a work of fiction by a young author from the area which described the 'Slocan Shuffle' as being the act of awkwardness upon running into the couple you'd partied with the previous weekend. The place in BC that has seemed to me to be the most dependent on weed money has to have been Seyton Portage, because it's so hard to get to and has no discernable industry at all, and the people are just...cagey.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:20 AM on June 11, 2014

I'm up in Grass Valley, CA (har har) which has a thriving marijuana economy. Has for a long time, at least since the back-to-the-land movement in the 60s, but much more so now that California is semi-legal. The crazy thing is how it's largely invisible. Until harvest, trimming season. The Sacramento CBS station did a hilarious piece on "trimmigrants" in Nevada County that's worth watching. A lot of crusty hippies come in for a few weeks, and it's mostly chill other than being annoying to go shopping at the local organic grocery because of all the incompetent stoners bumbling around the granola aisles. A friend of a friend owns a business here and remarked how there's a lot of cash changing hands, not just from the pot growers but at the stores, bars, restaurants, etc. Trickle down.

OTOH I've passed through Eureka and Arcata a couple of times and I hate to say it, but those weed towns are pretty nasty. Eureka has always been kind of a shithole, what with the prison and the faded nautical industry. But Arcata could be a nice fun little town with the college. Instead downtown was awash in some really unpleasant looking folks, I think people who washed out the bottom of the pot industry. Made me think maybe having entirely a marijuana economy was not a good thing.

Just two random impressions of California weed culture, not sure what it's worth, but the article rang true to me. Personally I think the sooner we legalize marijuana entirely and turn it into legitimate production, the better off everyone will be. Except the folks making $400 letting people drive through their farms to avoid the cops. Well and the growers in general, the ones who seem to be avoiding a full legalization vote on the ballot in order to protect their business for a few more years.
posted by Nelson at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Arcata really used to be a fun little town. Things really changed when they built Pelican Bay and MMJ came on the scene.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

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