Way back when, a friend would occasionally stop by our apartment near the University of Oregon campus. He’d pull some marijuana out of his pocket, roll up a joint and share it with us. Everyone feeling relaxed, we’d make the purchase: twenty dollars for a baggie. It was all very friendly.
A few years later, on the Oregon coast, friends who tended gardens often had a corner for a few marijuana plants. The herb thrived in the cool, moist climate and the cultivators were glad to share. All very friendly.
Fast forward to northern California. A pot farmer in Humboldt County was recently sentenced to life plus thirty-five years in prison for murdering one Guatemalan migrant worker and attempting to execute another. Rather than pay them, he decided that bodies would unlikely be found in the remote area and they wouldn’t be missed anyway. Several people have been killed this year in disputes over money or inadvertently wandering onto illegal growing operations. Clearlake, population 15,000, in Lake County just north of Napa, has had five marijuana-related murders so far in 2016. Large-scale cultivation takes place on remote private property, sometimes unknown to the owner, as well as state and federal lands.
Salmon aren’t doing too well, either. Water diverted from rivers in the drought-stricken area, prevent salmon from returning to their spawning grounds. The state Fish and Wildlife Service estimates illegal grower are taking in excess of two billion gallons from the rivers. Grading and access roads increase erosion. Use of chemicals is killing wildlife and polluting streams. Trash, human waste and gasoline and diesel all contribute to the environmental degradation.
Medical use of marijuana is legal in California, and finding a physician to write a prescription is easy. Voters will have the opportunity in November to join their neighboring states to the north by making recreational use legal. That could lessen the problem, as some dealers will want to market their organic product. (A store in Portland advertises “Medical” and “Recreational” marijuana. What is the difference?) Entrepreneurs in the evolving business fear the influx of big money from institutional investors. The city of Weed California could have a whole new approach to marketing itself.
Corporatization of the industry is probably inevitable. As legal marijuana becomes the norm, look for branding and sophisticated marketing campaigns. Outlaw land use will probably diminish. “All very friendly” will probably become an advertising strategy.