It's marijuana harvesting season in Humboldt County, which means, among other things, that would-be trimmers are loitering in Garberville, sticky bills are flowing into local cash registers and law enforcement is making ginormous drug busts every day or two.
A couple weeks ago, for example, local sheriff's deputies and the DEA-funded Cannabis Eradication and Reclamation Team (CERT) made three big busts in three days, seizing 21,523 marijuana plants and 600 pounds of processed marijuana. Total value was estimated conservatively at about $21 million. Last Monday, another bust destroyed about half a million dollars' worth of weed. Tuesday, a $400,000 crop was eradicated.
Now, we know through law enforcement's own admission (not to mention Google Earth imagery) that these seasonal busts represent just the tip of the iceberg (maybe 1 or 2 percent, according to the Sheriff's Office) when it comes to our illicit cash crop. Setting aside questions about the effectiveness of enforcement efforts (spoiler: not effective), let's take a step back and ponder the tremendous girth of this metaphorical iceberg.
Conservative estimates for the marijuana industry's value in Humboldt County range from $400 million to more than $1 billion. One can imagine that the underside of the iceberg looks like the towering spires of Emerald City — a shimmering green metropolis that radiates profit motive and lures wide-eyed dreamers down a road paved with gold. And if they can't find the road they can just rent a tractor and grade one of their own.
A study published last week in the British Medical Journal Open found that marijuana seizures in the U.S. increased 465 percent between 1990 and 2009. Over the same period, the price of weed decreased by 86 percent while average potency of the drug shot up by 161 percent.
Can you carry weed on a plane? Several news outlets this week reported that Transportation Safety Administration screeners are increasingly looking the other way and allowing passengers to bring their stash onboard. The TSA website says screeners "do not search for marijuana or other drugs," but as a federal agency it's still bound by federal law. "The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane," the site says.