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It’s different up here.

It’s different up here.

By Mikal Jakubal

Times have changed, no doubt. Last week, a member of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and a sheriff’s sergeant testified in a Santa Rosa courtroom on behalf of two men charged with transporting pot through Sonoma County. The defendants are employees of Northstone Organics, a permitted medical marijuana collective in Mendocino County. Yes, you heard that right: the sergeant testified for the defendants. These two men were stopped on two consecutive days in what was a clear case of intentional surveillance. It’s unclear why Sonoma County law enforcement would prioritize intercepting an operation that is merely passing through Sonoma County en route to its Bay Area delivery route, nor why they’d intentionally provoke neighboring Mendocino County, throwing down a de facto challenge to the validity of Mendo’s medical pot permitting ordinance.

"Purple Diesel"—a little something to spice up an otherwise all-text post.

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Weekend marijuana weather forecast: Broken branches with a chance of mold.

Weekend marijuana weather forecast: Broken branches with a chance of mold.

There are such things a aviation weather reports for pilots, nautical weather reports for sailors and so on, so why not a special weather product tailored to the pot industry? The KMUD daily weather reports already include the exact length, down to the minute, of daylight—an important factor in when pot goes into flower.  Special mold, wind and rain alerts could be issued, along with regular data on daylength, temperatures, humidity and so on.

That would require some drastic changes in federal marijuana policy, given that NOAA  is federally-funded. In the meantime, you don’t have to be a shaman or clairvoyant to read about the rain predicted for this weekend. Blame global warming or chem trails or a HAARP conspiracy or chalk it up to “shit happens,” but it looks like we’re in for another crop-thrashing early rain. Most pot on the Northcoast is nearing harvest, with buds swelling in the warm fall days. Early strains have already been cut, dried and trimmed, while the later-finishing varieties are two to six weeks out. For those, there is enough water-retaining bud on most plants to over-tax branches. We had a similar situation last August. At that time, flower clusters were much less developed, but the rain still shattered unsupported plants.

Well-prepared growers have their plants well-staked or caged or netted already, but many will be scrambling to tie things up before Saturday night’s predicted rain. It doesn’t matter if it is only a couple tenths-of-an-inch; the bud will hold the water in its tight flower-cluster structure until the branches give way. It doesn’t help that the rain is predicted for the middle of the night. If it were daytime, growers might go out and hand-shake buds during the day, only staking any that threatened to snap.

Add to this the threat of Botrytis mold and powdery mildew from all the extra moisture and it’s going to be another stressful harvest for some people. I like to mention these problems to counter the notion that pot growers don’t have to work, don’t have any risk of crop loss and thereby are somehow greedy and lazy. No one will deny that it is the highest-paying agricultural work you’ll ever do, but it’s also easy to lose an entire year’s work and investment virtually overnight to mold, ripoffs, “hermaphrodism,” bag mold or law enforcement confiscation if you’re operating in the black market and get busted. Unlike soybean or apple farmers, there is no crop insurance for weed.

Yet.

Labor Day in Whale Gulch

Labor Day in Whale Gulch

By Mikal Jakubal

Whale Gulch Labor Day party at Four Corners.

 

One of my main documentary peeps lives in the Whale Gulch community, possibly the most remote region of the SoHum area, straddling the Humboldt/Mendocino County lines on the ridge above the ocean. You get there via a winding, one-and-a-half-lane mostly-paved road with blind corners and no shoulder. Deer and other wildlife, falling trees, landslides, boulders, mud, flooding, fog, rain, pot holes and vehicles driving on your side of the road are normal hazards. Though located in Mendocino County, people from “The Gulch” use Garberville, in SoHum as their town. When they go to town.

You probably won’t find yourself in this unlikely somewhere unless you go looking for it. The only indication you’ll have that a “there” exists will be the bulletin board at Four Corners and the Whale Gulch school, which you’ll pass a bit farther on. You’ll know you’re almost there when you see the sign on the treacherously-slim, serpentine, one-lane road with steep drop-offs that warns “Road Narrows.”

There is no green sign welcoming you to Whale Gulch, no store, no gas station, no post office or zip code, no rows of houses, no street lights or stop signs. And yet a vibrant community three-generations old lives all around, in homesteads intentionally out of sight, tucked into the comfort and insulation that this remoteness provides. This land is steep and rugged; the forests, dark and often foggy; the dirt roads snaking into the hills, unmarked and muddy or dusty, depending on the season. Large fences obscure the lives of those who live within eyeshot of the road. You may see the occasional helmetless, unlicensed ATV rider out on the road, going somewhere with an air of purpose. Slow down to let them pass or use turnouts when you can, because they will be going faster than you.

Like most of these hermit-ish hill communities, it is rare to see more than a handful of people out together in public at any one time. It takes an emergency, a funeral or a big party to bring people together. While disasters and funerals are ad hoc affairs, each place has its regularly-scheduled parties and gatherings. Elk Ridge has Sunday potluck/music/volleyball games during dry weather. Ettersburg has Sunday softball games. Salmon Creek has a famous Halloween party. Other places have similar weekly, monthly or annual events, often held as fundraisers for their neighborhood hill schools or fire departments. Especially at harvest, pot is the most common topic of conversation, followed by the weather and gossip.

After the Whale Gulch community center building burned down ten years ago, the intersection informally known as Four Corners has become the community gathering spot when they need a large, open area for events in this otherwise steep and forested landscape. The annual Labor Day picnic and barbecue is held as a fundraiser for the Whale Gulch Volunteer Fire Department, one of many such “bake-sale fire departments” that provide the first response in remote areas like The Gulch.

While Four Corners is an official Mendocino County road, the event goes on without a permit. Traffic can still pass slowly through, once the kids with their chalk and toys, the dogs and the random clusters of chatting people with plates of potluck food lazily clear the way. This event is emblematic of the community spirit that pervades much of SoHum, despite the isolation. It gives it it’s unique “placeness.” Food is mostly potluck—and good! In addition, there is a huge table of deserts and a barbecue churning out heaping pans of chicken that I could smell a quarter mile down the road as I approached. The donation jar was stuffed with cash—though mostly $20s, not the $100s you might have seen ten years ago. They made the intersection into a community center for the weekend like they owned the place.

Which, in a certain sense, they do. There is virtually no law here. The Mendocino County Sheriff would have to drive an hour and a half from the nearest small town in Northern Mendocino to get here. There is no County Roads crew here on Saturday and they wouldn’t care in any event. The Highway Patrol only comes here when called to a real emergency, especially on a busy holiday weekend. So, the road belongs to the people.

In sixteen years, this was my first time at this event. I came partly out of curiosity and partly out of hope to shoot my doc participant at just this sort of community event. While I’m formally done with principal photography, I’ve realized that I still need some pickup shots of participants being involved in grass-roots community events. I ended up not being able to shoot today, but did have some great food and caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while. I’m usually not much of a meat eater, but smelling that chicken for a quarter of a mile, I couldn’t resist. By the time I was leaving at dusk, some musicians were talking about where to set up. I was told the party will go into the night. In the morning, everyone will come back and there will be a big breakfast and more events throughout the day. And then it will all be packed up till next year. If I hadn’t already committed to working on the film at home tomorrow, I’d get up and go back. Maybe I still will.

***

Along the road from Four Corners to Whale Gulch, not far from the “Road Narrows” sign, a small, brushed-out clearing in the trees affords a zen glimpse of the ocean from the high ridge you’re on. Not a gaping picture window or an observation tower with a 360-degree view, but a narrow slot, more like a rifle port. Enough for a passing glimpse. The ocean, like the community, is always there, behind the trees and hills, visible only when the brush is occasionally cleared.

I see my film very much like this little clearing. It will be a sliver-thin window into a rich and complex world. My intention is not to try and bring you up to the bell tower to see the city spread before you like a map, nor is it to expose anything or to remove the mystery. If anything, you should come away with a deepened sense of mystery, or maybe awe, at this place. You will realize that there is no map to see. Hopefully you’ll also let go of every misguided stereotype you ever heard of about the Humboldt community and pot growing and come to understand why people feel so much is at stake.

Hillbilly internet behind the Great Redwood Firewall

Hillbilly internet behind the Great Redwood Firewall

Internet antennas atop ancient redwood

SoHum’s off-grid lifestyle and our extremely rugged topography create special access challenges, whether by car or computer. We live on the dusty, tortuous, slide-prone backroads of both the physical landscape and the internet superhighway. We surf the web in high-clearance 4WD.

While many people are still on 16K-24K dialup modem connections and others with southern sky access have satellite internet, one local provider has found a way to bring high-speed wireless broadband to many remote areas via a network of repeaters that bounce the signal deep behind the Redwood Firewall—the 21st Century version of our perennially puncture-resistant Redwood Curtain.

The small white antennas barely visible at the top of this ancient redwood are in line-of-sight to a tower on a high ridge somewhere that in turn is line-of-sight to another tower and so on, bouncing the internet signal via microwaves to the residents in this narrow, wooded canyon. A ladder up the inside of the tree, hollowed out over the centuries by multiple wildfires, provides maintenance access. The steel ladder is a recent improvement over the old wooden ladder nailed up behind it.

And, no, your cell phone won’t work out here.

Ladder access up hollow tree to internet antennas

“But officer, I’ve got a karmic recommendation for this tobacco!”

In case you thought the U.S. was the only country with nutty drug laws…

This just in from Reuters. Bhutan police raid homes to stub out smoking habit.

According to the article, Bhutan anti-tobacco cops are now training a special tobacco-sniffing dog to crack down on illegal tobacco use. Smokers in that country are limited to 200 cigarettes or 150 grams of other tobacco products. Since sales are illegal, all tobacco must be imported and smokers must show customs papers if challenged by police. While all that will sound more than a little bit familiar to U.S. pot smokers, the big difference is that in Buddhist Bhutan, smoking is considered damaging to one’s karma.

Not sure which is worse: smoking a joint in the U.S. and risking a criminal rap, or smoking a cigarette in Bhutan and risking a karmic rap. Either way, it is comforting to know the governments of the world are looking out for our best interests. As Bhutan moves to further implement their 2005 smoke-free laws, it won’t surprise me if certain monks develop a profitable industry out of giving karma credits for the use of tobacco. “Well, since in a past life, you died while saving a child from a fire, I think you’ve got karma to burn along with your tobacco. I’ll give you this recommendation for tobacco use. That will be 9,041 ngultrums. Cash only.”

I wonder if they’ll borrow the playbook from U.S. drug interdiction cops and start doing pretext stops on the roadways in Bhutan: “I pulled you over because you seemed to be swerving in the road. I smell the distinct odor of tobacco, so I’m going to do a search. Please step down off of the horse cart.”

In the meantime, Montana’s Republican legislators just voted to overturn that state’s medical marijuana ordinance, though it has yet to be signed by the Democratic governor. The irony here is that if the U.S. government tried to pass or enforce Bhutan-esque anti-tobacco laws, you can bet these same anti-pot legislators would be screaming bloody murder about government interference in personal lives.

Yours Truly on FireDogLake’s “Movie Night” Monday 5-6:30pm PST

According to their “About” page,  Firedoglake is an online news site featuring original reporting and commentary including the FDL News Desk, FDL Action, Emptywheel, TBogg, Spencer Ackerman (Attackerman) and La Figa. The FDL Book Salon also features online discussion with book authors every Saturday and Sunday at 5pm ET.

On Monday, December 13th, from 5-6:30pm Pacific Time, I’ll be the featured guest on their “Movie Night” salon, talking about the film, the Humboldt County pot culture or whatever else people want to write in and talk about. It is a live text-chat forum, so you can go to the site and “listen in” or sign in and be part of the discussion. The session will also be archived, so you can go back and read the whole thing later as well. I’ll post an archive link here once I have it.

If you’re interested, go to http://firedoglake.com at 5pm tomorrow and check it out!

Environmental Cost Of Pot Video.

Environmental Cost Of Pot Video.

Though apparently posted in May, this is the first time I’ve seen it. The video—with SoHum scenery and personalities, among others—covers the environmental damage caused by diesel pollution from remote, diesel-generator-powered grows, the trash and poison left behind on public lands by large grows and the energy used in on-grid grows. This is all true and fair enough (though I’m skeptical that the haze in the one scene is actually from diesel generators).

The benign alternative to this “pollution pot,” as some people here call it, is small-scale, organic growing operations on private homesteads or backyards. That’s what my documentary peeps are all about.

World’s Oldest Marijuana Stash Found

An interesting tidbit from the ancient world of weed. Seems someone was buried with two pounds of marijuana in the Gobi Desert 2,700 years ago. The weed and other burial items were found when the grave was excavated by archeologists. If those people could figure out how to keep stored marijuana green for 2,700 years, there’s no excuse for your dealer to have brown weed.

Here’s the link http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/12/03/marijuana-stash.html