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Why legalizing marijuana in California hits close to home

Here's what it looks and feels like to grow up in the second largest weed capital of California.

In 2008, I was going into my freshman year of high school and my mom was going into the weed business. At age 14, I had no idea how it would really change my town, how the economy and livelihood of Nevada County, California, would become so reliant on this business.

In 2016, it was official, recreational marijuana was legalized in California. But voting to legalize it wasn’t a cut and dry decision for me. It was more personal. I had a multi-layered opinion about it because it’s more than just getting to buy a few buds down the street with a simple flash of your ID. Among other things, I was reflecting on how this legalization is going to affect the energy and soul of the place I grew up. Whether positively or negatively, I wasn’t sure.

[bctt tweet=”In 2008, I was going into my freshman year of high school and my mom was going into the weed business.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Small cannabis garden in the daytime.
[Image Description: small cannabis garden in the daytime, Nevada City, California.] via Sara Marshall
Legalization in California doesn’t directly affect each county since they vote and implement their own laws. However, legalizing marijuana statewide does flood the market, which then trickles down to the counties.

For Nevada County, there isn’t an ordinance in place to regulate anything. This is conflicting for the growers. With no ordinance or real restrictions, it has allowed space, literally and figuratively, for people to grow as little or as much as they’d like. There becomes so much product that the prices drop.

Sheriff Keith Royal states in an interview with the Union that “there’s a philosophy that Nevada County is an open county. We’re seeing a tremendous increase of people coming from other parts of the state where it’s strongly regulated or where they’ve banned outdoor grows.” He continues, “they’re buying second properties so they can grow. It’s a bigger problem than we anticipated.

[bctt tweet=”It has allowed space, literally and figuratively, for people to grow as little or as much as they’d like. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

On the other hand, the influx in people meant the county needed more of everything.

Local businesses like the co-op grocery store, lumber yards, and soil companies experienced big expansions. In 2016, the Nevada County Archive Center shows these industries in the top six value crops with timber valued at $1,800,800, vegetables at $1,771,000, and nurseries at $502,200. Marijuana growers rely on these resources for their gardens, feeding themselves and their trimmers.

My mom, who I will call Carmen, a resident of Nevada County for 18 years and a cannabis grower for over a decade, sees how this business as a whole, “has brought so much to this town, whether it be the music venues or all the jobs,” she said. “It’s brought a real rich culture to this town. It has brought life and diversity.”

[bctt tweet=”It’s brought a real rich culture to this town. It has brought life and diversity.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My friend Julia Heick sees things differently. Working at Curly Wolf Espresso House for the last 10 years, Julia caters to the influx of people who aren’t giving back in a way she’d expect or hope.

“Originally the trimming scene brought a lot of business into the cafe and the county. But over time and with the growing popularity of living that lifestyle, it started becoming more invasive and less positive for the locals,” she said. “In the beginning, we had a huge spike in how much we were making and that matched with how many travelers were coming in [hundreds]. The crowds kept coming but the business did not.”

[bctt tweet=” The crowds kept coming but the business did not.” username=”wearethetempest”]

White sign with black letters posted on glass saying "Please no large backpacks and/or rolled mats/sleeping bags. thank you."
[Image Description: White sign with black letters posted on glass saying “Please no large backpacks and/or rolled mats/sleeping bags. thank you.”] via Julia Heick at Curly Wolf in Nevada City, California.
Five years back the industry peaked when the market was flooded with product, making it less lucrative to grow and migrate into the town.

[bctt tweet=”Now the town’s quieter, partly because of less trimmers but also just less money it seems.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For example, in 2008, the going rate per pound was $2,600. Now, you’re lucky you might get $800. For growers like my mom, breaking even is minimal after calculating the product bought and labor.

“The amount of people coming in has slowly dwindled, as if the word is getting out that the likelihood of getting work is low,” Heick says. “I don’t believe trimmers have had that much of an effect on our business. But the weed business is how most of the locals make money. So I do believe with less growers it’s causing our business to go down. People go out less. Now the town’s quieter, partly because of less trimmers but also just less money it seems.”

After the midterms, Nevada County voted in California’s first openly-gay sheriff, Shannon Moon who plans to implement regulation and going after the large grows, but not banning it all together.

This method might actually eliminate the influx of transplants from out-of-county who are buying large plots of land and not necessarily giving back to the community as much as they’re taking from it. This could make room for the local farmers to do their thing and keep the business flowing in local stores.

Being in transition right now, it’s still hard to say what will be implemented and how it will affect this town. But hopefully with a good balance of regulation and freedom this small California county will find a new happy medium that benefits both growers and locals.