The Underground Review

IMG_0072It’s been awhile but we’re back with another addition of the Underground Review. Here at HU we’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. As cannabis normalization marches into the New Year, we are taking a fresh look at what legalization means, how (sometimes if) it should be implemented, and what identity and role HU will take moving forward. When we first started the Humboldt Underground we held an ideological view born out of the chaotic medical cannabis grey market of California. Our ideological hope was for bolstering the status quo of medical marijuana through legalization (which is happening to an extent).

We thought, and still think, the current non-profit cooperative/collective model is revolutionary – it decentralizes cultivation and sale of cannabis while holding mainstream big business (and investment) at bay (albeit it makes the industry difficult to regulate). Nonetheless, this ideological hope inevitably met the material reality of western socio-political and socio-economic systems. With the passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), the current cooperative/collective model is set to expire one year from a date the yet to be created Board of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR) makes an announcement to this end. For profit medical cannabis sales will began January 1, 2018 and all sellers and producers will have to obtain state issued licenses (more info here). This new act, combined with potential legalization in 2016, has sent Northern California into a stir.

IMG_0314 2In local headlines just last week, the day after the State of the Union address, directly above a picture of Obama waving from the podium, you guessed it: weed, cultivation ordinance tension to be specific. In the shadow of MMRSA and in the headlights of legalization, city and county governments have been tasked with facing the proverbial elephant-in-the-room and bringing the cannabis industry into the light. Currently they have until March 1, 2016 to establish local guidelines (although this date is expected to be amended). This has sent local governments into frenzy, with many opting to ban all sale and cultivation in a hasty bid for time to contemplate legal weed. In Humboldt, CCVH has given the county a head start (thumbs up) and Humboldt (including the Emerald Triangle) seems to be further along than the rest of the state (as we should be). However, this doesn’t make the process any easier.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission butted heads over the draft cultivation ordinance. The supervisors – siding with a conservative staff report – caught some flak for their disagreement with the Planning Commissions’ recommendations. After holding numerous community meetings and spending months delegating, the Commission cited frustration with the Board of Supes. The main beef is over the size of allotted grow sites and whether or not grows will negatively impact the environment. Its been mandated that grow sites must mitigate reasonable effect on the environment – the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) defined by state law. Fearing litigation from the environmental community and following recommendations from county staff, the supes sided with requiring public hearings to permit grow sites over 2,000 sq/ft. The commission had recommended that grow sites be scaled to parcel size – i.e. parcels larger than 320 acres could grow up to one acre of cannabis (the maximum allotted size provided by MMRSA). Basically the tension is over the difficulty of obtaining permits to grow larger plots of weed (from 2,000 sq/ft up to one acre).

Another point of tension is where cannabis can be grown. MMRSA classifies cannabis as an agricultural product and thus cannabis can be grown anywhere agricultural production is allowed. That is, unless local governments narrow the scope, banning cannabis from being grown in certain areas/zones. Home to California Redwood forests and tasked with preserving these trees natural wonder, Humboldt County leadership is in a difficult place between preserving the environment and bringing growers into compliance – as a majority of currently operating cannabis farms are located on Timber Production Zones (TPZ) or Forest Recreation Zones (FR). The draft ordinance states that growers operating 215 legal grows on TPZ land (as of last summer) may obtain a permit to continue their farming. However, no new grow sites will be allowed on these lands. The supes are attempting to move cannabis farmers to general ag land.

These are just two points that have sparked debate. There’s a lot of balls in the air, a lot to contemplate, and many stakeholder with many competing views. Watching this all unfold, HU has observed a hand full of different ideological “camps” taking shape. Here at HU we are trying create our own standpoint on legalization but it is proving difficult. With this conundrum bouncing around in our heads we decided to present a few different emerging and established views on this ordinance debate. Observing the arguments stakeholders employ, HU has attempted to extract basic ideological “camps” floating around in Humboldt County. There is overlap, as the following is theoretical and not set in stone, but we hope this exercise helps us think altruistically when forming opinions on the future of cannabis in Humboldt. This addition of the Underground Review will attempt to situate some examples of contending ideologies:

We have divided vast ideological viewpoints into six “ideal” types (Max Weber). They are: The Economic Optimist, The Mom and Pop Champion, The Do-Nothing Do-Gooder, The Environmental Altruist, The Counter Culture Pessimist, and The Conscious Observer. We are not asserting that all viewpoints fall into these categories. We are simply using these categories to make sense of a difficult to understand debate over the future of cannabis in Humboldt County.

  • The Economic Optimist: These individuals see legalization as an economic opportunity for Humboldt County and the Emerald Triangle. Humboldt’s economy is paramount and legalization can provide many much needed jobs to a community with some of the highest unemployment rates in the state. Taxes, jobs, and tourism; the whole of NorCal will benefit. However, if this is going to come true, Humboldt will need to pass regulation that favors cannabis business interest and that means farmers interests. This will need to be done fast so Humboldt can get a head start and hit the ground running. The Economic Optimist sees all government oversight through a business lens. If local cannabis farmers are going to compete with the rest of the state, regulation needs to be minimized. Large farms are needed – economies of scale – to compete with other counties that will inevitably pass cannabis farmer friendly regulations. New and existing grow sites need to be allotted on TPZ and FR land, and permitting needs to be streamlined so Humboldt doesn’t get left in the dust by Oakland, the Bay Area, SoCal, etc.
  • The Mom and Pop Champion: These individuals see Mom and Pop artesian cannabis farmers as the face of Humboldt. It’s these small-scale farmers that grow the best grass. Regulating larger grows is important to preserve Humboldt’s cannabis quality and regional brand. Focusing on numerous small farms, instead of large-scale mono-crop operations, mitigates corporate interest and spreads the wealth. Mom and Pop Champions often intertwine the cannabis movement with the local/small farm movement. Cannabis should be grown along side other crops and these individuals often employ permaculture and biodynamic approaches to growing organic high quality products. Competition is mitigated through growing quality conscious free products that command premium prices.
  • The Do-Nothing Do-Gooder: These individuals view the current climate of the medical cannabis industry, operating under Prop 215 and SB 420, as superior to any future recreational/legalization initiatives. It’s not broke so don’t fix it. The medical cannabis movement has created the industry in a way that supports safe access. All cannabis use is medical whether to relieve stress or pain. Obtaining medicine from a non-profit wellness center after visiting a doctor is, well, how cannabis should be obtained. The current function of the medical marijuana industry in California was set-up by advocates for advocates/patients and that is how it should remain, albeit with a little more regulation and less harassment from the law. California’s medical cannabis industry currently employs many residents of Humboldt and supports our local economy. Changing the current function of the industry may be detrimental to the future of the Emerald Triangle. These individuals are against MMRSA but accept that it is a reality, however, they want to avoid legalization for recreational use.
  • The Environmental Altruist: These individuals don’t have anything against cannabis; they just don’t want to see any harm done to Humboldt’s majestic forests and waters. After years of battling the logging industry, environmentalist will be damned if the cannabis industry begins harming our forests. Generally, these individuals want to see more research before government oversight is approved. Largely this means smaller grows located on general ag land – and not TPZ or FR land. Large scale farms aren’t seen as intrinsically negative, they just need to demonstrate that they will not harm the environment prior to permitting. These individuals want forests to be left alone. That means excess traffic and noise pollution is seen as a negative impact. Note from staff: these individuals know how to put up a fight; consensus is the best way forward.
  • The Counter Culture Pessimist: These individuals see mainstream take over on the horizon. All other types of individuals threaten the niche market they carved out, however, black market will always exist. Not opposed to jumping on the legalization wagon, Counter Culture Pessimists will do what’s most advantageous to them and their community. Holding a set of values that views mainstream culture as a culture of Neo-liberal imperialism, these individuals are weary that legalization and regulation is a guise for future corporate take over. They are weary that permitting land for cannabis cultivation will lead to increase value, which will attract wealthy corporate interest – paving the way for strip mall capitalists. If legalization goes the Neo-liberal corporate route, these individuals will continue operating in the shadows.
  • The Conscious Observer: These individuals are not the betting type. They are not ready to put all their marbles into one basket. There are too many moving parts and too much unknown at the moment. Keep keeping on seems the best path. Besides, with legalization and the presidential election next year, these individuals opt to stay on the sideline taking notes like a back up quarterback ready to get in the game. The feds could swoop in at any moment and a split ballot come November could kill legalization efforts. Legalization could erase MMRSA. Much is to be decided. These individuals opt to analyze their best option while exercising a wait-and-see approach. The Conscious Observer is honing their skills and waiting for the optimal climate to put their plan in motion.

Whatever category(s) you fall in, we all are watching how legalization will unfold in Humboldt County and the Emerald Triangle. Much is at stake, but what ever happens, it’s definitely interesting to watch how it will all shake out. Stay tuned… and let us know what you think…


One response to “The Underground Review

  1. Superb assessment. I think you missed the contingent of shady profiteers with an interest in continued prohibition. Other than that though you totally nailed it. I think you put your finger on the pulse of something larger than just the Northern California cultivation community. You actually captured the bigger picture of California’s cannabis advocacy community overall. How are you not writing for SF Evergreen or Smell The Truth?

    Liked by 1 person

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