Growing Pains


Lee Ellis traverses California’s “Emerald Triangle” – the marijuana-growing counties of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity – and discovers the pressures facing growers like Ethan and Brianna:

Humboldt strictures cap the number of plants allowed per medical user at ninety-nine. “Ninety-nine, you’re fine,” goes the growers’ jingle. If you cultivate the maximum, though, the diameter of each plant’s canopy can’t exceed one foot. Seriously ill residents have their choice of growing a whole field of dainty plants or a handful of mammoths, but, either way, to stay legal they can’t have more than ninety-nine square feet of marijuana canopy. An average [cannabis strain] Longshot specimen has colas—the crowns of the marijuana plant—that, when combined, stretch four feet across, with torsos twice that size. In terms of yield, probably one of Ethan’s plants hit the ceiling on medical, Brianna told me; if this was true, the farm was over the limit by 749 plants.

And yet California, long the marijuana movement’s pacesetter, and a haven for high-capacity growers, finds itself in the perhaps-unwelcome position of losing outlaws like Ethan. Should the state follow Colorado’s and Washington’s leads in legalizing recreational use, as is expected, already-fragile economies in the north—specifically in the “Emerald Triangle” of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties, home to some quarter of a million people—could be crippled. The “prohibition premium” that keeps marijuana prices, and those economies, aloft would fall, possibly so precipitously that many growers would lose their incentive and (perhaps ironically) leave for more-punitive regions. In recent years, many growers have reportedly left California for places like Wisconsin and North Carolina—markets where a pound of marijuana might fetch double what it does in the Golden State. Legalization helps keep growers out of jail, but regulation slashes their profit margins.

(Photo by Flickr user eggrole)