By Patrick Kertz
The unregulated cannabis agriculture in Humboldt County poses an abundance of problems to consumers and local community members. Resident’s concerns include an increase in crime due to illegal cultivation and how the price of real estate may be affected. Lifelong resident, and politician Chris Kerrigan believes a proactive approach within the community and sustainable methods of cannabis cultivation is pertinent to Humboldt County’s relationship with marijuana. Kerrigan, a candidate for District Four Board of Supervisors, believes legalization will ease the uncertainty of community members who are invested in the future of Humboldt.
“For 20 years we’ve had medical use of marijuana in place and the views are shifting rapidly as we see other communities and states moving forward with legalization,” Kerrigan said. ”It’s probably going to be inevitable that marijuana is going to be legal and it’s really important that Humboldt County has a good grip on what that means for the local economy.”
The quality of the cannabis varies from farmer to farmer, as does the growing methods which are passed on to unsuspecting users across the country. Agricultural standards are also unique to the farmer. Some farmers cultivate with care and respect to the land while others grow recklessly and destroy the environment. Alyson Martin, author and freelance journalist on cannabis issues, co-wrote a book on cannabis that focused on a range of topics including the legalization process in Colorado and Washington. Martin isn’t sure legalization will affect the production of cannabis in Humboldt.
“I know that people have been growing here for decades,” Martin said. “ I don’t necessarily think people are going to stop if the regulations say that they can’t grow. I think it’s going to continue to create headaches for regulators and law enforcement.”
Humboldt County does not collect taxes on over $500 million from the estimated 26% of residents involved in the cannabis industry according to Tony Silvaggio, a sociology professor at Humboldt State University. (cite/explain where numbers came from) and impairs a region with high unemployment rates. In 2010 voters in Humboldt unanimously rejected Prop 19, a ballot initiative that would have allowed local governments to regulate cannabis. Nushin Rashidian, author and journalist on drug policy, believes the policy should be specific to the area.
“It’s a reality that there’s a lot of cannabis being grown here, so it’s really all in the language of the initiative,” Rashidian said. “Are they going to ignore that, or try and fight against it, or will they try to work with what’s there?”
Humboldt County’s tourism lies amongst the trees of the Redwood forest and the secluded beaches of the coast. An estimated half million people visit parts of Redwood National Park. Would cannabis cultivation create a sustainable agricultural industry that also entices visitors to enjoy the exquisite environment of Northern California while enjoying a homegrown product? Convincing cannabis cultivators to conform to regulations is a tough sale, but the assurance of being a legal business could allow farmers who grow with integrity to harvest the most profits. The decline of the timber industry has allowed the illegal cultivation of cannabis to dominate the Humboldt County economy. The black market marijuana agriculture and nationwide distribution has allowed Humboldt County to maintain a lifestyle that rivals the wine industry of Napa Valley.
“I think there are some parallels to the wine industry,” Kerrigan said. “The sustainability aspect is going to be crucial in developing benefit back to the community.”