July 06, 2016

Economic Impact Study: How Cannabis Saved The Emerald Triangle

It was two days before Christmas, 1964. Most of the United States were enjoying Holiday festivities and completing tasks on 
their last minute to do lists. The residents of Northern California and Southern Oregon were evacuating their homes threatened by record high flood waters in conditions meteorologists deemed "The Perfect Storm". The weather events effecting the Eel and Kalamath Rivers and all of their tributaries began December 14 when a cold front brought several feet of snow. Immediately after, a pineapple connection dropped more than 30 inches of rain in less than a week. In the end, the highest tide of the year coming in as the flooded rivers reached their peaks would cause the most destruction. 

Residents recall the sound of the violent waters as a deep and unsettling roar not unlike an earthquake. This was the sound of giant redwoods and rocks pounding down the mountains in what experts estimate as much 750,000 cubic feet of water pumping per second. Logging was the major industry in the area at the time. Loggers created log jams in front of mills to collect the trees just cut from the mountains. The rushing water and debris knocked most of these loose and these giant trees took out everything in its path. 

When the flood waters receded, most residents found all of their possessions to be destroyed or washed away. Debris from the event was later found to have traveled all the way to the shores of Japan's islands. The coastlines in California and Oregon were littered with personal items washed out to sea only to be returned with the shifting tides. Entire communities had been washed away. 

Very few residents decided to rebuild after this event. Most logging companies abandoned any effort to reestablish themselves, the damage having been to much a burden to bear. Clean up efforts were slow as most roadways were blocked with debris or damaged by flood waters. The area was devastated economically, the people damaged morally having lost everything. What is now lovingly referred to as the Emerald Triangle was nothing more than sad remnants of life once lived and ghosts. 

The Flood left something else people at the time did not see as valuable. Layers and layers of fertile river silt which would eventually provide the perfect conditions for growing cannabis. It turns out, the Eel River has one of the heaviest sediment loads, second only to the Yellow River in China. The sediment and low land prices would be contributing factors to the economic boom enjoyed by this region more than a decade later. 

Hippies and The Vietnam War

In January of 1969, Richard Nixon took office as United States President. The Vietnam War waged on with US Casualties exceeding those lost in the Korean War and a new movement opposing the war in the US gaining ground. This new movement of people believed in living communally in harmony with nature. They believed peace could be achieved through artistic experimentation and engaged in civil acts of disobedience in opposition to the war. 

Hippies were spreading awareness through music, producing the Woodstock Concert in August of 1969 and another concert in Alamont CA in December. Berkely CA housed the highest population of hippies at the time, but 1970 saw a waning in the popularity of the movement. After the National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Jackson State and Kent State Universities, Hippies became recluse searching for ways to live off the grid away from a society shunning them. 

Hippies were attracted to Humboldt and adjacent c
ounties because the forest was so dense and the population diminished after the flood. Land had been split by this time into 5 and 10 acre parcels and was very affordable. By 1970, the hippies from San Francisco's Haight Ashbury were migrating north in large numbers. Several communes were established in the area and still thrive there today. 

The first Hippies realized within a few years, communes were not profitable. By 1972, most communes were experiencing financial difficulties. Livelihood strategies included growing enough food for everyone living on the commune, profits from artistic endeavors and sporadic odd jobs. Up to this point, cannabis was just another plant in the garden offering communal residents enough for personal use. Eventually, with few other economic avenues to pursue, the hippies turned to a burgeoning, but illegal marijuana black market. Remote locations, very fertile soil and the ability to redirect water from river tributaries and mountain springs provided everything necessary for successful gardens. Local law enforcement, violence against hippies and backlash from local loggers made maintaining successful gardens very risky business. 

The War on Drugs

Growing Cannabis as a livelihood strategy in a zero tolerance county led by politicians simultaneously declaring a "War on Drugs" and tightening penalties and restrictions is not an easy endeavor. Police forces were being militarized, arming themselves with military grade weapons. These municipalities were using these weapons to raid communes with force and often, without probably cause. Police Search Helicopters littered the skies above these Cannabis Growers resulting in a healthy paranoia and sense of distrust.

Distrust was warranted. Cannabis Growers can loose their crop at any time during the cultivation process in any number of circumstances. Bad weather, such as floods or droughts can kill an entire crop. Farmers loose their crops to insects, deer and elk, law enforcement, thieves or circumstances beyond ones control. The cost of doing business is high before one sees a return on investment. Most of the money earned goes back into the next crop. 

The War on Drugs created a judicial system incapable of handling business disputes like normal businesses. Altercations were handled behind closed doors and with tight lips. Calling the police in the case of a home invasion was not an option, services were not made available to women in violent domestic situations. If the other party took off with product without paying for it, there was nothing to do about it. An army of police officers trained to believe the Marijuana Plant to be evil and those involved in the business no better than the violent drug cartels of Mexico were hell bent on eradicating the plant altogether and evicting the hippies from the area. These municipalities wreaked havoc on everyone, even residents not engaged in growing Cannabis.  

The penalties for growing, processing and distributing Cannabis were always high. Growers could face decades in Federal Prison and loose their property, assets, children and any money accumulating in the bank. Regardless of the risks,  Cannabis Farmers persisted and are now considered pioneers as States across the Nation have repealed prohibition by establishing new legislature for an industry growing at lightning speed.  It appears the Federal Government is not far behind recently considering rescheduling cannabis to a less restrictive category in the DEA's drug diversion program.  

Today,  when one travels through the Emerald Triangle,  signs of a burgeoning cannabis industry are everywhere. The grocery stores have elaborate displays of turkey bags in the front of the store all year.  Hair salons double as trim supply stores offering any pruning scissors currently available on the market next to aprons,  hand solutions and gallon containers of isopropyl. Every business in the area benefits from the cannabis industry from the restaurants to the thrift stores. 

The State of California is still trying to interpret voter approved initiatives allowing for medical Marijuana as new legislature is being introduced for adult recreational use. Growers well established in this area are ready for whatever the future has in store for them,  breeding organic, artisan strains one can only find growing amongst the giant redwoods. This region was saved by Cannabis and continues to enjoy the economic benefits of a healthy marijuana industry. These growers aren't going anywhere.

*The Emerald Triangle covers all of Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.

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