When I tell people I’m from Mendocino County, I invariably get one of two responses. Either someone tells me they went here for a vacation once and it was really nice1 or they say “Oh man, Mendo, they grow great weed up there.”
I live in pot country. The Emerald Triangle. Land of the doobies. Whatever you want to call it, marijuana is so firmly entrenched in the culture here that it’s almost impossible to find someone who has lived here for any length of time and hasn’t grown, trimmed, dealt or been involved in some way with marijuana, or at least knows someone with connections to the industry.
This is a place where the streets turn skunky in the fall and people have been known to show up at the community college with small bags to trim while they learn.
Given that I’m one of the most boring xoJane contributors, it probably comes as no surprise to anybody that I’ve never really been that into weed.
I’m way too controlling to be at all interested, I don’t like bad smells, and I’ve been exposed to the darker, uglier sides of marijuana culture, the parts that don’t really creep out into the rest of the country at large. When you actually live in the place where the wild fern grows, so to speak, you tend to have a very different view of it than people on the outside looking in, often through rose-colored glasses.
This is a place where helicopters hover constantly in the fall months, searching for marijuana grows. I get used to the constant buzzing over my house, but it sometimes disturbs visitors, who seem to think that if you’re living out in the country, it shouldn’t sound like an LAPD squad is planning an aerial assault.
A local radio station used to occasionally interrupt their broadcast with a monotonic warning: “A word to the wise...,” followed by a recording of helicopters. They used it to let people know about law enforcement movements, until law enforcement got pissy with them and told them to stop it. KMUD in Humboldt County, to the north, still does it.
Living in pot country means that every fall, people are paying for things with sticky, smelly hundreds, while they drive their expensive German cars around town and try to act like they’re just regular folks.
People not relying on marijuana as a primary source of income, meanwhile, are struggling to make do in a county with an extremely high cost of living, one where people are driven to growing because they don’t know what else to do. This tends to foster some class resentment among some residents.
Marijuana is a huge part of our local agriculture, but it brings in no tax revenues. The schools raise money to pay for music programs, the Parks and Recreation District considers shutting down the community pool they built at great expense and just opened, the streets have potholes and everything has a worn-down, tired look. Meanwhile, billions of dollars funnel through the black market, untouchable.
Grows in state parks are another issue here; residents know better than to go off-trail in many areas, for example. Garbage and agricultural pollution streams into the rivers we just fought so hard to clean up after decades of the wine industry’s carelessness. Endangered plants are trampled underfoot to clear the way for profitable crops.
Periodically, law enforcement raids make their way into the forest, and sometimes people get shot. Inevitably the media has a picture of sheriff’s deputies triumphantly holding up huge uprooted plants to illustrate the story.
The media seems to want to portray California as some sort of idyllic land of pot fields where everyone skips along and holds hands, or as a state struggling with a growing2 public safety menace. The reality is, of course, somewhere in between; we definitely have a more permissive culture when it comes to smoking and growing. We definitely have some public safety issues, too.
When people hear I’m from Mendo, they give me the old nudge nudge wink wink. It’s not that I am anti-pot. Far from it. I really don’t give a flying fart about what people do with their time.
I’m just not into what pot culture does to my community; I’m a firm proponent of legalization because I want to slap ridiculously high taxes on it so we can start getting some actual social services in Mendocino County, so we can care for the people who live and work here, so my car doesn’t bottom out on half the streets in town because of the epic potholes.
Much of the debate about marijuana in the US ignores the reality experienced by people living in communities where marijuana is cultivated, and also doesn’t consider the broad spectrum of that reality.
Some people don’t see any problems with the culture here. Others are very anti-pot. Our voices, though, often aren’t made a part of the larger discussion involving what to do about pot, or we’re overridden when starry-eyed people want to tell how great it must be to live in the emerald triangle.
People who smoke often don’t think about the impacts of their habit on the communities where their weed comes from. Or they think that by buying “organic3,” they’re clearing the slate and being responsible consumers. There’s a lack of accountability not just for growers, but also smokers.
I live in pot country, and it’s definitely not all that and a bag of chips.