It is with some sadness that I share that I have left Humboldt.
After 43 years in the area, I moved to SoCal to serve as growth manager for Glasshouse Farms. I will be working on exciting collaborations in the field of genetics and am excited to farm at scale.
We maintain our home in Humboldt and will visit the area whenever possible. Unfortunately, I’m putting the Cannabis conversation on hold for now while I adjust to a new pace of life and settle into my new role.
In this farewell piece, I share my experiences writing this column and farming marijuana in Humboldt. I will also offer some predictions about the industry.
The exposure the Lost Coast Outpostgave me was incredible. While my intention was simply to share ideas and create dialogue and lively debate, the column brought me into contact with some truly wonderful people. Along the way, I was able to help several farms in the Emerald Triangle with pro-bono consulting and also made some really meaningful industry connections.
While my voice is just one of many thousands that come from the marijuana industry, it has been a joy and a pleasure to receive feedback, comments, DMs and LinkedIn connections as a result of my work.
While many of my beliefs are unpopular with growers, I am simply reflecting on what I see, hear and experience as a grower in the world’s most competitive marijuana market. And while larger operations are increasingly the norm, it’s still mind-boggling to see the efficiency and economies of scale now being deployed in space.
With expanded capital expenditures, operations are able to set up, automate, and produce products at a fraction of the cost of less efficient operators. I’ve seen a boatload of growing and finished flowers in recent weeks and the quality of these greenhouse operations is good – in many cases much better than mountain-grown sunburned, bronzing and foxtail dips.
In fact, I’ve seen a lot of Instagram posts lately of open-air, Triangle-grown deps boiling and browning with squished, scorched pestles. No bueno. Presumably people post things they are proud of…surprises me every time I see them, and reminds me of my frustration as a hillside grower with limited environmental control.
While my heart will always be with my brothers in Humboldt and the Triangle at large, soon there won’t be much left of the industry. Farms are laying off employees, cutting wages, falling further behind on bills and cutting corners with farming practices to control costs. Unfortunately, growth can become a downward spiral. Without sufficient labor or high-end inputs, quality suffers, supply prices drop, sales stagnate and things quickly spiral out of control.
I admire the love, dedication, commitment and sense of community espoused by the Humboldt cannabis community. It’s hard to see people struggling, and I pray that the market opens in time to allow for the preservation of our history and heritage. Ethical farmers are some of the kindest, most generous people I have met and my sincere hope is for continued prosperity for all who play by the rules.
Unfortunately, larger interests are slowing the push for national legalization. A recent publication noted that pharmaceutical companies, known for large political contributions, lose significant value with each legalization event. As consumers move from dangerous narcotics to marijuana use for medical relief, inventory values decline, as do drug sales. Big pharma is largely opposed to marijuana (until they buy their way into a national market) and this is one of the reasons why the political will to open up marijuana markets has lagged. Other issues, such as re-election risk, social equity inclusion, misplaced social externalities and concerns about high THC products and youth consumption also hinder progress.
Although there has been some renewed talk about interstate commerce following a recent application of the Dormant Commerce Clause regarding sales of medicinal cannabis, it appears that a functional national market is still a ways off. With more competition from other states, permitted farms find it harder to divert produce to the illegal market, which has been the lifeblood of most “legal” farms for years.
While some farms plan to fallow next season, hoping things shake out nationally, increased property payments and the rising cost of living won’t allow farms to be put aside for long. Money simply goes away too fast. While some will dig in and spend savings to fight it, I fear an even more pronounced rush for the exits after this season, further depressing property values and complicating a successful transition plan for most family farms.
In retrospect, I think we should have known better that California, a state known for an industrial ag complex, would throw family farms under the bus. After a completely inappropriate road show that got NorCal votes for legalization – things changed fast! We asked to be treated like agriculture and taxed, and we got both.
As I look to the future, I see sun-grown greenhouse flowers dominating the smokable flower market. The large multi-state operators are heavily dependent on indoor production and I see that becoming increasingly problematic, not only from a production cost standpoint, but also from an environmental one in a federal context with potential EPA involvement.
The MSO strategy of operating in the limited license states or catch states while transitioning from medical to cannabis may make sense in today’s market, with relatively elevated prices for indoor flowers somewhere, but I see their business models collapsing collapse over time. High-quality greenhouse flowers produced for $100-$150 per pound will eventually displace most indoors and bode well for California’s marijuana operations with scale and efficiency.
My experience farming in Humboldt was mixed. Being immersed in the natural beauty of our mountainous regions was a life-changing experience that I will never forget. Precious encounters with wildlife, working through the extremes of weather throughout the growing season, pushing my body to the limit, and connecting with nature and the higher purpose of saving and improving lives was magical.
Witnessing first hand the blatant hypocrisy and lawlessness of many licensed farms was alarming. I have never once worked on a farm in Humboldt that played by the rules, far from the superior storyline surrounding environmental stewardship and ethical operation. Illegal surface water diversion, product diversion, tax evasion, environmental abuse and worker abuse continue to plague the industry and destroy its reputation. Why do you think so few people care that the industry is crumbling? Why do so many places ban cannabis activity?
A fair number of citizens recognize this and would never support an industry with so many skeletons in the closet. It’s also a shame. Some farms are ethical in business and care about the environment, community and making the world a better place. Unfortunately, they are often polluted by money-hungry or cash-strapped operators who break the law, burn plastic, bury garbage on-site, mask diesel spills with excavations, pollute the night sky and drain the creeks, fountains and rivers, while talking about love. Humboldt all the time. I have seen a lot of repulsive behavior among licensed growers and find it ironic that such “earth loving” people would argue against generator regulations, surface water restrictions, environmental compliance and regulatory oversight.
My sincere hope is that the challenging market conditions will drive the bad actors out of Humboldt once and for all. I hope for a national marketplace soon so that kind, loving, conscious farmers can shine brightly and tell their stories to the world.
I hope that Humboldt, and the Emerald Triangle more broadly, can diversify their economies and survive what promises to be a very challenging short-term disruption. Property values are falling, people are being laid off, and I fear economic desperation will further exacerbate violent crime in the region. I hope that families can stay in the area they call home and I sincerely hope that day farmers can find a lasting foothold in the business they love.
It is with sadness that I say goodbye for now. My heart is always with you Humboldt, and I look forward to standing on your shores once again.
love and prosperity,