County line’s visible from miles away, thanks to growsBy Charley Custer
I live in the heart of the Southern Humboldt potlands. Things are happening all around me, in one of the oldest and most stable neighborhoods down here, of which our supervisors are unaware. Homesteads are rolling over rapidly. Forty-acre parcels with little water, no utilities and few amenities are selling for close to $1 million. The county doesn’t know about this wild price inflation, because purchase prices out of whack with historic values aren’t reported, to keep taxes on the property low.
Then the steep, unwatered parcels get terraced by excavators and bulldozers, to create artificial flats for industrial pot production. Truckloads, even convoys, of rock and gravel and super-soil thunder up and down many miles of dirt roads into the mountains. Where water will come from is anyone’s guess, though it’s certain to be from somewhere illegal — but no matter. After all, the grading’s illegal. The tax fraud’s illegal. The water shipping’s illegal. The pot sales will be illegal. But the county sees everything coming up roses, because everyone, now including the county and our supervisors’ re-election committees, everyone is making money. Our leadership seems to take pride in making the most of boom and bust, as if it’s something new.
The question the county’s chosen not to ask is, how much boom can we take before the bust? How much damage can these day-trippers do while buying and wrecking properties paid for with a single year’s profit? How many more of these despoilers do we want to flag into our hills and agricultural lands before the other shoe drops?
They’re piling into Humboldt thanks to our unique pot regulation, perfected over the last half-century, amounting to no regulation at all. New county rules allow for cannabis grows up to four times larger than state limits, while smaller grows are unlikely to face criminal penalties. So Humboldt’s invitation to short-term profits from long-term degradation has been embraced by fast-money seekers from near and far. Our sky-high grow limits have been broadcast to the world, quite simply, as no limits at all.
Consider what our neighboring counties are doing in contrast to Humboldt. In Trinity County, a famously wide-open weed frontier until lately, backlashes against over-the-top practices in town after town and race after race are actually driving growers out of the county — into Humboldt. In Mendocino County, after the federal shutdown of that county’s 99-plant experiment, strictly enforced limits of 25 plants per parcel have resulted in smaller footprints broadly distributed across more intact landscapes. Two men who work in rural Humboldt and Mendocino have told me our county line is visible from miles away across eastern Humboldt, thanks to the gigantic grows rooted there at the border, spreading north.
The argument is sometimes made that equating sheer size with destructiveness is simplistic. It’s said that industrial grows located miles from any services off dodgy roads up mountainsides can be “sustainable,” that they’re even better for the environment than old-school hippies’ homestead grows. Well, it’s true that we could build sustainable moon bases, too, but we don’t: It’s too expensive and resource-intensive. The same’s true for theoretically eco-groovy factories located absurdly far from the resources they use.
There’s a lawsuit against Humboldt’s new cannabis regulations, essentially charging that the county ignores its policies’ environmental effects. This lawsuit calls for the county to make mid-course corrections to a regulatory scheme that, with good intentions, has had the terrible effect of multiplying the worst behaviors of our worst cannabis industrialists. This wasn’t intended; it should be corrected.
Reducing permissible footprints, funding a sheriff’s task force, and proving with enforcement that lower limits are real ones will send a needed message to the world, while stopping the worst effects of short-term thinking with long-term consequences. Because all too soon, the backwoods factories currently incentivized will go bust like so many gyppo mills.
By far the easiest, most straightforward way to regulate away the worst effects of pot production is to limit and disperse it in rural areas, not to industrialize it. Those growing outlandishly big deserve all the trouble they’re asking for, whether their truckloads are organic or not. At the very beginning of our county’s regulatory regime, the challenge is to open communications between the rural county and the courthouse, to awaken belief in actual regulations on the horizon.
We can take this moment to learn from the unintended effects of our good intentions, and assure that we make fewer mistakes over time. But will we? Ask your supervisors.
Charley Custer resides in Redway, and is a longtime member of HuMMAP (Humboldt/Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Project) and HumCPR (Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights).