Checking Out Humboldt’s Pot Crop


Graphic from “Regulating Marijuana as a Crop.”

As the Emerald Counties struggle with regulating a mostly underground marijuana economy, researchers are attempting to find out the reality of what is happening on the ground so that policy makers can create sensible laws.

Yesterday, the Public Policy Institute of California, which describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, published an article taking a look at cannabis farms and their real world impacts. In a story entitled Regulating Marijuana as a Crop” the two authors look briefly at growing practices around the state and take a closer look at Humboldt grows.

Here’s a few things they found out. Most importantly, they cite a study which came out on the 21st of April, (we’ll look at this study more closely in an article later this week) which indicates that most Humboldt County cannabis farms use less than one acre of land and grow less than 100 plants. These numbers bolster local cannabis growers claims of mostly being mom and pop farmers.

The authors point out,”Given the small size of most grows, marijuana production currently does not appear be a major driver of deforestation in California, although building access roads may cause erosion and fragment wildlife habitat.”

In spite of concerns about water consumption of these notoriously thirsty plants, the authors also believe that overall marijuana grows consume a relatively small percentage of California’s agricultural use. They point out that most recent “estimates of marijuana’s water use in Humboldt County…suggest that under 2,000 acre feet a year is used for that county’s entire crop. This is enough to irrigate about 400 acres of almonds (for scale, California currently has more than 300,000 irrigated acres of almonds).” That means that the water used for Humboldt County’s cannabis crops equals a little over .13% of that used for the overall California almond crop.

Nonetheless, the authors point out that water to irrigate the crops in the hills can come “from headwater streams that are home to sensitive species, and water use tends to increase in the fall when these watersheds are most stressed.”

And, from looking at the graphic above, it is obvious that some Humboldt watersheds are impacted more seriously by marijuana growing than others. Now, it remains to be seen, if the new regulations being put into effect in this county will change the map above and ease the impacts on certain areas especially on wildlife and water.





  • Biz As Usually

    “Now, it remains to be seen, if the new regulations being put into effect in this county will change the map above and ease the impacts on certain areas”

    How will regulation change things? So it’s regulated, big deal. People are seriously growing some weed this year and next and next and so on.

  • This map shows plants/watershed, not plants per grow.

    • Yes. I think the map has some interesting information including where the larger growing areas are and which fish habitat is being affected

      • I agree. I thought it was important to point out, since the text refers to plants per grow.

      • sharpen your pencil

        What I found more interesting is the comparison to almond orchards….. People can think about that while they enjoy their almond “milk”. However what I would be even more interested to know is the usage of the vineyards of California, as well as golf courses! Those numbers would probably be baffling.

  • This comment was almost laughable….”most Humboldt County cannabis farms use less than one acre of land and grow less than 100 plants. These numbers bolster local cannabis growers claims of mostly being mom and pop farmers”.

    When I came to Humboldt County almost 25 years ago the area I moved to was pretty much timber property and had very little traffic. You could smell the trees and hear the wildlife. Every now and then the timber harvest plans opened up an area on the ridge across from us and it generally took 4 or 5 years to grow back. Now with the green rush, the traffic has increased, the sound of wildlife has given way to loud diesel trucks racing up and down the hills, the smell of the forest has given way to the smell of marijuana, and the ridge across from us has become covered with the white tops of green houses.

    My neighbors are now mostly from out of state or the bay area and only here for growing. I googled the mountains around me and trees have been replaced by green houses and open marijuana grows. No one grows less than 100 plants. The old Mom and Pop growers are being replaced by younger greeder growers. There are very few real Mom and Pop growers left, they grew to make money, they still do, they just have to grow more because there is more product on the market.

    These authors are obviously tainting the story to try and sell that the marijuana rush is great for our county…just as the timber industry did before it. As with all industries, the rush to sell the good of the industry bites us in the butt in the future. The pro marijuana industry groups are using data that can be manipulated to go either way to sell their ideas and still be able to grow without real regard of nature. We are going to pay in the end when the market dies out just as we did with the tourism, the timber industry, and now the marijuana industry.

    • Trees dont take 4-5 years to grow back. Most take decades of centuries.

      • Most local timber companies were on a 30 year harvest cycle. Cut – Replant -harvest again in 30 years – repeat… They are gone now save one. Oh well, we now have dope to grow instead.

        • 30 years would work if youre only goal is to farm trees. If you wanted to have functioning forest you would need a much longer cycles and differant practices than were used in the past.

    • Seeds of change

      You must live in one of the red zones in so hum because I live in a grower neighbourhood in northern humboldt and know of multiple 99 plant or less grows. Full sun on drip irrigation where the land owner is the main caretaker and they mostly drive tacomas that I don’t mind much. One of the neighbors did a timber harvest plan last year however and I have never been more disturbed in my life. The sound of the trees screeching every morning gave me a headache. I only smell weed towards the end of the year through my car window as I drive by one of them but never from the comfort of my own home. And once they push their flat for their house and greenhouse they tend to leave the rest of the forest alone in my experiences. Your telling me that you would rather see the mountain side across from you stripped down every 5 years hearing logging equipment go one for a month at a time rather then a few greenhouses that don’t even take up an acre?? 1 acre of green houses is 15 30×100 greenhouses all put together… Think about that for a second then go on google earth and see if you find 1 grow with 15 30x 100 greenhouses. I’ve spent countless hours and have found a few half acre grows but never 15 of the biggest greenhouses humboldt growers use in one spot. I hear you about the diesel trucks but I doubt you smell weed from your porch if your on land in the hills maybe as you drive by 1 or 2 guys during harvest. My experiences with the growers over the years have been variant but overall I have seen a positive shift as they start to understand the importance of maitaining roads, water storage , and a general sense of community. There are always some Bad apples but they were here before the green rush. 15 years ago is was almost scary to drive deep down our road and thieves would steal your chainsaw if you left it overnight. Now people wave stop and chat on the side of the road and no one try’s to use our road as a garbage dump which was a regular accurance back then. I’m torn but it seems everyone around me is talking about water storage and making sure roads are nice and I see a lot of folks making an attempt to preserve what they have. Maybe I’m just in a good spot and northern humboldt got on the bus later therefore tore up the land slower I don’t know. I went on a delivery out 36 with an old friend last week to help and saw a few concerning things and that hwy has an interesting vibe about it now. Not sure that I like what I saw. The densmore store is sight to behold to say the least. I consider that central humboldt though and kinda a no mans land that truly has that green rush mentality. I think the writing is on the wall though after seeing the densmore store which I hadn’t seen for a few years now and man has it changed. It’s obvious where our economy rests and I really hope that the bad apples get rained in and the ones that seem to be trying to do the right thing get a chance to really steward the land as they get wise with age. You don’t know how to steward the land unless someone teaches you.. The elders in the community need to stop bitching and start teaching. I remember the first time someone I knew got a solar panel and we were in awe. Now I can install an entire system for you if needed. The fresh off the boat growers are that in awe of the solar panel state of mind trying to find their way not know what that flat they push will look like in a year because no one is telling them or teaching them. If you just stay quiet in you community but bitch online your voice will not make it to the ones that need to hear it. Leave a note like I have on a fellow community members gate expressing your concerns and give yourselves to option to learn from one another. They might not know the smell bothers you or you think their truck is obnoxious but if you tell them then that plants the seed for change. Good luck

      • I love thoughtful replies like this. Thank you.

      • ‘You don’t know how to steward the land unless someone teaches you…’

        Best comment ever!

        • First world problems.

          Or if the land teaches you. I come from no experience in land and now raise most of my families food,don’t suck water up from the rivet, and generally feel we are doing good for our piece of land.

      • I agree that northeast Humboldt has a much more relaxed and friendly vibe than either the 36 area or southern Humboldt. There is a really good community happening in willow creek. Lots of nice young families and older people and a genuine respect for the land. I’ve seen quite a few people who have moved there to grow and have become really integrated into the community over the years.

      • Biz As Usually

        Dinsmore is a shit show! You need a translator to speak to half the people. Between the Bulgarians, Mexicans, Hmong and tooth less tweekers, it’s like being in a movie or weird dream. The new owners have made a huge investment in that store, all on the backs of growers. If the market changes or they actually start busting people, that store will not be able to stay in business. It will be back to selling cigs, alcohol and expensive food.

        • sharpen your pencil

          They will be wishing they had the bowling alley back, and a hell of a lot less plant related crap. The store thrives off of drunks and growers. The cost of alcohol there is insane… Double the price of town in some cases. The new owners are petty assholes, little miss I wish I was Dolly needs to uncork her head from her hind end and she may appreciate the view a bit more.

    • I don’t know about the author’s having an axe to grind. If you click their names on the article you get a sense of who they are. Let me say that there are certainly some large, destructive grows in the area I live. But there are also many smaller mom and pops

  • I wonder how this map was produced…by using google earth? Am curious about the yellow (500-1000) and orange (5000-10000) sections that look like they’re in the King Range Wilderness area on the coast, which does include Shelter Cove and environs south into Mendocino County…but I find it hard to believe that BLM would allow grows to remain on federal land if they’re visible from the air (I doubt that the backpackers who hike the Lost Coast Trail are out there tending their crops – maybe I’m wrong)…and all the blank areas on the map…why aren’t they dark green?

    So the black lines are supposed to be rivers and their tribs…but some aren’t accurate. It would have been nice if they did use actual watershed boundaries, and finished the map, as it looks to be a work in progress…with a lot of errors.

    • I believe the black lines are basin or subbasin boundaries (ridgetops) not creeks. I also noticed the color coding for the western edge of the King Range, but that subbasin includes the “residential” areas south of the mouth of the mattole, and those areas would skew the results for the entire subbasin. It does seem like the blank areas on the maps should be dark green, or coded for “analysis in progress” or something.

      • If that’s true, then the yellow and gold should only indicate the beach side, which doesn’t include the mouth of the Mattole, only those few parcels out of the Mattole watershed which drain into the ocean south of the mouth, along with the many small ocean-draining creeks on the Lost Coast Trail on federally managed land…all the way through to Shelter Cove. They should have labeled the map ‘subbasins’, not watersheds, and should perhaps note that not all the ‘subbasins’ in Humboldt County have been examined and included. Mattole and the massive Eel take up most of SoHum…that’s 2 full watersheds. What percentage of each of these watersheds was examined? I just don’t like maps which are so unclear and il-labeled, that are used to back up an article that might be used as some sort of basis in fact. I’m not defending any big grow…lord knows that I have many around me, but I just don’t like misinformation being spread under the guise of a scientific report.

  • Unfortunately there seems to be a green rush in the Mattole this season. So sad. Don’t folks know they can’t get a county grow permit unless the site was already under cultivation? I’ve seen new areas cleared further and further away from cabins to make way for greenhouses to grow where nobody has grown before….

    • Long-time local

      I’ve seen the last year and a half as a mad rush to get as many greenhouses in as possible before the law was passed. Endless bulldozing and trucks that can’t be good for the watershed. And what about the massive amounts of fertilizer alone that comes into the community? Funny how county rules work, you can’t get a subdivision for one house without paving (yuck!) if the road is too steep, but apparently you can get a grow permit and allow huge trucks on that same unpaved road. Hard to believe this will stay a “rural” community unless the bottom falls out-so sad!

    • Yes – our area has undergone this. I personally see some of it as OK – greenhouses at least potentially release less NPK contaminants than open field grows, in which all soluble nutrients wash downhill during the heavy rains…..and they protect crops from rain induced mold……But of course if people are growing depo, it means generators roaring away for months in the Spring providing illumination. I dunno, has anyone calculated the carbon footprint of the trucking of soil, the generators and so on? It’s certainly massive this time of year…..and don’t even get me started on the water trucking…..we had something like four trucks a day on our decidedly iffy dirt road for over a month at a time during the drought……hopefully this year will be better. (We gather rain water, and thank goodness have had enough so far)
      I’d love to see the statistics county wide on how much water and soil amendments were trucked and how far….THAT would be an interesting map… one wants to talk about that.
      I can only add my own mea culpas…..we’ve impacted this property far more than I ever envisioned ten years ago…..we don’t like it, but feel pressured. No, we’re not millionaires – in fact, we should be doing better than we are, but have had several disastrous years leading to near poverty, amazingly enough. I’m an ex-Earth Firster, so I cringe at every bulldozer cut, every tree cleared, every pile of litter and abandoned cars….and how about your roads? Do people keep them backhoed, water barred and up to USFS low erosion specs? It don’t happen on our road much, despite most of the occupants being quite successful……well, these are just my pet peeves…..
      As far as this study goes……it all depends on where you live I suppose…….My feeling is we can all do better – prioritization of erosion reduction for instance……and every bulldozer cut introduces nonindigenous plants. I watched the thistle population explode here over the last 5 years from new roads…..people don’t realize that the more traffic there is, the more weed seeds are transported in. I don’t want to see our native bunch grasses replaced by other species, or other changes due to fragmentation of the microbiomes…..well, the same thing happened on a massive scale when cattle ranching was introduced, and I dunno – as destructive as they can be I kinda like cows……so only time will tell if all this flurry of cannabis activity is a good thing.

      • I had never heard the argument that greenhouses “potentially release less NPK contaminants than open field grows.” It sort of made sense to me at first but then I realized that all that soil goes back outside. Wouldn’t loose soil piled on the ground potentially release more? (PS I enjoyed your comment. I worry a lot about the exploding thistle population, too.)

  • I’m confused about the map showing plants growing on the King Range Coast? Certainly, there aren’t permitted grows in the King Range, are they estimating illegal grows on federal land here?

    • Almost assuredly most of the grows depicted aren’t permitted. Almost all are illegal including those in the King Range.

      • I know BLM has closed any grows on their lands wherever they find them…500 to 1000 plants between the mouth of the Mattole, even to Miller Flat isn’t something that I’d believe…only 3 roads in there, and no vehicle access along the beach. How did they determine the line between yellow and gold?…Black Sands is farther south. The map’s just too inaccurate…if they saw large grow sites on federal land, I can’t imagine BLM not having dealt with them, especially in the King Range.

  • First world problems.

    Welcome to weed 2016 just like lots of other bullshit propaganda in our culture, were about to see graphs ads and maps depicting things we as individuals will know if false, but the populace believes anything they see it read on the internet. Get ready to stick with the people whos word you trust and who you know have your back, cuz not every pot grower is kind or trustworthy, neither are lawyers, politicians, county officials, etc. May be some good ones in the mix, but most of the good folks have been bred out of the oligarchical systems. Don’t tread on me.

  • Constructing well engineered ponds can go a long way to offset water diversion.
    However with the current tax em’ till they bleed models ( one of which is sponsored by uncontested congressman Wood ) , there will not be much money left over to pay for a properly constructed pond.
    You would think that tax incentives would be offered for such improvements. But sadly they are not.

  • Out with the big time growers, hope all the deps get busted, greaty f@$KS keep the poor man down, and plant thousands rather than 99.

  • Wow, if this were true Humboldt would be a wonderful place to live. Ive lived in so hum a long time and I can not think of very many people growing less then a hundred plants. That is the most bold faced outrageous lie I have EVER heard. Not even half the crops here are under a 100 plants. If that was true I wouldn’t be trying so hard to move to Mendo where that actually is true. Nope, there is a large number of people here that grow hundreds of plants on multiple properties. They Bogart the land to plop a worker on who doesn’t want to live in the woods. Then those properties sit empty every winter and non pot growers can rarely get land from the jacked up mega grow land prices here. This county won’t become a nice place again until the truth is dealt with. We need to run the mega grows out and actually have small mom and pop farmers with under 100 plants. Look at the litter from cars all over our roads compared to five years ago, trashed cars, dead bodies found all the time. We live in a county where even the 70 year olds grow over a hundred plants. Why is this county so damn greedy, the woods are suppose to be for naturalist to live in, not large incomes.

    • Again, a little exploration with Google Earth ought to confirm or deny, so to speak….My admittedly spotty perusals have found certain areas where greenhouses are everywhere, others where there’s smaller grows….I live in one of the red zones – I don’t have to use Google Earth here! But I can’t speak for the rest of the county…..they do try to put it in perspective comparing other ag crops, but crops such as almonds aren’t grown on sensitive headwaters…..I dunno – I’m holding out hope that the industry matures…..and regulation will select for grows that are ecologically sound.

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