Central Oregon, my friend and I agree, is a little eerie. It's not the people; it's the landscape. The land on either side of Interstate 5 is too flat, too barren, its forests mostly commercial timber operations that have been replanted with conifers all the same age, the same height, the same space apart. The wild part of us feels uneasy when we're too far away from the Pacific Ocean and the messy tangle of our own flora. But we make the trek anyway, because coexisting with our wild souls is the part of us that longs for clean streets, artisanal doughnuts and Trader Joe's. The Portland part of us. And since we're making the pilgrimage, a friend or loved one might also ask us to make a dispensary run.
Why would anyone in Humboldt want recreational weed from Oregon? We are, after all, kind of swimming in the stuff here (See "Way. Too. Much. Weed.," Oct. 5), and medical cards are easy to get. But, as was mentioned during public comment at a recent Eureka City Council meeting, some people just don't want to go through the kabuki of pretending to be sick in order to get high, or they're just too stubborn to go to a doctor in the first place. And black market weed often comes in quantities that aren't truly recreational or customized to a specific experience. Gone are the days when we would just buy an eighth of whatever was available and brag about how fucked up we had gotten. Now we want pre-measured amounts of THC, specific headtrips, specific flavors, recommendations. The kinds of things you can get in a dispensary.
From a tourist's perspective, the footprint of legalized weed in Oregon seems relatively light. There are billboards along the interstate, their tasteful green logos competing with the ubiquitous advertising for adult entertainment superstores. In Portland proper, dispensary names try to out-groovy one another (Jayne, Nectar, the Flowershop). In the parking lot of the Green Goddess, there's a sign asking customers not to blast their music or run their cars, out of respect for the residential neighbors. One young woman does anyway, tossing her new purchase onto the passenger seat of her sedan and throwing the car into reverse, full of weekend elan. Next to her are parked a silver Hummer (middle-aged man) and a rag-tag Volkswagen Bug (sheepish-looking middle aged woman). I'm tripped out by it, the every-day-ness of it, how it's just another stop on a Saturday evening's list of errands. I grew up in Southern Humboldt during the C.A.M.P. era and, despite our long, slow progression toward full legalization, I cannot wrap my head around the idea that cannabis in Humboldt might someday lose its sheen of secrecy and outlaw cred.
We have baggage. I've been criticized in the past for documenting that baggage. Humboldt is trying to build something groovy and shiny and tourist-centric, some vision of Portlandia around its most notorious industry, and it doesn't help our image when it is associated with murder, environmental degradation and a culture of secrecy. I also don't think most of our pot tourists will care. Portland was built on the bones of a great forest, it was originally named "Stumptown," and in 1889, The Oregonian called it "the most filthy city in the Northern States."
I don't think we're ever going to be Portland. We're always going to be raw and steep and isolated, even as the pot industry slowly gentrifies its outlaw roots. Those among us who showed up just to strike it rich will move on. Those of us who only feel truly at home where it's rugged and wild will stay. And most of us will continue to make our annual pilgrimage up the I-5 to the land of vegan barbecue restaurants. We'll sheepishly trundle overburdened carts across the parking lot of Trader Joe's and stop at the outlet stores to fill the empty spaces in our wardrobes. Maybe we'll still stop at the dispensaries in Oregon for a particular strain or product or hip logo. No matter how much we love where we're from, there's always something we can only get by going somewhere else.
Linda Stansberry is a staff writer for the Journal. She can be reached at 442-1400 ext. 317 or on Twitter @LCStansberry