Outlaw weed comes into the light
The quaint town plaza here is lined with locally owned stores, their names and products recalling the post-Flower Power migration from San Francisco decades ago: Moonrise Herbs, Heart Bead, Hemp Recycled Solutions.
The shops trade largely in cash with customers who are paid in cash — the marijuana growers, distributors and “trimmigrants,” seasonal workers who cut back the flowering plants for market each autumn. But business is stalling as marijuana’s dark cash economy comes into the light, pushed by the state’s legalization of the drug earlier this year.
Humboldt County, traditionally shorthand for outlaw culture and the great dope it produces, is facing a harsh reckoning. Every trait that made this strip along California’s wild northwest coast the best place in the world to grow pot is now working against its future as a producer in the state’s $7 billion-a-year marijuana market.
A massive industry never before regulated is being tamed by laws and taxation, characteristically extensive in this state. Nowhere is this process upending a culture and economy more than here in Humboldt, where tens of thousands of people who have been breaking the law for years are being asked to hire accountants, tax lawyers and declare themselves to a government they have famously distrusted.
“We’re at that moment in the movie ‘Thelma and Louise’ when they have driven the car off the cliff,” said Scott Greacen, a longtime Humboldt resident and environmentalist who is both a supporter and critic of the marijuana trade. “We’re just waiting for the impact.”
Fewer than 1 in 10 of the county’s estimated 12,500 marijuana farmers are likely to make it in the legal trade. Growers who have anticipated legalization are preparing for a shift from badlands to boutique, a cultural transformation they hope will make this county a destination to visit for its rich history, artisanal