Pubdate: Thu, 25 Mar 2010
Source: Northwest Herald (IL)
Copyright: 2010 Northwest Herald Newspapers
Author: Marcus Wohlsen, The Associated Press


REDWAY, Calif. - The smell of marijuana hung heavy in the air as men
with dreadlocks and gray beards contemplated a nightmarish possibility
in this legendary region of outlaw marijuana growers: legal weed. If
California legalizes marijuana, they say, it will drive down the price
of their crop and damage not just their livelihoods but the entire
economy along the state's rugged northern coast.

"The legalization of marijuana will be the single most devastating
economic event in the long boom-and-bust history of Northern
California," said Anna Hamilton, 62, a Humboldt County radio host and
musician who said her involvement with marijuana mostly had been
limited to smoking it for the past 40 years.

Local residents are so worried that pot farmers came together with
officials in Humboldt County for a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday
night where civic leaders, activists and growers brainstormed ideas
for dealing with the threat. Among the ideas: turning the vast pot
gardens of Humboldt County into a destination for marijuana
aficionados, with tours and tastings - a sort of Napa Valley of pot.

Many also were enthusiastic about promoting the Humboldt brand of pot.
Some discussed forming a cooperative that would enforce high standards
for marijuana and stamp the county's finest weed with an official
Humboldt seal of approval.

Pot growers are nervous because a measure that could make California
the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use could
appear on the ballot in November. It appears to have enough signatures.

The law, if approved, could have a profound effect on Humboldt County,
which long has had a reputation for growing some of the world's best

In recent years, law enforcement agents have seized millions of pot
plants worth billions of dollars in Humboldt and neighboring counties.
And that is believed to be only a fraction of the crop.

"We've lived with the name association for 30 or 40 years and
considered it an embarrassment," said Mark Lovelace, a Humboldt County
supervisor. But if legalization does happen, he said, the Humboldt
County name becomes the region's single most important asset.

"It's laughable at this point to try to be hush-hush about it," he

Humboldt County's reputation as a marijuana mecca began in the 1970s.
As pot users began to notice a decline in the quality of Mexican weed,
refugees from San Francisco's Summer of Love who moved to the forested
mountains along California's conveniently remote North Coast began
figuring out better ways to grow their own. The Humboldt name soon
became a selling point for marijuana sold on street corners across the

These days, the small towns in this region about five hours north of
San Francisco are dotted with head shops and garden supply stores.

California is one of 14 states that allow people to grow and use
marijuana for medical purposes, but recreational use remains illegal.
(And will remain illegal under federal law, regardless of how
California votes.)

For decades, the outlaws, rebels and aging hippies of Humboldt County
have been hoping for legalization. But now that it appears at hand,
many clandestine growers fear it will flood the market with cheap,
corporate-grown weed and destroy their way of life.

About 20 pot growers gathered on a patio outside the meeting Tuesday
to discuss the dilemma posed by legalized pot. Many wore baseball caps
and jeans, just like farmers anywhere else in America. No one
addressed anyone else by name, a local custom driven by fear of
arrest, but that didn't stop some in the group from lighting up their

Many complained that legalization would put them in the same bind as
other small farmers struggling to compete against large-scale

A dreadlocked younger grower who said he had already been to prison
for marijuana objected that no one could replicate the quality of the
region's weed. When he was a kid, he said, "Humboldt nuggets -- that
was like the holy grail."

"Anyone can grow marijuana," he said. "But not everyone can grow the
super-heavies, the holy bud."

Under the ballot measure, Californians could possess up to one ounce
of marijuana for personal use. They could cultivate gardens up to 25
square feet, which is puny by Humboldt County standards. City and
county governments would have the power to tax pot sales.

Some growers Tuesday fantasized about mobs of tourists in limos
streaming to the county. Others were not thrilled with the idea of
paying taxes on their crop.

Many agreed with the sentiment on a sticker plastered on a pizza
joint's cash register: "Save Humboldt County -- keep pot illegal." 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D