Chapter 2) A Divided Community

Growing marijuana is so commonplace it’s become brazen. Driving into the Hayfork valley, gardens populate the stretch of rolling hills on either side of the road, visible between houses and popping up behind makeshift fences. Late in the growing season when plants are budding, pungent clouds of marijuana scent the air, detectable to those driving through town. Along Hwy 3, the sole main road through town, a windshield survey counted 42 visible marijuana gardens in a 7.4 mile stretch of road; plainly observable from the road driving past.

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A marijuana garden seen from the road in Hayfork.

Marijuana is a part of everyday life here. Its prevalence has created an incredible reality where participation in a black market drug trade is interwoven into the fabric of the community and has become somehow ordinary.

Evidence of growing is easily gathered and also taken for granted. Grocery stores carry trimming supplies—turkey bags, latex gloves, and scissors used in the final stage of production to make a sale-ready product—in bulk and display them together as endcaps. They are purchased nonchalantly, by farmers or workers who often have the smell of marijuana clinging to them during harvest season.

 

Read More: Trimmers

The local farmers market hosted only three produce farmers, but the town supports four garden supply stores, their shelves filled with products tailored for marijuana cultivation. During planting season, a daily stream of trucks deliver innumerable bags of soil to these stores, pallets stacked up in long aisles that stretch across parking lots and along the sides of buildings, only to be exhausted and replenished days later.  Some trucks even trek to remote areas to drop off deliveries to growers directly, miles from town, piloting thousands of pounds of soil down one lane dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, where most properties don’t have electricity or running water.

References to the busyness of harvest season, or commiserations about the hassles of housing work crews are common in conversation. People speak with openness about what they’re doing because there is an underlying assumption that most people are involved in the industry in some capacity or another. In this tiny mountain town, marijuana gardens have risen like a slow tide, saturating the neighborhoods, the remote mountains and valleys, the intimate landscape of this place.

With all this farming, there have been changes, good and bad, and the determination varies depending on who you ask. It is here where the bitter crack of division begins to fragment the town around the issue.

At worst the industry is perceived as immoral and exploitive, an illegal industry drawing on the land and damaging the community in the name of profit. Under this rubric, the problems are personified: growers are characterized as self-interested, greedy, and indifferent to the damage they do to the community or the land. This worst version is true in some cases, but it can’t be generalized.

In practice there is a lot of variation in what profit motive looks like. Economic hardship, or the often grim reality of the existing alternatives that prompt so many people into an illegal industry are important motivators, but are not part of a common understanding of what’s happening. The question of why so many people are choosing the risk of participation in a black market industry, and what this means, isn’t really being asked.

For many, the marijuana industry has provided a source of income and employment. For those who are looking into the bleak void of poverty, this plays out in vital terms, allowing them access to resources and comforts they wouldn’t otherwise have.

“If I wasn’t farming (marijuana) I would struggle to make ends meet,” explains David, “To provide for my children and help them get through their education is a big help.”

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David in his garden.

 

 

 

“If I wasn’t farming (marijuana) I would struggle to make ends meet,” explains David, “To provide for my children and help them get through their education is a big help.”

 

 

 

 

As an industry that has emerged in an impoverished area, marijuana offers economic benefit by creating opportunities for income. Many locals identify it as the economic glue holding the town together, and see it as a potential bridge to long-term economic development. Marijuana has created jobs, supplemented incomes, and supported local businesses. Marijuana is also credited by many as the single draw for new arrivals, adding to the human resources and cultural diversity of the town, and supporting increased activities and new opportunities.

But these benefits come at an expense. Unregulated marijuana production has brought with it significant environmental damage in the form of water use, clearcutting, bulldozing, sediment runoff, and inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides. It also imports the dangers associated with illegal drug trade, although extreme ill effects– such as robberies or violence– are outliers in the growing community.

So much farming in such a small community adds to the intensity of discord. How people relate to the industry represents a broad spectrum, but at the far ends of it there is a polarization between the resolutely lawful and the wantonly lawless.

“If you want to live in a society where everyone just does whatever they want to it’s just total anarchy,” says Bruce, a long term resident who has become increasingly incensed about the overwhelming amount of illegal marijuana production taking place. “If you’re going to start down that path of doing something illegal, where else does it lead? What are the things involved in that? Laundering money, counterfeiting, you can go in all kinds of different directions.”

Read More: Interview with Bruce

The ethics of marijuana production remain complicated because the reality of the industry is complicated. Immersed in a culture of farming simply by virtue of living in Hayfork, opponents of widespread marijuana production understand that those farming are not simply drug dealers in any conventional sense of the word.

“I know there are people who may not necessarily do something illegal (in other circumstances),” says Bruce, “but this they see as an opportunity for them to pay their rent, pay their taxes. I know there are people out there who do that, and they’re just trying to stay above the water, from a financial standpoint. Because they don’t have anything else, and they see this as an opportunity to get ahead, especially because there’s no enforcement.”

Still, for some the obvious negative effects of marijuana farming outweigh everything else. There is frustration about widespread clear-cuts that pave the way for farms, the pesticides and fertilizers funneled into the rivers, and water use at a scale the landscape can’t support. Some worry about the effects of the industry on children. Many express particular frustration with the toll farming takes on county resources without supporting them through taxes.  And some are motivated by bitterness against those that are choosing not to follow the rules.

“I think I resent the fact that something illegal can come into town, plop down with no regulation and no standards, and people can do whatever they want,” explains Mag, a long-term Hayfork resident, “I don’t like feeling like a victim in my community.”

Read More: Interview with Mag 

These concerns are evident in the local newspaper, in articles and letters to the editor, on social media, as topics at town and group meetings. They have also been manifested in periodic organizing on the part of citizens to advocate for county enforcement, and in engagement with the board of supervisors to craft county ordinances.

The division in the community is rooted in the tangible: having enough water, seeing the landscape around you bulldozed, or being crowded suddenly by strangers in local grocery stores when you used to know the entire town. Or if you’re farming, having access to income or the ability to secure property or buy a home, to live more comfortably, or the palpable fear of being reported and losing your entire crop.

The end result has been a time of escalating contention, with some citizens frustrated by the scale of the marijuana industry, returning to Board of Supervisors meetings again and again, yelling angrily and railing at the board with accusations of incompetence, demanding some response to their grievances, some action that will eliminate, or at least manage, what they perceive as an out of control industry.

At the same time, there is an emerging political activism within the marijuana farming community. Catalyzed by the loud requests for regulation and crackdowns on growing, and with state regulatory changes offering legitimacy, members of the growing community have begun stepping forward to voice the less audible concerns of the growing community. They advocate for their livelihood. And they articulate the essential role marijuana has in the economy, and express a desire for a larger, and long-term vision of regulation that can sustain the community.

Visit: Trinity Farms for Compliance

“I think that if our community manages it well,” says Miles, a long-term grower, “it could be a net benefit for the community at large, but if it isn’t and (the marijuana industry) goes immediately to corporatization, it would be really easy for that money to just go elsewhere. It would be really easy for it to have no net benefit for the community.”

The complicated truth is that the effects of marijuana production are varied. It presents a vast set of regulatory challenges and environmental problems, but at the same time offers a path to livelihood for many in a place that has struggled with poverty for decades. The ability to label the industry as good or bad becomes impossible, especially in a time when the legality of the industry is transitioning. Currently, the Trinity County Board is revising their own marijuana cultivation ordinances. How these are set up will greatly determine the scope of legitimate farming in Hayfork and the community, and those pro-growing and anti are weighing in with fervor. With the polarized spectrum of voices speaking loudly, and new state legislation paving the way, decisions with far-reaching implications rest in the lap of the Board of Supervisors.

Read More: Dry wells and the 91

 

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Chapter 1) The Marijuana Industry Goes Boom

Chapter 3) Shades of Green: Marijuana Growers