Marijuana County, USA

With marijuana legalization spreading across the nation, Northern California's Humboldt County — epicenter of the Emerald Triangle of pot cultivation — may serve as a case study on the effects of widespread marijuana growing.

Journalist Emily Brady's timely book "Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier" represents a balanced look at the positives and negatives of marijuana as a cash crop.

As in Oregon, California allows medical marijuana but recreational use remains illegal. Brady researched her book as Californians debated, and then ultimately rejected, a proposition to legalize recreational marijuana in 2010.

The residents of Humboldt County have long ignored any laws on marijuana cultivation, which represents a significant part of the local economy.

Brady grew up just south of the Emerald Triangle in the Napa and Sonoma region, where wine grapes are the cash crop.

She spent more than a year living in Humboldt County and profiling residents — including an older woman focused on outdoor-grown organic pot, a pro-legalization sheriff's deputy and a young woman who rejected the marijuana economy in order to leave and pursue her education.

County residents were divided on the legalization issue.

Some feared that legalization would cause marijuana prices to plummet as the crop lost its black market status — possibly leading to the collapse of Humboldt County's economy.

Others envisioned tourists flooding into the county to sample and buy marijuana, much as tourists visit wine regions to sip wine.

Mare Abidon hoped to market her organic, outdoor-grown marijuana as an environmentally friendly alternative to indoor marijuana that thrives under lamps 500 times stronger than reading lights and gobbles up 9 percent of California's household electricity use.

She was disheartened to learn that dispensaries and many customers favored indoor grown marijuana with inflated THC levels that produce a stronger high.

Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputy Bob Hamilton favored legalization and looked forward to the day people could buy marijuana as easily as alcohol.

Hamilton believed legalization would cause major companies to enter the marijuana industry, forcing many Humboldt County residents out of business. With that change, the local economy might diversify and provide a broader range of jobs.

He was sick of the county's high rate of home invasion burglaries by thieves seeking pot, cash and guns, and residents' lenient attitudes toward drugs that contributed to a high rate of overdose deaths from meth and prescription drugs.

Emma Worldpeace grew up in a household where her mother grew marijuana and witnessed the positive and negative impacts of the crop firsthand.

After her mother got busted and authorities took marijuana and cash from the property, the family had to rely on food stamps and trips to a food bank. Unable to make mortgage payments, they lost their home and land.

As Worldpeace entered high school, she began to notice the large number of people who were killed over drug deals or simply disappeared.

She left for college but was ridiculed by her high school dropout stepbrother, who made $100,000 per year growing pot. Later, he was jailed for allegedly shooting two immigrant farmworkers who asked for better working conditions at a marijuana grow site.

Worldpeace went on to graduate school to become a social worker, unable to answer whether she would ever want to return to live in the county of her youth.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or Follow her at

Share This Story