Paint the town green!

I understand that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, only partially de-criminalized at the state level, and entirely anathema at the local city government level.  But what if it wasn’t?  What would that look like?

In his/her comment on my branding post, Snickerdoodles wrote:

The subtext for this branding project (and what was whispered between friends involved) is that the push for branding Humboldt as a great place for Beef and Cheese is a direct assault on our rep as the weed capital of the western world. The Economic Dev. folks deplore the fact that we’re known for our weed. And yes, i agree that it’s a disservice to everything else our area has to offer — but why deny the power of our strongest brand, and instead seek to dilute it? Doesn’t make economic sense. Embrace the brand, do like the Times Standard does and stick a pot leaf front and center every time you want to sell out the rack …

So, okay, there won’t be any useful leadership from our currently-elected representatives.  You know what that reminds me of?  Everything that’s ever happened in the West.

The history of the American west – and especially this part of the American west – is chock-full of redemptive narratives of individuals standing up to larger interests who seek to subjugate them for a reason.  Ever since John Ledyard first set foot on the West Coast (look it up; I promise you you’ll like what you find), and Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to get the whole exploitative, destructive ball of wax rolling, this has been the place where resources are identified, industries are established and well-intentioned individuals lose out to greedier interests.

We celebrate gunslingers out here because they answered a pressing psychic need for justice in the face of injustice.  Joaquin Murrieta, one of the first California gunslingers, was popular not because he was a good guy, but because those hunting him down were even worse.  Over time, the legends surrounding dangerous activists like Murrieta grew, both in California and around the world.  And those legends were celebrated almost everywhere else because the mythology of the lone gunman standing up against organized injustice resonates with people everywhere.  As Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor so brilliantly revealed in one of the best westerns ever to come out of Hollywood, when it comes to dividing up the economic pie, your elected representatives are rarely looking out for you.  The film was a comedy, but the reality is pretty tragic.  You citizens are either going to stand up for your own interests, or you’re going to watch the bust that follows the boom.  Again.

But before you can stand up for your own interests, you have to have some sense of what is in your own best interests.  As Karl Marx insightfully pointed out in his discussion of “false consciousness,” pretty much all of the institutional structures in a capitalist economy are designed to mislead you and individuals like you about what is in your own best interests, so when you do agitate, you’re more likely to agitate against your own interests without even knowing that that’s what you’re doing.    After all, you know now that clear-cutting the forests and overfishing the oceans weren’t in your best interests, but the environmentalists who tried to point that out were demonized and driven up into the trees with the spotted owls until it was too late to save any of the jobs.   Or the owls.  Or the big trees.  You’re headed down that path again, and just like the city council meeting scene below, it looks like you’re on track to ignore what’s in your best interests again.

When the townsfolk of Rock Ridge are gifted with the help they need, they want to send it back.  That’s false consciousness at work.  It may not be possible to avoid “false consciousness” entirely, but what will help immensely is if you can figure out what you want.   So what do you want?

My first question is:  What is it that local civic leaders and city government officials could reasonably be expected to do?  Could they be prodded into establishing a local framework for the medical marijuana or decriminalized marijuana economy?  Is there something to be done, even if they don’t want to help?  Could we encourage the creation of local co-ops, such as the ones that encourage traditional farming methods in developing countries?

My favorite coffee comes from Ethiopia, by way of the Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Fort Bragg – and I feel pretty good about paying top dollar for it, in part because I believe Paul Katzeff when he tells me that he’s committed to fair trade practices that encourage quality and sustainability.  The coffee kicks ass, too.

If not co-ops, is there some better option for protecting the only remaining industry that brings significant economic resources into the Emerald Triangle counties?  If, as Snickerdoodles claims, the elected representation is actively working against that industry, what could be accomplished without their help?

I know one obstacle to organizing in this way is the culture of secrecy that has (necessarily) festered within this underground economy.   But if this deeply-embedded suspicion continues, places willing to operate more openly (like Oaksterdam), are in line to usurp places like the Emerald Triangle as a center for weed cultivation and expertise.  And because they were willing to lower their guard just a little, to take a little risk, to act in their own best interests, they’ve advanced and prospered in the current climate while all of us up here sit on our hands.  Oakland, I’ll remind you, was hardly the model of an enlightened city.  But they’re miles ahead of us now, and a lot better off than they were before they embraced what others rejected; and I promise you, if we continue to scorn our hard-earned brand, legalization will allow the guys running Oaksterdam to take it from us, say thank you very much suckers, and make a fortune in the process.  And that could be in as little as nine months, in case anyone is counting.  And you should be.

My second big question is:  What are the desired objectives for civic or city leadership?  What is it that would preserve what we like about the current culture, that we would want to protect if the larger apparatuses of state and federal government gave way to public demands for de-criminalization, taxation or outright legalization?  Now is the time to plan, not when the law changes around you and it’s too late.

It seems to me that the first order of business would be some kind of structure that would protect and encourage the good practices that already exist, without encouraging an incursion of outsiders bringing bad practices.

You already know the bad.  Diesel spills, Mexican drug cartels, absentee growers or one-timers, more destruction of the redwood forest.  The good would include things like:  environmental sustainability, small-scale economic development, protection and promotion of local control, protection and promotion of the local brand, etc.  Unfortunately, those sorts of things might require some level of planning and regulation.   They certainly won’t just emerge organically, without some kind of motivated effort to bring them about.  As I said, this will require more trust and openness in the gunslinger community.  A huge obstacle to overcome, I know, but I’m hoping that self-preservation will count for something up here.

In my earlier post on the DEA crackdown of medical marijuana testing agencies in Colorado, I skimmed over the opportunity that testing offers.   Michael Lee, the owner of Colorado Springs-based testing faciilty Genovations explained:

“Sixty-eight percent of all weed on the shelf right now is not appropriate for human consumption…I can test for molds, I can test for all these different pesticides. The funny thing is, the DEA doesn’t want me to test for them.”

I guess the question is, do we?  Any attempt to claim the mantle of superiority – promoting the brand – might require actually proving it in some appropriately objective manner, and I’m not sure that the grower community would embrace that.  Would this be an opportunity for HSU to step in and become a more integral part of the existing social and economic structure of the county?  Could any federally-funded university actually do that without risking their reputation?  Or even their continued existence?  Is there some other trusted entity out there that could do the same, or might this even be an opportunity to pull from those HSU grads looking for a reason to stay, for the community to seed a tech-centered arm of the marijuana industry?

Back to point about gunslingers organizing in the face of elected opposition.  In the wake of the recent efforts to re-brand Humboldt as the difficult-to-reach, cheese-eating, basket-carrying center of the north coast, I have a pretty good idea of the elected opposition, but where are the gunslingers?  Are the good citizens of the Emerald Triangle really going to let Oaksterdam activists pick your pockets and leave you with yet another broken industry?  Kym mentioned a co-op effort in Mendo a little while back, but I’ve heard nothing about that, and certainly nothing like it in Humboldt county.    Maybe it has to start with the few medical marijuana dispensaries scattered up and down the coast, since they’re the only entities who can operate out in the light of day, but until the growers who actually profit from that trade are willing to do something beyond conspicuously consuming, I worry for you poor folks.


14 Responses to “Paint the town green!”

  1. 1 Kym
    February 20, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I like your idea of testing the Humboldt brand of marijuana. Growers would have to prove it was grown in Humboldt (ie have a piece of local property?) and have it tested to have the green Emerald Triangle put on their pot. It would be wonderful if the local dispensaries sold only branded Emerald Triangle weed.

    • February 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm

      Feel free to spread the word. I can’t believe no one has tried something like that lately. I watched the (kinda-sorta) legalization of marijuana sweep across Southern California over the past few years, and that rapid commercial growth really seemed to change the cultural attitudes down there. It doesn’t look like the growth of the retail trade down south has had as much impact up here, though. I guess it’s difficult to bring people out of the shadows when they’ve been cultivating that shadow life for so long.

  2. 3 Kathy
    February 20, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Testing would create a whole new conversation and category. But is seems like the Feds or the Big Corps, or the law makers are like giants in the hills who eat the villagers whenever they feel like it. The deck is stacked and it is the deck that will bring the ruin of us or not.

  3. February 20, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Great ideas.
    I’m thinking we need a straight up special interest group.
    Goal: Develop and protect a sustainable local industry based on the legal production of Cannabis.
    I mean, realistically that is how things happen in this country, right? We need to raise money, and sponsor legislation, donate to campaigns. Throw our weight around! Step up! Represent!
    Who will listen? Who will act?
    I keep having the same conversation over and over again. “Humboldt is doomed.” It doesn’t have to be that way.

    Who stands to gain?
    Humboldt local businesses
    Grow related industry, like hydroponics shops, and manufacturers and suppliers

    I’m ready to start this thing. Who is in?

    • February 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      I applaud your action, and I wish you well. I also agree with you that what you’re proposing is entirely realistic. In a very short amount of time, the Oaksterdam guys have been able to put together a retail-centric advocacy group, allowing them to bring their version of legalization up for a vote while contributing to the well-being of their home in Oakland and lining their own pockets; meanwhile, the actual producers of their product sit on their hands and watch it happen. If they can do it, you can do it. If you’re a grower, talk to the other growers you know. If you know people on the retail end, try to get their support. There’s an election coming up, so while you don’t want to sink anyone’s prospects, this might be a good time to consider contributing to candidates who favor your position. (And, by the way, you might want to take a look at just how the Oaksterdam guys managed to do what they did.)

      • 7 Mr. Nice
        February 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm

        well-being of their home in Oakland and lining their own pockets; meanwhile, the actual producers of their product sit on their hands and watch it happen.

        Uhh, The Town grows weed dude. Especially those clubs. It ain’t like the Humboldt Fairy comes and blesses those folks. They don’t need us for shit. Go to one of those spots, it’s all indoor grown within a 25-mile radius.

        Chinatown especially is off the chain busting out with grow ops. That is some Tong-mandated game they got going. The fortune cookie factory? The print shop? They are pushing out mad elbows out those spots and I don’t think it’s all going to Wah Ching street hustle, some of that has gotta be club quality. It’s like the Golden Dragon shit all over again.

      • February 25, 2010 at 12:16 pm

        Sure, and I saw plenty of grow houses while I was in Southern California, too; in fact, I’m sure every big market produces its own indoor product, and will continue to do so. Legalization would only increase that trend. That doesn’t mean that local growers should ignore the opportunities in big metro areas like SF and LA.

        All of the dispensary people I spoke with down south were envious when I told them I was heading up here to live. This location holds appeal, even if only in a mythical way. And even though most of the product sold in those dispensaries in Southern California was probably coming from someone’s retrofitted garage in San Dimas, I know the budtenders and dispensary operators see the Emerald Triangle product as inherently superior to the house weed they sell, and I know they would carry it and advertise that fact if they could get it on a regular basis. And as much weed is grown up here, it could never satisfy the enormous demand that exists just in the L.A. area. I don’t know SF that well, but the demand would have to be comparable, and just based upon the historical ties that exist between that city and this area, I can’t imagine they don’t share at least the romanticized view of Emerald Triangle weed that I witnessed down south.

        I’m not saying that everything grown up here would sell down there, or that everything grown up here is automatically better than what might be growing in a garage in San Dimas. And transportation is always a limiting factor. I’m just saying that I don’t think the established grower community up here is helping itself by keeping to the shadows while newcomers to the business shape the future of the industry.

      • 9 Mr. Nice
        February 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

        I was speaking on Oaksterdam. It’s not like their little MMJ market affects Humboldt.

        I know of some SoCal dispensary that was all “Home of the x”… I forget what x was, but it was some strain from Mendocino County that they got product straight from the source. They tried to charge $70 like it was the best thing ever. I think it was Purple Maui or some shit like that.

        I agree with you that Humboldt could market itself. Some of these strains just don’t grow anywhere else nearly the same. It’s all about latitude and climate. That same climate that makes Titlow Hill perfect for the grape farming is perfect for some designer megabud Maui strains.

      • February 25, 2010 at 4:07 pm

        I was speaking on Oaksterdam. It’s not like their little MMJ market affects Humboldt.

        Well, you’re right about that. I’m picking on those guys because they seem to have done everything right, basically pulling a goldmine out of a ghetto. The way they managed to capitalize on their city cred – by working effectively within the local political/social/business climate, setting up a self-replicating system, marketing a recognizable brand – is worthy of emulation. But, then, the real genius move was in springboarding off of those achievements to launch an effective political campaign. If they can get their proposition approved by voters this fall, they should be on the cover of every business magazine on the newstands.

  4. 11 Mr. Nice
    February 25, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Well, you’re right about that. I’m picking on those guys because they seem to have done everything right, basically pulling a goldmine out of a ghetto.

    Nah blood, North Oakland has never been “ghetto…” I guess that depends what you think qualifies as ghetto…

    In the years leading up to the dot com bust, North Side was the shit. There was a gang of fiber optic bullshit and South Indian visa folks running parts. All the hoodlums learned computer shit… mostly to make beats… but uh…

    They do have a gangs supposedly. OPD is tryna put out a gang injunction where they identify all these folks as “Doe 1” and “Doe 24” and shit so they don’t have to notify them. It’s all because that area is doing good and you got a bunch of black and southeast asian hustlers being targeted by the police for some illegal search action. If they get that going it’s gonna be like wearing a 510 hat, having a grill, being tatted up, and holding an ounce is gonna be a crime unless you happen to be white.

    That area has long been folks selling weed, acid, coffee, and beer. Then Berkeley and Emeryville have a bunch of restaurants when you get the munchies. Legalizing weed makes sense for that area because that would give all those Doe dudes steady jobs at something they are already good at. Just having the clubs there made it so folks were like oh shit, better grow some weed and sell it to the club instead of hustling sacks. No doubt that is a blessing to the community. Too bad Oakland toned it down to 4 clubs instead of mad random spots. Legal weed would open up some hotdog stand weed sales there.

    • February 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm

      C’mon – “pulling a goldmine out of a ghetto” – that’s a pretty phrase. I should at least get points for alliteration. Besides, now you’re just nitpicking. (And watch me refrain from mentioning the Black Panthers.)

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