Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Elephant In The Grow Room

The following article was originally published in the Arcata Eye and reprinted on the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel’s website.

By Charley Custer


Many Humboldters enjoy making up facts about marijuana, and I won’t spoil the fun with certainties on the subject. But we don’t have to guess how big the elephant is in our grow rooms. Researchers at HSU’s Schatz Energy Research Center have highlighted a growing divergence in Humboldt’s per capita energy use, which began rising from steady state averages after the passage of Proposition 215 in 1995.

In the 15 years since marijuana’s decriminalization ball got rolling, Humboldt’s per capita grid-tied electrical consumption has increased by 30 per cent, while state use held steady. The researchers suggest that this annual energy load—90 million kilowatt-hours in 2007— goes to grow lights for growing money, I mean marijuana.

How much money? You can read the next two paragraphs, or skip them and trust me: one thousand-watt grow light running on average 12 hours a day all year would draw 4,320 kilowatts of juice. Allowing for 18-hour periods within grow cycles, and down times, we can round this down to 4000 kilowatts. Divide 90 million kilowatts by 4000 and we have 22,500, which is the number of typical grow lights that would draw all that juice.

There are usually four to five grow cycles per year per light. Each cycle grows about a pound per light. If the average is a bit over four cycles per year, we can conclude that about 100,000 pounds of marijuana are produced under grid-powered grow lights in Humboldt County each year. At an average price of, say, $3000 a pound, those 50 tons of pot are worth $300 million dollars a year.

By contrast, the largest Humboldt county employment sector recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau is Health Care and Social Assistance, with a 2007 payroll of $222 million for 6875 employees. Next was retail trade, whose payroll of $172 million went to 7724 people. Forestry paid out $35 million to 465 people.

See where I’m going here? Subtracting $100 million for costs, urban grow scenes by themselves are the second largest employment sector in Humboldt County. They’re how so many of our kids stay in the county after leaving school. But wait, there’s more!

We can guesstimate that there’s as much diesel dope coming out of the countryside as comes from grow rooms and houses in town. And at least that much more sun bud grows outdoors in the hills. With the Schatz figure as a confirmed baseline, there’s no disputing that marijuana cultivation in Humboldt County is a billion-dollar business. It dwarfs all other employment sectors, even without the customary 2.5 multiplier used to emphasize the importance of our declining traditional industries.

So let’s hurry up and put pot out of business, right?

There’s some familiar defeatist thinking that the big boys of Oakland and Winston-Salem will extirpate our economic base, so we might as well stop thinking about it. The more I learn about what’s called legal marijuana, the less I believe we’ll be diddled out of our pound of kush—if we work together to create a future for our foundational industry. But that’s a lot to ask for an industry that’s weakened neighborhoods, damaged watersheds and annoyed and threatened citizens across the county—though our previous economic bulwarks all did the same. The question that’s flummoxed policymakers until now is, how do we control their eggs, without killing our golden geese?

The answer is, we can’t. We have to cooperate with golden geese, corralling without controlling them. That’s the thing about geese, which is easier to accept when the geese are legal. What do we do about our latest, fattest and shadiest golden goose, whose tens of thousands of jobs and dependents now may be threatened?

Some jobs will undoubtedly be lost in the coming changes, but without spending so much as a Headwaters grant we can conserve and strengthen many jobs, securing property owners and taxpayers while systematically mitigating their impacts for the first time—if we can bring ourselves to create intelligent policy on this issue.

Decentralized Mom-and-Pop growing was proposed by a Dutch study as the best method for reducing crime associated with marijuana. We’ve already got that covered. A business model is being invested in right now in SoHum that pools small growers into a cooperative that decentralizes both criminal temptations and impacts of growing, while continuously improving sustainability as part of its branding for Bay Area consumers with similar values. Grades of pot in this scheme are based on their growers’ achievements of the brand’s Salmon Safe Sensimilla.

Can we encourage sustainable sunshine grows, forbearance from summer water draws, standards for road and runoff improvements, and evolution of cultivation practices toward an ideal of self-sufficiency? To complement individual efforts, rural reformers must gain a critical mass of urban support before officials will get behind such programs.

It’s worth noting that legal collectives do something Humboldters outside the cannabis culture have long complained isn’t done—they report and pay income taxes. Medical growing, thanks to the indoor industries, already supports hundreds of above-board jobs in dispensaries and supply stores. We can encourage further small business growth and economic stability with cooperative planning.

Is it possible for us to get past our ancestral fixed positions on pot, and plan together a stable and prosperous future? I don’t know, but I hope we start to find out this weekend, at the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel’s forum entitled “Humboldt Cannabis—A Future of Opportunity” on Saturday from 2 to 6 at the Bayside Grange. It’s time for fresh thinking and nimble action on a countywide scale—because we’ll die of the bright ideas of others if we don’t start re-thinking ourselves.

Charley Custer is Secretary of the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel and a Redway writer

“Nice Try Dude!”

By Mikal Jakubal


“You’re definitely a boy. Nice try dude!”

Said one of my film subjects after identifying and ripping out another one of half a dozen six-foot-tall male marijuana plants from her garden. It took pulling with all her might to uproot the them from the beds where they had been so carefully tended since I first filmed there in April. At that time, she took a risk and put unsexed plants in the ground rather than leave them in  pots till they sexed. It paid off for the female plants—they’re now huge—but that leaves half a dozen large empty spaces that will produce no bud this year. She mentioned having a source for some replacements, but they would be small and, given the late season, would not have time to produce much useable product by October harvest.

If the male plants have developed flower buds by the time they are pulled, they can still bloom, spread pollen and fertilize the female flowers (creating seedy bud that no one wants) if left lying around the garden. Some people bury them, others burn them. My subject dragged them by the roots down the dusty dirt driveway and tossed them into the forest a hundred yards from the garden saying, “That should be far enough.” And then throwing up her arms and pleading to the sky, “Goddess please don’t seed my plants!”

I felt bad for her, losing that much potential production, but I have to admit, it made for great footage! When was the last time you watched documentary where a slightly-built woman pulled giant pot plants out of the ground and dragged them down a dirt road? Sometimes documentary filming is like that. Like everyone in the film, she understands that ups and downs are part of the deal and wants to make this film as true-to-life as possible. One good year or one bad year, it’s all part of the story.

“That’s my shit!”

Recorded, transcribed and edited by Mikal Jakubal from an interview with a local stream restorationist, Garberville, July 2010.


I was working on a restoration project in the upper Mattole Valley. This was May of ’90 or ’91, when big storms came in and all the creeks came up over their banks. This caused a debris torrent that flowed 800 feet down a creek, scouring it out and leaving the hillside bare and eroding.  I was up there afterward doing work on erosion control, slope stabilization and drainage correction. The friend I was working with had not shown up that day, so at lunch time, I drove into Whitethorn, where I saw him. As I pulled over, I saw there was a Sheriff’s deputy behind me.

When the deputy asked me for my license, I realized that it was expired. The deputy poked his head in the truck and started asking what was in the various containers.
“What’s in that jar?”
I answered, “peanut butter.”
“And that jar?”
“And what’s in that one?”
Then he says, “do you mind if I search your truck.”
I said, “No. Go ahead.”
So, I get out of the truck and he points to a bale of alfalfa hay in the back and asks, “is that a bale of hay?”

Then he sees this big, balled-up bunch of newspapers and I say, “Oh no! You don’t want to look there, that’s my shit.” His eyes get real big. He’s really excited, ‘cuz he figured he’d found the wrapped up pound or two of marijuana in the back of somebody’s pickup. So, he’s tearing into it and I’m trying to explain why it’s there. I had been working on this steep hillside, near a spring and I didn’t want to crap near the site, so I crapped on paper and wrapped it up to throw in the outhouse back at home.

He’s still digging through the papers and finally he gets down to the middle and….ewwww….starts to fold it back up, telling me what a good sense of hygiene I had. [Laughs] I felt bad ‘cuz you don’t want someone getting in your shit, you know? [Laughs] I was embarrassed at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how funny it was.

That story got told and adjusted a lot by different people. It was made to fit the CHP doing pretext stops on Hwy. 101 in later years. It actually made High Times. It was priceless, the look on the cop’s face and how excited he got when he was told not to look there because that was “my shit.”

Skunk weed.

Recorded and transcribed by Mikal Jakubal from an on-the-street interview.


“Years ago a friend of mine was driving his motorcycle on the backroads in the hills of Humboldt carrying two large garbage bags full of pot, all dried and trimmed, on his way to a deal. It was dark, at night and he was driving really fast, holding the garbage bags in his teeth so he could steer the bike on the rough roads.

[You can picture this, right?]

He came around a corner face to face with a skunk in the middle of the road. Unable to stop and without room on the narrow road to detour, he threw his legs up off the pedals and into the air, trash bags full of weed still held in his teeth and hands on the handlebars. He was able to maintain control of the bike as the skunk sprayed the rear tire, missing the pot and him. “

Recreational Marijuana Ordinance Proposed For Humboldt County

The Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel (HuMMAP) has posted a draft ordinance written by CA NORML‘s Ellen Komp. It would set recreational marijuana policy for the County should Proposition 19 pass in November. On a quick read, the proposal seems sane, clear and workable. It establishes a set of licenses and fees for various aspects of the cannabis industry in Humboldt County.

For example, a home grower license would cost $2500 and allow you to grow and sell weed right from your home. You could potentially have a roadside farm stand, as many rural people already do, selling flowers, corn, eggs and bud. Something tells me that the honor system used by many farm stands might not work so well with that one.

For $500 one would be able to get a cultivation license and for an extra $50 permit, the licensed cultivator could sell at certified farmers markets—but no more than 50 lbs/year. Even if the price dropped to $500/lb, that $500 fee seems like a pretty good deal!

This all makes me wonder about alternative ways to finance post-production of this documentary if Prop 19 passes. Maybe I could get growers to donate weed to the project and then get some kind of a license to offer it as a premium with pre-purchase of a DVD? That doesn’t seem permissible in the current proposal, but maybe I should propose an artist funding amendment of some sort. Hmmm… (I’m kidding here. Well, mostly.)

Financial Times Deutschland mentions documentary

By Mikal Jakubal


I was one of numerous people interviewed for this story on the pot economy. Originally, the print version is all that went online, but now the full version is up. If you don’t read German, you might get a kick out of GoogleTranslate’s attempt at an English version. I’m quoted on the second page and the film gets a mention.

Marijuana museum for Garberville, anyone?

By Mikal Jakubal


I’ll be filming at 707 Cannabis College’s EXPO at the Mateel Community Center on Saturday the 10th. They’re starting a SoHum version of Oaksterdam University, with more emphasis on outdoor and organic medical marijuana growing.

The political and economic landscape of Southern Humboldt is rapidly changing. 707CC is part of the response to that change and will also at the forefront of it, along with the soon-to-open medical marijuana (MMJ) testing lab, a rumored MMJ dispensary, the above-board MMJ grower/patient collectives that are now forming and the many other projects that will spring out of the creative minds here.

This sudden surge of activity is surprising, given how quiet and secretive SoHum has traditionally been about its economic and cultural basis. In the last couple years, there has been a documentary and a CNBC piece done about the Emerald Triangle, but both focused on Mendocino County, most likely because no one in Humboldt would talk to them. Similarly, most of the articles that have photos and interviews with real growers have been written about Mendo. The latest issue of the S.F. Weekly follows this trend.

While many people in SoHum are still living in a fading past and others, like the Chamber of Commerce, are still trying to deny that past ever existed, there are forward-thinking people taking the future by the hand and running with it. For those concerned with the future of the community here, that is the only hope.

Two ideas that I’ve heard people talk about, but have yet to see any action on are the Marijuana Museum in Garberville and MMJ “bud and breakfasts.” If Prop 19 passes in November, the door will be open (if Humboldt County growers organize and push the County to allow it) for bud-and-breakfasts for everyone, along with other forms of pot tourism. Things are moving fast, so nothing will surprise me at this point. Whatever happens, I’ll catch it on video.

(NB, if you’ve got a cool new project, tell me about it so I can document its early formation. In the future, having this on video will be invaluable to understanding the cultural history of SoHum. There is also the possibility for cross-promotion between the documentary and these new projects.)

“Prop 19—barely legal”

Marijuana legalization ballot measure now officially “Proposition 19.”

By Mikal Jakubal


The-ballot-measure-formerly-known-as-Tax-Cannabis-2010 has been given the official title “Proposition 19” by the California Secretary Of State. Apparently, the state restarts the Proposition counter every ten years, last doing so in 2008. This explains why the 1996 medical marijuana initiative was Prop 215 and this year’s legalization initiative is Prop 19.

FireDogLake has an interesting blog post on this subject and quotes the L.A. Times blog post on a rather incredible coincidence: that the last legalization attempt in California in 1972 was also called Prop 19. The Secretary Of State’s office says it is a coincidence.

(Anyone want to do some research to see if there really have been exactly eighteen previous propositions on the ballot since 2008? It could make for a good scoop!)

While everyone is waiting with bated breath for the November election results, I’m waiting to see how “19” will be adopted as a new meme by stoner culture. For example, a California doctor’s recommendation for the medical use of marijuana is widely referred to as “a 215,” e.g. “I’ve got my 215.” Even law enforcement uses that term. I’ve seen ads by people looking for “215-friendly” rental apartments and Craigslist personal ads by people “looking for some 215.” Of course, we’ve all heard of “420” and its various apocryphal origins.

I’m sure that someone is printing up number 19 sports jersies and t-shirts with or without a pot leaf as I write this. It’s also quite predictable that “dude, got any 19?” will become a common question and “19-friendly” will begin appearing on singles ads as code for occasional recreational pot use. Less obvious (it doesn’t come up on Google yet) might be the association of the Proposition with young women and weed, as in “19 and legal.” Juxtapositions of young, scantily-clad, busty women and weed are pervasive in marijuana culture, even in hippie SoHum, so maybe such an ad campaign would appeal enough to the young, white-ganster-wannabe crowd that they would actually get off the couch and vote.

And if Prop 19 fails at the November polls? Well, since one of the many criticisms of the measure is that it would  legalize possession of a mere ounce, supporters can shrug and say, “19—eh, that’s barely legal.”

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