EUREKA, Calif. – Marijuana growing has long been a way of life in Humboldt County, especially in recent years as timber and fishing jobs have disappeared along California’s North Coast.

Now some residents worry that their way of life is being threatened — not by law enforcement, but by efforts to legalize marijuana in the state.

Community members are gathering tonight to consider the consequences. They worry about the ripple effect that a drop in marijuana prices could have on the county if legalization undermines the black market.

“We have to recognize that if we have something that is this big a piece of our economy that is subsidized by being illegal, that this is an unsustainable situation,” said Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace.

In recent years, anti-drug agents have seized hundreds of thousands of marijuana plants in the county, mostly from massive gardens in remote mountain forests that have earned the region the nickname Emerald Triangle. Law enforcement estimates put the street value of the crop in the billions of dollars.

The eradication efforts have not halted marijuana growing in Humboldt, but the number of plants seized does give a sense of the scale of the industry.

Meeting organizer Anna Hamilton of Shelter Cove said she believes legalization could be “devastating” to the region and that the county should plan ahead by capitalizing on its name recognition as a marijuana destination.

“We have to embrace marijuana tourism, marijuana products and services — and marijuana has to become a part of the Humboldt County brand,” said Hamilton, who describes herself as “intimately involved” with the marijuana industry.

Supporters of a ballot measure to legalize marijuana in limited quantities are still waiting for official word that they’ve submitted enough signatures to qualify for the November statewide ballot.


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