Humboldt weighs impact of legal pot

Marketplace Staff Mar 23, 2010

Humboldt weighs impact of legal pot

Marketplace Staff Mar 23, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: There’s something of an unusual meeting set for tonight up in Northern California. Local businesses, politicians, and farmers, I suppose you could call them, trying to figure out what to do if marijuana is legalized here in the Golden State. There are legislative moves afoot to make that happen. And for places like Humboldt County, which depends mightily on the underground pot economy, it is causing some angst.

We’ve got Ellen Komp on the line. She’s the deputy director of California NORML — that’s the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Ellen, welcome to the program.

Ellen Komp: Thank you. Good to be here.

Ryssdal: What are the folks up there worried about?

KOMP: Well, there’s a lot of change coming. We have two viable proposals for legalization in California on the table right now — AB 2254 in the state legislature and Tax Cannabis 2010 that’s going to be on the November ballot. People want to know what that’s going to mean to this whole community up here.

Ryssdal: I guess the fear is that legalization in some form would lower prices for marijuana.

KOMP: Well, yes. Medical marijuana already has. I mean you have up here you know back-to-landers who came back and have their subsistence farms and in the great tradition of American moonshine had a little bit of a cash crop perhaps. And now medical marijuana has become an industry, not just a movement. And it’s changed things already. Think tourism alone in California, the kind of business that we could have. We could be in Humboldt, like Napa Valley is to wine.

Ryssdal: And that’s a really good point, actually. Because I’ve been doing a little research, and Humboldt and Mendocino Counties are like the Napa and Sonoma of the marijuana world.

KOMP: They’re known throughout the world as that. And now we’re talking about how we could certify things organically in Fair Trade. Outdoor grows versus indoor grows. Educating the consumer about a product we had to be underground about all these years.

Ryssdal: Is it reasonable to say that marijuana prices have in effect been subsidized by being illegal?

KOMP: Yes.

Ryssdal: And the day is coming when you’re looking to lose that subsidy.

KOMP: Right.

Ryssdal: Do you all worry about big companies coming in and saying, wow, this stuff is legal let’s see what we can do about this?

KOMP: Yes, people are very fearful of that. So it’s really interesting because medical marijuana is serving as a model for what it would look like when it’s fully legal. And it’s all along medical marijuana collectives have to be nonprofit, they have to be small. So it may actually usher in a new era of a different kind of economy that isn’t just based on big business, which is of course what the cannabis community has always been for.

Ryssdal: There is a slice of the business community up there, though, that is not involved with marijuana in any way. How might they be affected?

KOMP: Oh, I think they’ll be greatly affected. Because this is a rural economy that depends on what’s local. There’s no lumber industry here anymore, there’s no fishing industry, we’ve got water issues. And so, it definitely has propped up things around here.

Ryssdal: Ellen Komp. She’s the deputy director of California NORML. That’s the national organization to reform marijuana laws. We were talking about a symposium up there in Humboldt County tonight. The Post-Marijuana Prohibition Economy Forum. Ellen, thanks a lot.

KOMP: Thank you.

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