Pubdate: Mon, 18 Nov 2013
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2013 Times-Standard
Author: Catherine Wong


With the possibility of a marijuana legalization measure on the 2016 
ballot, economics experts and local representatives are weighing in 
on the idea of Humboldt brand pot.

"After prohibition, who knew Jack Daniels would do so well?" 1st 
District Supervisor Rex Bohn said. "Anything can be replicated 
anywhere, but the best products come from the right climate and the 
right expertise, which I think we have plenty of."

Bohn cited Lost Coast beers and Fox Farm soils as two brands that 
originated in Humboldt County and gained recognition on the national 
market. He also said anyone could replicate a product anywhere, but 
certain locations have the advantage.

"Look at Napa Valley. Wine is just grapes in a bottle, but they have 
the right climate for it," Bohn said. "The same goes for sourdough 
bread and marijuana."

Bohn said all eyes are on how Colorado and Washington are dealing 
with marijuana legalization.

"Hopefully, by the time it gets to the ballot, Colorado and 
Washington will figure out what worked and what hasn't," he said. 
"They're good guinea pigs."

Erick Eschker, a Humboldt State University economics professor and 
co-director for the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary 
Marijuana Research, said that while he is not for advocating 
marijuana legalization, he could think of two extreme cases that may 
come with legalization -- the rosy scenario and the doomsday scenario.

"On the one hand, the economy does just fine," he said. "If it 
becomes more legal, meaning on a federal level, Humboldt could 
maintain prevalence. It could also be that case if forward-looking 
officials allow large scale production which can produce at lower cost."

He said a lot of the effects of statewide legalization depends on how 
things are zoned within the county.

Eschker, whose research interest is measuring the impact of marijuana 
on the local economy and the impacts of possible legalization, said 
in order for production to not leave the area, the county would have 
to meet the demand for a cheaper, less potent, lower grade product.

"The county needs to figure out if it wants to let go of the premiere 
weed," he said. "Although, it could have both."

Eschker said in the doomsday scenario, marijuana growers leave the 
county to move closer to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.

"Along with production leaving, you also have population decline, and 
we would be like the rest of rural America." he said. "In that 
doomsday scenario, we may not know it, but we may be heading down 
that path already."

With population decline comes loss in property value, loss in real 
estate value and a decreased demand for services, Eschker said.

"Many people working up here are here because they are from the 
cities and enforcement is harder in the woods. If it becomes legal, 
that advantage is gone," he said. "The decisions we make now in terms 
of production and what we allow is critically important. If we don't 
let the industry thrive here, they'll go elsewhere."

Bohn said economists can only speculate at best.

"Never underestimate the purchasing power of someone who wants a name 
brand," he said.

HSU economics professor Beth Wilson, a member of the institute, said 
she was part of the marijuana task force when the county began 
working on an economic development plan for the county.

"There is still a large contingent that is not interested in going 
the direction of a Humboldt brand name," she said. "Many are trying 
to focus on all the other things that the county has to offer. As 
long as there's still resistance in the community, I don't think 
branding is going to go anywhere."

She said Southern Humboldt residents claim the market prices for 
marijuana already dropped after Proposition 215 passed and legalized 
medical marijuana in the state.

"The 'mom and pops' haven't been able to make ends meet, and the 
small outdoor grows didn't really survive," Wilson said. "What was 
left over were the large outdoor grows and the ones controlled by 
drug cartels. It makes it difficult for smaller farms."

Wilson said that even if the state were to legalize marijuana, big 
tobacco companies wouldn't swoop in if it's still illegal on a 
federal level because they couldn't sell outside of California.

"If marijuana is legalized on a federal level, allowing for 
interstate commerce, then maybe a Humboldt brand would make a 
difference," she said. "Someone in the Bay Area or L.A. may not be as 
excited for Humboldt marijuana as someone in Chicago because it's 
already been growing in California for a while now. But because it's 
illegal, it's very difficult to get any information on whether that 
would really be the case."

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, who serves on the county's 
marijuana subcommittee that drafted a recent proposed ordinance on 
regulating grows, said he wanted the county to address the 
neighborhood impacts of small grows first.

"We want to get this one done and passed and then move on to larger 
grows," he said. "All the energy is focused on neighborhood impacts."

Sundberg said he wants to have something passed before the next 
growing season begins. After that, he said, large production 
marijuana grows will be addressed.

"Large outdoor is such a different animal," he said.

Sundberg said he thinks the legalization of marijuana will hurt the 
local economy "no matter what."

"How bad that pain is depends on how creative we get," he said. "But 
there's probably always going to be a black market anyway."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom