Pubdate: Sun, 23 Nov 2014
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2014 Times-Standard


Illegal marijuana accounts for a quarter of Humboldt County's economy 
- - at least. Legal pot is coming to California whether we agree with 
it or not. Plan now or fail.

While Proposition 19, the Golden State's last attempt at legalizing 
marijuana, only garnered 46.5 percent of the vote in 2010, times have 
changed. Since 2012, the movement to end marijuana prohibition has 
scored victories in Colorado and Washington state, with more recent 
wins this month legalizing cannabis for personal use in Alaska, 
Oregon and Washington, D.C. A measure this November to legalize 
marijuana for medical use in Florida failed to secure the 
supermajority required for its passage, but only by under 3 percent 
of the vote. Movements are underway in Arizona, Massachusetts, 
Missouri, Maine, Nevada - and yes, California - to put the question 
to voters by 2016.

The momentum is clear. Time is on pot's side. What's this mean for 
Humboldt County?

While some folks paint a rosy picture of Humboldt's future as the 
Napa of marijuana country, according to a report on travel spending 
commissioned by the California Travel & Tourism Commission and the 
Governor's Office of Business Development, we've got a long way to 
go. Between 1992 and 2012, for example, Napa County saw total direct 
travel spending rise from $358 million to $1 billion. In the same 
time period, Humboldt County saw total direct travel spending rise 40 
percent - to a grand total of $339 million.

If Humboldt County plans on embracing its future as a cannabis 
destination, let alone preserving its role as a major marijuana 
production center, it has to get serious about improving its 
transportation infrastructure. We're too remote to offer ourselves as 
a premier tourism destination on one airline alone.

As for marketing Humboldt weed in a post-legalization world, there 
may indeed be a market of cannabis connoisseurs, but will it be large 
and discriminating enough to support at least a quarter of our 
economy? How many of you who enjoy a good glass of sparkling wine on 
New Year's or Sunday brunch actually insist on the stuff from 
Champagne, France?

If you do want to place a bet on the success of branding Humboldt 
weed, be realistic.

If you don't - if you oppose the legalization that's knocking on 
California's doorstep, or if you welcome the demise of Humboldt's 
Green Rush - what have you got to replace it? A survey done earlier 
this year by the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana 
Research showed that one in six Humboldt State students surveyed had 
worked in the marijuana industry. Institute co-director and HSU 
economics professor Erick Eschker estimates a similar percentage of 
Humboldt County's overall population works in the marijuana industry as well.

Consider those numbers in tandem with Jennifer Budwig's landmark 2011 
University of Washington study, which concluded that marijuana money 
accounted for roughly 26 percent of the county's entire $1.6 billion economy.

As Budwig wrote in 2011, "There is a high probability marijuana will 
be legalized at some point and there most likely will be an economic 
fallout to this county because of it."

The good news is that some folks are trying to plan ahead.

It's been about a year since 1st District Humboldt County Supervisor 
and board president Rex Bohn acknowledged the facts on the ground in 
Humboldt County in statements to both the Sacramento Bee and to this 
newspaper. Since that time, both the Board of Supervisors and the 
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board have stepped up to 
address, respectively, neighborhood nuisances caused by the excessive 
cultivation of medical marijuana in unincorporated areas and water 
quality issues and pollution caused by marijuana growing in creeks 
across the North Coast - steps on the long march away from 
prohibition and toward regulation.

Still more promising work is being done by California Cannabis Voice 
Humboldt. The organization is currently gathering input from cannabis 
farmers, environmentalists, county officials, bankers and other 
stakeholders in an effort to formulate a marijuana ordinance to bring 
before the Board of Supervisors, which would provide local growers 
with legal guidance for permitting and license requirements.

While much work remains to be done, it's encouraging to see that both 
our elected officials and county stakeholders seem to be taking the 
issue seriously. Humboldt County's already weathered massive changes 
to its once-mighty lumber industry. We cannot afford, in all senses 
of the word, to be bystanders as legalization looms over our economy. 
When it comes to the end of cannabis prohibition, the train is 
leaving the station. Better to hop on board and find a good seat than 
to stand unmoving on the tracks as the future rolls over us.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom