The Uncertain Future of Cannabis Farming in Humboldt County

As part of my work on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy I spent an intriguing and enjoyable couple of days in Humboldt County with California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Congressman Jared Huffman and State Assembly Member Jim Wood. We met with growers, toured a cannabis nursery and also held a public forum. This photo of the forum, taken from the back by journalist Grant Scott-Goforth, gives some sense of how well the event was attended. The room was crammed with over 200 people who stayed until the end (despite the room’s considerable heat) to articulate their concerns.

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The main anxiety small farmers in Humboldt expressed has a rational basis: A legal pot industry could very easily be dominated by big-time corporate producers that squeeze small farmers out of the business. In an unfettered free market (which some legalization activists favor), most of the small farmers in Humboldt would be out of work in no time.

But how legalization is implemented can influence whether big corporations become dominant. The planned Ohio marijuana initiative is an example of the kind of corporate giveaway that would destroy the Humboldt farmers overnight: Ten rich investors are campaigning for all legal marijuana to be grown by just ten rich people (you will never guess which ten…). In contrast, the Washington State system issues many growing licenses with a cap on the size of grows, which allows small farmers a fair shot at becoming part of the legal industry. What California does regarding legalization is in the hands of the initiative writers and the voters, but any initiative that doesn’t make room for small cannabis farmers will surely encounter heavy resistance in Humboldt County.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.