An Immigration Story

The history of the United States is the story of opposition to the immigration of ethnic or socioeconomic groups, one after another. Beginning with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, those who had previously immigrated fought against the succeeding wave of newcomers whom they perceived as less worthy than themselves.

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin railed against the “Stupid, Swarthy” Germans coming into Pennsylvania. Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Muslims, Mexicans have all been subjected to anti-immigrant backlash. During the Depression, California tried to keep out “Okies” who were fleeing dust-bowl oppression.

Digression: Noted journalist and food writer Calvin Trillin maintains that the high point of U.S. immigration policy is the Immigration Act of 1965, which allowed a greater influx of people from third-world countries. Previously, quotas favored the British over Asians. “I guess the idea was that people who like bland food make good citizens.” He said. “In food terms, it wasn’t a good policy.”

A half-century ago, upstanding citizens tried to fight off another invading scourge: hippies. Humboldt County, on California’s northern coast, felt it was being inundated by long-haired, unwashed hordes. So much so that local citizens got up a petition to keep the hippies out. The entreaty, with 111 signatures submitted to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors demanded relief from a “mass infiltration of hippies” into their communities.

“Many residents have come upon them bathing in the nude and having intercourse on the beaches of our rivers and ocean,” the petition complained. “We are concerned with their utter lack of regard for the moral, health, and sanitary codes.” The appeal also complained that many of the interlopers were said to be receiving welfare payments.

Fifty years later, life goes on in Humboldt County. Along with Mendocino and Trinity Counties, the area has become known as the Emerald Triangle, so named because it is the largest cannabis-producing region in the U.S. Since the hippie invasion, marijuana has become a strong force in the region’s fiscal health, first as part of an underground economy, then legal and mainstream in recent years.

The Changing Agricultural Economy

“This is amazing. I’m not afraid to touch the products without gloves.”

The 2019 wine grape harvest has been tabulated. The total value of the crop from the North Coast of California was down fifteen percent from the previous year. (Super-prestigious Napa Valley grapes did manage a four-percent price-per-ton increase.) California wineries crushed ten percent less tonnage than in 2018. That means 250,000 tons were left unpicked. Industry experts calculate that 50,000 acres need to come out of production for supply and demand to meet.

So what does this have to do with marijuana? you may ask. A lot if you’re a vineyard or winery worker.

Premium wine grapes thrive in the coastal climates of California: Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties. So does marijuana. Cannabis growers are poaching workers from wineries by using the underhanded methods of paying more — including health care and paid sick days — and providing better working conditions.

One marijuana grower put it thusly: “A lot of times in agriculture, the employees get used like a tool. ‘Oh, we’ve got to harvest so let’s bring in 20 people, have them work 10 hours a day and don’t come back tomorrow.’ They don’t care what your name is or how you get your groceries next week.”

That and less pesticide. Wine’s dirty secret is the amount of chemicals used in the vineyards. Cannabis, not so much.

Does this mean that eventually marijuana fields will be hip places to host wedding extravaganzas?

John Boehner: Still Smokin’

“I’m all in on marijuana.”

Republican John Boehner resigned from the House of Representatives in 2015 after nearly twenty-five years, the last five as Speaker. He has since found a life after politics.

“I’m all in on marijuana.”