Cody King made a hard decision. The lanky 28-year-old, born and raised in Honeydew, who came of age when CAMP helicopters still buzzed the hills, told himself there was nothing to fear when members of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office pulled up to his gate. This was in 2016 and King had a folder full of permitting paperwork. He grabbed it, walked to the gate and opened it wide, allowing the deputies to inspect his greenhouses.
King, whose grow is near Honeydew, is one of the neighbors mentioned in a July letter by Erika "Squeaky" Morlan, published on Southern Humboldt newsblog Redheaded Blackbelt. Morlan accused King and another neighbor (who was not interviewed by the Journal) of converting the once bucolic meadows of the Mattole Valley into an industrial agriculture zone, bringing dust, noise, traffic and crime.
King blames a failed business partnership with Morlan as the trigger for their neighborly dispute; Morlan says it's more than that. Out of their two accounts, some common truths emerge.
Things have changed. The cannabis industry has moved out of the hills and into plain sight, onto places like the valley floor, where Morlan and others across the county are facing the impacts of suddenly having industrial agriculture scenes as neighbors. They've lost a lot: their views, their serenity, their general sense of neighborliness.
And they have gained. The code of silence and complicity is slowly draining from rural Humboldt County, where neighbors used to just have to go along to get along. As disturbing as it is to see open spaces converted to commercial agriculture, Morlan and others unhappy with the scene have tools to address it — numbers to call, forms to fill out, public officials to complain to.
Growers like King have also gained. While the price per pound has dropped dramatically in recent years, he sees legalization as a positive force for those who are prepared to go big.
"You're not risking your freedom to guard a greenhouse," he says, adding that being allowed to expand production has evened out the losses. While Morlan and others bemoan the industrialization of the valley floor, King says he's trying to be one of the good guys, a good neighbor and a good grower. And if he hadn't bought the place next to Squeaky's, someone else would have, probably an outsider.
"I paid $1.25 million for that place, and anyone who's going to make an offer on it for that price would do the same thing," he says.
He followed all of the steps, filled out all of the paperwork, put in ADA-compliant bathrooms and an ADA parking lot. He did everything he needed to so when the deputies returned, he could again unlock the gate and invite them inside.
"I've been jumping through all the hoops," he says. "It's hard because I know growing weed but I don't know about planning. This day, I'm on the farm two hours, then in Eureka dropping off papers. Twenty years ago we'd grow it, cut it and sell it on the porch of the Honeydew store."
Some things have not changed: Old habits die hard. Morlan says King threatened to "wage war" against her if she called the authorities. King portrays it differently, essentially saying he was trying to keep Morlan from rocking the boat.
"There was an incident where there was an attempted robbery," he says. "She offered to call the sheriff. She was going around ranting and raving. I said, 'If you get the sheriff's department out here in Honeydew there's going to be a war, you'll be at war with the whole Mattole Valley.'"
Why did he say that?
"That's the way it is, you know that," he says. Yeah, I know that. But it can't be that way forever.Editor's note: This story was updated to correct King's age, who is 28, not 30. The Journal regrets the error.
Linda Stansberry is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 317, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LCStansberry.