Every year, it seems like Humboldt County's marijuana industry, and the complicated relationship our community has with cannabis, goes through massive upheaval. And every subsequent year, there seem to be even more drastic changes.
Reflecting back on 2015 (see this week's cover story), and looking ahead to 2016 fits the pattern. We are coming out of a time of unprecedented local discussion of marijuana's impacts and potential, with the most significant changes to California's marijuana landscape still on the horizon. With that, I'd like to humbly propose some New Year's resolutions for Humboldt County residents. These are for the cultivators, the neighbors, the stoners, the medicinal users. They're for everyone to consider, no matter his or her degree of separation from our billion-dollar industry.
New medical marijuana regulations have lit a wildfire behind local governments and marijuana businesses, ushering in a wave of new niche consultants to help people get legit — fast. That's a good thing. Humboldt's marijuana cultivators and manufacturers have a steep learning curve if they want to come online and compete in what's going to be a major market grab in the next couple years.
As a whole, Humboldt needs to be prepared for an exodus: Farmers are going to leave and go out of business, and with them, the cash economy they support. The black market's not going away, but success is going to become a lot harder, profit margins are going to thin, and the get-rich-quickers are going to fade out or find new roles.
Change means thousands of people will likely go out of business and thousands of their employees will find themselves adrift. The remaining businesses — marijuana-related or otherwise — will have to find room for these people. We need to be creative.
Celebrate the best players:
Despite the headlines, there are a lot of people out there doing it right, or trying their hardest, without much official guidance up to this point. Humboldt County is currently trying to figure out how to coax the industry into legitimacy — a careful balance of stick and carrot that can't let the black market stay too attractive.
But the county's draft land use ordinance process has so far ignored a good idea from the Humboldt Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project. Supervisors should seriously look at a heritage license: a designation for small, organic, best practices farms where the property owner lives on the land. Those are the type of people we can thank for the industry being here in the first place. They're our small business owners. And they're a key part of keeping Humboldt's industry viable. Humboldt needs to make good quality medicine and proactively protect its name to have any hope when big marijuana finally gains purchase in California.
Include more women and minorities in the industry, and protect them:
One of the best possible outcomes of medical marijuana regulation (and recreational legalization) could be serious worker safety reforms. Despite its advantages, going up on the hill is extremely risky work. And a lot of people doing it, travelers or otherwise, are women and minorities.
Greater labor oversight will be wonderful, but it'll be more costly for employers. And in an industry that's likely to shrink, at least locally, that means fewer roles for women and minorities.
We're seeing some positive movement, like the women working to establish marijuana innovation areas in Arcata. Women are finding success creating businesses that manufacture edibles and tinctures (promoting local value-added products is another way we can, maybe, cling to viability). But the community and industry need to do everything they can to make sure women and minorities aren't pushed out as the industry comes out of the shadows.
Marijuana's not coming. It's already here. That can, and should, be a good thing. Let's all look at what we can do, in 2016, to keep it here in a way that fits Humboldt's community and values.