With legalization probable, Humboldt remains uncertain about future of cannabis culture

By Patrick Kertz
Flapjack Chronicle

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.”


Dispensary dilemma

By Patrick Kertz
Flapjack Chronicle

Arcata’s largest medical marijuana dispensary is buzzing with patients waiting in line to choose their medicine on a Friday afternoon. This dispensary averages about 150 visits per day, and is open six days a week.

However, according to Bryan Willkomm, the supervisor at Humboldt Patient Resource Center (HPRC), the lack of dispensary locations makes it difficult for some patients to attain medicine in Humboldt County.

“Crescent City is a perfect example, ailing patients have to drive an hour and a half to obtain their medicine [which] is unfortunate,” Willkomm said.

A concern of patients and collective owners is getting medicine to patients in hospice care suffering from terminally ill conditions in the large and rural landscape of Humboldt County.

Mariellen Jurkovich, director of the HPRC, believes involvement with city officials is vital in creating agreeable and sensible guidelines for the county.

“The whole idea of collectives is to take care of patients,” Jurkovich said. “We’re not doing that by shortening the leash [of] how many we can have. I’m not saying we should have tons either, and I think them putting guidelines together is a good thing.”

For nearly 15 years the HPRC used the current marijuana legislation, Prop 215, to help those who need medical marijuana for their physical and mental ailments. According to Willkomm the dispensary worked with Humboldt State to assemble a program which currently allows the dispensary to give away a percentage of their medicine.

“We give away 30-35 percent,” Willkomm said. “Fluctuation unfortunately occurs with the passing of some of the ailing patients on the program.”

In January the Board of Supervisors for Humboldt County voted to ban any new medical marijuana dispensaries in the county. From December 2011 until December 2013 the Board of Supervisors enacted a moratorium, an authorized period of delay, on building new dispensaries in Humboldt County. City and county officials were warned by the federal government that they could face legal action or arrest if they decided to allow more permits for dispensaries.

Kevin Jodrey, cultivation director of Garberville Grass, is confident city officials will be cautious to rewrite any legislation until the issue becomes regulated by the state.

“What the real problem is with creating any ordinances is that unless there is a state regulation the federal government has the right to intercede with your politics,” Jodrey said. “I think the pace [of creating a new ordinance] will coincide with legalization.”

Willkomm acknowledges the indecision of the city officials and local voters to implement change.

“We only have 14,000 people in our town with three dispensaries,” Willkomm said. “I would understand their hesitation to expand without having empirical data to support more infrastructures around medical marijuana.”

This November three marijuana legalization initiatives may possibly be on the ballot: California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, Marijuana Control Legalization & Revenue Act, and Control Policy Reform Act. If passed each initiative could make marijuana legal to consume for recreational and medicinal purposes for adults over the age of 21 in the state.

Dr. Joshua Meisel, of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research at HSU, said there is also the community’s stance on legalization and expansion of dispensaries within Humboldt County.

“Local concerns regarding cannabis cultivation are somewhat different than those shared by the feds. There seems to be more concern in the Emerald Triangle with land use issues and environmental harms,” Meisel said. “Not just in terms of where a medical marijuana dispensary might be sited, but also the local environmental consequences of large scale cannabis cultivation.”

Until the federal law corresponds with state law, medical marijuana patients in Humboldt County will have limited options for purchasing medicine through a safe and legal environment at a dispensary.

“We have to think about the patients at the end of the day,” Willkomm said.