Monday, November 30, 2009

Rural California going to pot

Hayfork, California's 1,900 residents are located in Northern California, 60 miles West of Redding in Trinity County. The Los Angeles Times describes it as a town with no stoplights, no home delivery of mail, and few jobs--but lots of marijuana.California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act permits marijuana use with a doctor’s recommendation for patients with cancer, AIDS, “or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” The breadth of this law has been said to effectively legalize the growing, distribution and use of marijuana in California. State law also permits large-scale operations to exist by pooling individual growing rights within cultivation cooperatives.

These cooperatives have taken root throughout rural California. Favorable weather, lax law enforcement, persistent poverty and high unemployment have brought a particularly virulent strain of the medical marijuana boom to Hayfork. In Hayfork the decline of the logging industry left a vacuum in the local economy. Marijuana entrepreneurs bought up parcels of land for just $3,500 and now there are tens of thousands of plants being grown throughout the town. These lots now change hands for upwards of $50,000 – marijuana is now everywhere."Kids stroll much of the year past pungent plants flourishing in gardens and alleys. The red-and-black clad Timberjacks football team moved its halftime huddle on a recent Friday night to avoid the odor of marijuana smoke wafting over the gridiron from nearby houses. Some students talk openly of farming pot after graduation, about the only opportunity in this depressed timber town.” The town of Hayfork is just one example of rural California going to pot in our continuing statewide experiment with quasi-legal marijuana. A similar storyline is playing out throughout Trinity County. “Growers have flocked to Northern California's ‘Emerald Triangle’ of Trinity, Mendocino and Humboldt counties for cheap land, a good climate and loose oversight.” Trinity County consists of 3,200 square miles and just 14,000 residents, a density of just 4 residents per mile. That’s 160 acres per person.

Until Burger King arrived in 1999 Trinity County did not have a single chain store or restaurant. Trinity County, all 3,200 square miles of it, has no incorporated cities, no freeways, no parking meters, and no stoplights. Per capita income comes in at $16,868, with 18.7% of residents living below the poverty line. Unemployment is just shy of 16%.

Trinity County’s 15 police officers are responsible for enforcing law throughout all 3,200 square miles. Rural communities fear that growers will be encouraged by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s recent statement that the federal government will halt raids on legal dispensaries.Marijuana cultivation is resulting in massive changes to rural culture, "It's just torn the fabric of our society," said Judy Stewart, a 69-year-old retiree who has lived in Trinity County for more than 50 years. "It's pitted people against one another." Arcata, another northern California town consumed by marijuana, has seen entire sections of houses turned into permanent grow operations – blighting neighborhoods and increasing fires and break-ins. All this change has also resulted in a considerable influx of cash. "The only thing that keeps this economy going is the growers," said Dennis Cooney, owner of the Northern Delights coffee shop in downtown Hayfork.

As explored earlier on Legal Ruralism many rural areas have seen increased violence due to illegal growing on federal lands. Perhaps a quasi-legal approach, with lower violence and positive economic impact, is actually an acceptable outcome.


Adam W said...

I have to say, having spent time in this part of the state from as early on as I can remember, the degree to which some north county economies have come to rely on this particular source of income is both readily apparent and highly regrettable.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Hayfork for 10 years and taught school in Hyampom where kids were driven to school in brand new Corvettes but got free school lunches. One of the county supervisor's husband got sent to jail for pot growing while she was in office. I knew of about ten people who were murdered or 'disappeared' during my time there. I was never so glad to escape from any place in my life!