Humboldt County, California used to be famous for its salmon fishing, but the fish are gone from the river now. Its most recent claim to fame was its unique and potent strains of marijuana. But the legalization of marijuana in California is making the country’s demand for their cannabis go the same way as the salmon. A county comfortable with breaking the law and not dealing with corporate business standards is struggling in the world of regulation.
Outdoor marijuana grows really well in Humboldt County, much like grapes grow well in Napa Valley. The difference is that Napa Valley is already corporate and Humboldt County is more like the wild west minus the intense gun violence.
“We’re at that moment in the movie ‘Thelma and Louise’ when they have driven the car off the cliff,” said Scott Greacen, a longtime Humboldt resident and environmentalist who is both a supporter and critic of the marijuana trade. “We’re just waiting for the impact.”
Fewer than 1 in 10 of the county’s estimated 12,500 marijuana farmers are likely to make it in the legal trade. Growers who have anticipated legalization are preparing for a shift from badlands to boutique, a cultural transformation they hope will make this county a destination to visit for its rich history, artisanal strains of cannabis, and matchless natural beauty.
Less than 1 percent of the estimated 69,000 growers statewide have received a permit to farm marijuana since the beginning of the year. Thousands more are in the works, but nowhere near the total number of those now cultivating cannabis; any cannabis farmer operating without a license is cultivating illegally, and government officials could begin enforcing the law when the growing season begins in the next six weeks.
“The future of weed in Humboldt County will not be in its production,” said Mikal Jakubal, who owns a cannabis nursery in the south end of the county. “We’ll become the Napa Valley of weed. But we’re going to see a rough transition for a lot of people, and then this place will gentrify.”
In order to contend with an ever changing economic and cultural landscape, Humboldt County will need to adapt in order to survive. Do you believe Humboldt County is destined to be the next Napa Valley, or will indoor grows make the old-style cultivation too obsolete?