Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Leaving Humboldt in the Dust



The sleepy, dusty desert east of Los Angeles may be looking like a threat to Humboldt County's marijuana industry. While the arid landscape may seem inhospitable to plants, two small cities in the region have been making strides to entice large-scale commercial marijuana farmers.

Land prices have skyrocketed in Desert Hot Springs and Adelanto since the struggling towns' governments legalized dispensaries and cultivation. That includes desert land without access to utilities. An LA Times article quotes a landowner as saying he was offered $1 million for 5 acres of undeveloped land, and a real estate agent who said he's been getting calls from all over the world from interested investors.

A Quartz article from April reports that permit fees from 27 recently approved medical marijuana operations have nearly matched the annual revenue from three state prisons that pay Adelanto taxes.

The scene rings familiar: remote, undisturbed, cheap properties attractive to marijuana growers who flock to the area from far off lands. But there's one major difference, and it's the one that local growers should be concerned about: The San Bernardino and Riverside county towns are right next door to California's largest marijuana market.

As many have pointed out, Humboldt County's remoteness was vastly appealing when marijuana was illegal and heavily stigmatized. Now, that 16-hour trip to a Los Angeles dispensary is looking like a liability, not an asset.

Of course, local industry types are working hard to capitalize on Humboldt's word-of-mouth marketing cachet, and to establish manufacturing centers that can add value to the raw local product. Will it be enough?

A ruling is expected soon that could affect a number of marijuana growers charged with federal crimes in the last several years.

The case, being presided over by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, revolves around a congressional amendment that said "the DOJ could not use funding to ... prevent states that have legalized medical marijuana from implementing laws that permit its use, distribution and possession," according to the Associated Press. The amendment's sponsors say that it was intended to prevent federal prosecution of people who comply with state medical marijuana laws.

The U.S. Department of Justice — which has prosecuted defendants in the case — says the law "prevents prosecutors from trying to block state medical marijuana laws or charging state officials who implement them, yet permits U.S. attorneys to go after marijuana dispensaries and growers."

The decision could have wide-reaching impacts on marijuana growers and users in states — including California — that have medical marijuana programs and are considering recreational legalization.

Dying to become a weed reporter?

The University of California Berkeley's online extension programming is offering a course called "Marijuana Journalism," featuring a seminar with the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle's online marijuana magazine Smell the Truth.

That venture, like the Denver Post's Cannabist, has proven to be a valuable journalistic enterprise as the great weed experiment of the 21st century gets underway, and it stands to reason that there will be plenty of opportunities for reporting on the burgeoning and shifting industry and the ramifications of relaxed pot laws around the U.S.

Of course, some might argue that getting a journalism degree at any college in the U.S. would get you the same results. But, like, who's got the time?

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