Cannabis and the Environment: Whats the intent, Scapegoating Farmers?

IMG_0171Humboldt County has been touted as the epicenter for growing cannabis and this pile of potting soil is most likely a product of cannabis agriculture. It is a symbol of the mostly invisible cannabis industry that has taken root in this region. When seen from this angle one can induce that this soil has been discarded after the original owner was done with it. After the cannabis was harvested this soil was discarded – left for others, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, seen as garbage by the original owners and cannabis growers.

Anyone from backyard gardeners to farmers knows that soil – fertile soil at that – is a resource that should not be discarded. Soil is to be tilled, composted, amended, and re-used. Farmers don’t dig up their fields, dump it somewhere indiscriminate, and then purchase more. This would be tedious, time consuming, expensive, and irrational. But why would cannabis growers practice this vary irrational method? Could it be due to the illegal, high profit, indoor, and misinformed nature of the industry? Whatever the cause, this is the practice that is symbolized and signified by the images we see above.

When we analyze this practice from an environmentalist perspective we begin to see deeper meaning in these images. Importing soil is energy intensive – physically, economically, and environmentally. Its production and transportation depletes natural resources such as petro-fuel from trucking; and depletes pumice, loam, perlite and peat moss from mining. When soil is improperly discarded, excess fertilizer run-off can encourage invasive plant growth, pollute waterways, and add to oceanic dead zones. Critics have mentioned that most soils from illicit cannabis grows are discarded in landfills and completely wasted – not to mention this takes space in landfills that could be used for non-recyclable material.

Taking all this into account we can see a narrative emerge which shows an industry – which some argue started with environmentalism as an ideal – that’s practices are wasteful at best and environmentally devastating at worst. These images symbolize the environmentally harmful and wasteful practices of Humboldt County’s illicit cannabis industry. The following will delve deeper into this analysis with additional images and theoretical representations.     


Just taking the bus in Humboldt County subjects would-be-customers to “grow shop” advertising. One might board a bus wrapped in a “grow shop” mural while a truck full of potting soil storms by. Posters and billboards extort low prices, high yields, and expert advice. But an acculturated Humboldt resident might not notice the prevalence and accompanying success of these “grow shops.” These legal “garden centers,” “grow shops,” and “hydroponic stores” have been around the area since the early 80’s and have become a part of the community. They supply the illegal cannabis industry with equipment, fertilizer, medium, pesticides, advice, and more. Whole weeks are devoted to their promotion like Humboldt Green Week with music, free give-aways, and attractive girls luring would be growers into the party that is the cannabis industry.IMG_0214

“Grow shops” have also become an established part of the community – with well-advertised location all along highway 101 in Humboldt County. “Throw a rock and you’re bound to hit one” locals expound. “Grow shops” sponsor community events, sports teams, and parties for businessmen, coaches, professors, elected officials, and so on. They give back to the community in many ways and expel capitalist business community morals. Incorporating, outsourcing, and advertising – they provide legal moneys to a community in need of legal employment. Even publicly contracted Humboldt Transit Authority (HTA) has taken “grow shop” money – allowing one of their busses to be wrapped in A Fertile World mural (very attractive I must say – image left). These “grow shops” and accompanying soil and fertilizer companies solely intend to rationally increase profits, lower expenses, attract customers and hash-out a market share. This is their manifest function.

Via Talcott Parsons and structural functionalism – a manifest function (motive) is the intended, conscious, and deliberate reasons for action. In the case of “grow shops,” it’s to make money. Latent functions are unintended and unconscious results of action by an individual, group, or institution. In the case of “grow shops,” a latent function of their action (along with growers) is the aforementioned environmentally harmful and wasteful practices of Humboldt County’s illicit cannabis industry. Much like shampoo bottle instructions – these “grow shops” advice customers to use much more than is needed; discard soil when done, and buy a fertilizer, pesticide, and treatment for every imaginable need (also much like vitamin companies). Most likely a sales ploy, the unintended latent consequence of this strategy is the environmental degradation of Humboldt County and the world. As was mentioned before, the following of “grow shop” advice leads to irrational agriculture practices by mis-informed cannabis growers. The products “grow shops” sell often leave a large carbon footprint upon our county, state, country, and world.

Along with faulty advice, “grow shops” – following the big box retail model – have come to ship to, and import from, all around the world (no joke). FoxFarm potting soil – aka dirt – is shipped by truck to New York (image – above) where it is sold for $25 a bag. This is not mentioning that soil and fertilizer companies import peat moss, coco fiber, and perlite from India. The fabrication of “grow lights” (image – above) is outsourced to China and fertilizer is imported from Holland. The magnitude of waste from this industry is amazing and the deeper one digs the worse it gets. Although many corporations in the U.S. follow similar practices – it does not rationalize the latent harm to our environment which is the status-quo of current “grow shop” function.

How did all this come to be? All this waste and environmental harm associated with growing cannabis… Could it be the illegality and subsequent high profits? Maybe a lack of knowledge and “live in the moment” ideologies that’s associated with illegal activities? After all, cannabis is a plant, so why is there a separate store for growing cannabis? Why don’t cannabis growers shop at their local nursery or landscape supply center like most gardeners (which are most liking guilty of the same waste and harm)? These are all questions that are raised and potential areas for further research. One fact that has been revealed through this visual sociological exercise is the waste and environmental harm of Northern California’s cannabis industry – Humboldt County business men, growers and “grow shops” alike.


3 responses to “Cannabis and the Environment: Whats the intent, Scapegoating Farmers?

  1. Real farmers don’t buy dirt.


  2. Pingback: The Underground Review | The Humboldt Underground

  3. I couldn’t resist commenting. Very well written!


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