Marijuana cultivation — of the illegal variety — has been the economic lifeblood of three counties — Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity — in Northern California, known as the Emerald Triangle. The War On Drugs and frequent raids by federal agents have helpfully kept street prices of pot sky-high and profits large for renegade farmers.
But greater supply, more competition, and especially the prospect of legalized marijuana — with the issue enjoying majority support and slated to appear on November’s ballot in California — is exerting downward pressure on pot prices, reports Michael Montgomery at NPR
The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP)
, a massive air and ground assault launched by the Reagan Administration in 1983, with the goal of “eradicating” pot and arresting growers in the Emerald Triangle area, was a big factor in causing wholesale pot prices to shoot to as high as $5,000 a pound. The sudden windfall for growers willing to risk prison time changed the mellow pot-growing culture forever.
But that boom, which has enriched not just ganja growers but also countless ancillary businesses like garden supply stores, banks and vehicle dealerships — along with just about every restaurant, mini-mart, and other business in the area — may be about to end.
“The most successful government price support program in history is finally failing,” said
Charley Custer, a writer and community activist who arrived in Humboldt County from Chicago just before CAMP was launched. “The price of pot is plummeting.”
“A lot of people were living on welfare and peanut butter and banana sandwiches for a long time before pot made it possible to be part of the middle class,” Custer said.
“Outdoor growers are having a hard time unloading their fall harvest,” Custer said. “And this is six months later and when some people do move it, they don’t get nearly the price they were hoping for.”
The downward pressure on prices has extended beyond the illicit growers and now affects medical marijuana producers as well.
Prices are now dipping below $2,000 a pound, according to interviews with more than a dozen growers and dealers. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said some growers seem unable to get rid of their pot at any price.
“We arrested a man who had… 800 pounds of processed,” Allman said. “Eight hundred pounds of processed. And we asked him: ‘What are you going to do with 800 pounds of processed?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.’ “
“There’s a tremendous amount of concern, bordering on fear,” said Tim Blake, a former illicit grower who now cultivates medical marijuana.
In recent weeks the upheaval and concern have spurred a series of unprecedented public forums about where things are headed for the Emerald Triangle’s marijuana industry, especially if the legalization initiative passes this fall.
“The displacement of persons deriving supplemental income through clipping, gardening and distribution of marijuana dwarfs the number of growers who will lose their income entirely,” said local activist Anna Hamilton, who organized a meeting in Garberville.
“There are business foreclosures, storefronts closing,” Hamilton said. “There’s a lot of instability and anxiety.”