Paranoia and Pollution: Humboldt County and the Battle for Privacy in Post-Drone America.

Full article available in SKUNK Magazine, available early December.

Humboldt County is probably the only place in the world where it’s just as likely to shop for groceries alongside a marijuana farmer than it is a corn farmer in Kansas. Marijuana is literally growing everywhere. “Look on Google Earth, they [marijuana gardens] are just there. You don’t have to look very hard. On my drive home I can see three greenhouses from a private road where a lot of people actually live,” says Kym Kemp, a local activist and native whose family has lived in Humboldt County for over three generations.

Marijuana cultivation has become so ingrained in the livelihood of Humboldt County that, according to a report written by local banker Jennifer Budwig, marijuana sales account for $1.3 billion in gross revenue annually.

Budwig’s estimates are based on annual police seizures. Police estimate they seize two percent of the county’s yield annually. Budwig used a 25% estimate in her calculations to ensure that her numbers would err conservative. She indirectly cites federal prohibition as a limiting factor to her research because financial exchanges on the black market create a huge margin of error in her calculations.

“The problem is, most of the money doesn’t stay here,” says Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey. Downey is referring to the out-of-state farmers and Mexican cartels that are growing in the remote areas of the lush natural redwood rainforests that are native to Northern California and Oregon. Downey cites recent reports that show drastic signs of environmental degradation caused by these “Green Rush” profiteers. The situation has gotten so bad that Downey, who recognizes marijuana cultivation as a matter of subsistence for locals and is otherwise tolerant of marijuana farming, has called in for Federal backup, inviting the DEA to Humboldt County to assist in the eradication of these farms.

In early July 2012, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors signed a contract with the Discovery Channel to film a documentary-style show about marijuana law enforcement in the county. Rumors purport that the county stands to see financial gain from the show, which in turn has incentivized local law enforcement to prioritize Federal marijuana law over other more violent crimes. Further, that local law enforcement has lobbied the Federal government for use of military spy drones such as the ones used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; in order to seek out large marijuana grows in Humboldt County.

The domestic use of spy drones is alarming; once they are in the sky they are likely to never come down. It is more alarming however that the average person may be inclined to support the use of domestic spy drones because of the moral, environmental or physical damage caused by drug production and distribution. In places like the Emerald Triangle most people don’t have a problem with the cultivation of marijuana, but they do have a problem with the extreme damage caused to the unique natural ecosystem of the redwood rainforests by drug cartels and domestic smugglers.

The rumors are only half true. There are not currently spy drones flying over Humboldt County but the door has been opened by the passage last year of HR 658, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Act and marijuana mega-growers in Humboldt may become the poster children of why they are a necessary law enforcement tool.


Humboldt is not a good place to grow marijuana. It is foggy and chilly on the coast most of the year; inland, large mountains, hills and trees create uneven light distribution for optimal growing. Marijuana is grown in Humboldt because it is extremely remote. In the early 20th century, much of the population growth was centered on the logging industry, which has scaled down considerably over the last hundred years. When marijuana reentered popular culture in the 1960s and 70s, a counter-culture migration of hippies and naturalists moved north of the San Francisco Bay and settled in Humboldt County, many of them growing small marijuana farms and living off the land. Marijuana became ingrained in the local economy as it replaced logging as the county’s main source of income.

Full article available in SKUNK Magazine, available early December 2012. 

One thought on “Paranoia and Pollution: Humboldt County and the Battle for Privacy in Post-Drone America.

  1. Pingback: HUMBOLDT COUNTY: Ground zero in the national debate over military spy drones and federal marijuana law enforcement | Tipping Point

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