guest at the Area 101 election party passes a blunt to a fellow marijuana smoker. Photo by Laura Newberry

Two occasional reporters for Mission Local spent Election Day in northern California where thousands of small growers will be affected by the legalization of marijuana, this is one of their reports.  Part 1 is here

In Humboldt County, California they say that the last hippy died when marijuana began to fetch more than a $1,000 a pound.

If that is true, Tuesday’s vote to legalize adult recreational cannabis use in the state might be the final nail in the flower-power coffin.

When the results came in, local radio host Kerry Reynolds excitedly got on stage at the psychedelic roadside venue Area 101 and announced to a room full of growers and weed workers that Proposition 64 had passed. Some clapped dutifully, a few clapped louder and hollered in celebration.  Many, however, remained silent.

“I know not everyone was for it,” Reynolds said into the microphone, a little less exuberant than a moment before. “It’s not a perfect initiative, but it’s a start.”

Reynolds has been a weed journalist in Humboldt for five years and has continuously pushed for legalization. But most of the local growers, who some might think stand to gain the most from their businesses becoming legal, are either skeptical or completely against the new legislation. They expect it to bring huge price drops as well as big newcomers that will force Humboldt’s small farmers out.

Sitting in the quirky and colorful KMUD radio studio just outside the small town of Garberville Reynolds reflected on this fear.

“Cannabis for Humboldt County is a matter of pride and there are so many amazing cultivators here, but it has also brought in a darker element of people that are just here to make money,” she said, two days before the election.

“Cannabis has provided economically for so many people in Humboldt,“ she continued. “If you have lived off the grid in this alternative lifestyle for most of your working life and all of a sudden it doesn’t have enough money for you to live anymore, where do you go?”

A guest at the Area 101 election party lights a bong, also known as a water pipe, and inhales. Photo by Anna M. Clausen
A guest at the Area 101 election party lights a bong, also known as a water pipe, and inhales. Photo by Laura Newberry

This is something Karl Witt, a cannabis grower of 28 years, also wonders. He sees the new legislation as an attempt by the wealthy to control the industry.

“That proposition was created by a few people wearing masks acting like they’re good guys, and I really believe it’s going to turn out to be the worst decision California ever made,” he said.

He believes that fields of big warehouses will pop up by Los Angeles and that there won’t be much of a market for Humboldt’s crops. He sees the county’s cannabis industry as destined to become part of the extract and edible industry rather than a Napa-esque “bud and breakfast” destination so many in the region hoped would develop.

Witt is also skeptical of Humboldt growers actually going legal.

“In a legitimate market place I’m working for 25 to 30 percent of what I was in a black market place,” he said. While staying in the black market means a risk of getting busted and charged with a misdemeanor, he said, “you still made two million extra dollars.”

Sunshine Johnston, host of the Ganja Tree Show on KMUD, wants to get licensed and hopes to build a brand to help her survive the changes to come. Since she has been growing marijuana from childhood, she feels she already has an authentic story but sharing it is not all that easy.

“It feels like you are exposing yourself in so many ways,” she said. “When you have an identity that’s all been about hiding and now you need to switch that around.”

But some who have already made the transition feel that going legal is worth it. Kevin Jodrey, owner and cultivation director of Wonderland Nursery, who was arrested at 16 in the early eighties for being a cultivator,got into the medicinal marijuana business a few years ago. He mostly credits his business move to a belief that legalization wasn’t too far up the road.

“If this whole world was going to change then I should change with it,” he said, surrounded by cut-offs and seedlings in the brightly lit nursery.

He voted yes on Proposition 64, but described it as “a terrible prop” designed for Silicon Valley to take over the industry. However, he said, he would never vote against legalization, even if it went against his interests.

“I chose an illegal carrier. I chose to join a criminal enterprise as a child and I never left it. So I never expected at any time that I was going to get some sort of an insurance policy from the government,” he said.

“I think that’s the problem. Many have been doing it for so long with expectations and they’re not real.”

Like Jodrey, most growers and weed-workers in Humboldt don’t seem to have had an ideological problem with the illegality of their trade. In fact, weed culture is not hidden but celebrated, by individuals, businesses and the local media such as KMUD.

Not only does KMUD have multiple radio shows dedicated to the subject, but it also airs advertisements for legal aid for growers. The station has also aired warnings about incoming raids, and some of the wall decorations, such as an upside-down American flag over a back door, underline a spirit of rebellion and civil disobedience.

Even while Reynolds sat surrounded by these reminders at the studio, she felt that the ills that can happen in the shadows were not worth it anymore. While the prices will go down, she said, more importantly the risk, secrecy and abuse of workforces and the environment will follow suit.

She is especially hopeful that legalization could save growers’ families from being torn apart by arrests and could be the first step to “freeing the nation from a chokehold of mass incarceration.”

“There are impacts to any war, and there has been a war here, a constant cat and mouse game,” she said.  “No one should be in jail for a plant.”

Two days later, at the Area 101 election party, Reynold recovered quickly from the lukewarm reaction of the crowd. She stepped off stage, hugging those around her, and her eyes sparkled with hope as she said that this vote would certainly reverberate around the world.

Her shoulders slumped for a moment at the thought of the soon-to-be-announced president elect, who she does not see as friendly to her cause. Shaking off the thought, she said that after her years of work, she felt vindicated.

“I think I’m maybe going to raise my head a little higher tomorrow.”

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