Thursday, October 22, 2009

Weed: The cancer of Humboldt County?

I just watched the A&E documentary "Pot City, USA", a fear-inducing chronicle of grow houses in Arcata, Humboldt, NorCal.

Watch Part 1. (Thanks NCJ!)

Watch Part 2.

Watch Part 3.

Watch Part 4.

Having not lived in Arcata for nearly four years now, I honestly don't know what the situation has become. This documentary feels a bit sensationalized, complete with dramatic and emotive music and fast cuts. But it also seems pretty accurate when compared to what I've read elsewhere.

Many pot growers (and way too many smokers) often have a misguided sense of entitlement to do what they do simply because they think they're fighting against the injustice of prohibition. The feeling is all the more righteous in Humboldt because pot is quasi-legal there, or at least hyper-tolerated. It's really a shame to see the destruction, as depicted in the documentary, that some of these grow-ops have wrought. I guess I never realized how much damage a careless grower can do to a house -- the mold, the fire danger, the rot. Growers I've known are just more responsible than some, I suppose.

It seems to me that the main problem here is the quasi-legality of pot. Even before it reached that status with the passage of Prop 215, which made medical marijuana legal in California, Humboldt was a haven for pot growers. I also don't know what things were like in the years before 215, but I don't think it was any worse than what's shown in the documentary in terms of number of grow houses. After 215, my guess is that Humboldt's reputation attracted a new wave of growers eager to exploit the already liberal attitude.

But the fact that the drug was/is still technically illegal means growers can still rake in the cash. They have been able to operate in this grey area where pot is both legal and illegal -- liberalized laws make it easier to grow but growers can still get paid from the unregulated black market. A perfect storm, if you will.

One more argument, it seems, for why pot should be fully legalized and regulated -- it's an all-or-nothing endeavor. As mentioned at the end of the documentary, if pot was legalized, all those grow houses would cease to exist. I'm not entirely sure grow-ops would just up and vanish, but at the very least, the trade would not be so lucrative so reckless amateurs would be less inclined to rush up to Humboldt to make a quick buck. If growers had to register with authorities, for example, the potential for damage to a property would be significantly reduced, and if a house was trashed there would be a viable recourse.

It even looks like legalization could happen as soon as next year. Not holding my breath, but hey, California is a trend-setter.

It's clear that growing pot is not (always) a victim-less crime. But the victims would be far fewer if it was no longer a crime.

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