The Littlest Meap

Life in the Underground Economy

Posted by: meaplet on: September 2, 2008

I’m back from Mendocino County after a weekend visit to my hometown. As tends to happen with every visit to the Emerald Triangle these days, I’ve got marijuana on the brain. Figuratively, not literally— my of youth spent desperately plotting to get away from there means that I’m one of the few people my age I know who has never once smoked pot. But marijuana’s influence on everything about my hometown stands out and lingers on the brain even after I’ve left.

I guess Mendo has been a center of US marijuana production for at least as long as I’ve been alive, but it didn’t really stand out to me until I went to college, and the impact seems to have increased every time I go home. To be fair, it wasn’t until I moved away that I realized how very unusual some of the basic features of my childhood were. “Trespassers will be shot” signs that meant just that and more. Relatives and family friends who count their income not in paychecks but in crops.

The hardest thing about going home is seeing the ways that there are increasing signs of income (nice homes, new businesses that don’t require profits, teenagers with fancy cellphones and ipods) while the town as a whole stays so poor. If there is one single reason that I think marijuana should become legal, it’s so that all the growers in town would have to pay taxes and we’d be able to afford the improvements that our schools, our hospital, our streets desperately need. As growers get richer and richer, they keep sending their kids to the same underfunded public schools where they get a crapshoot of an education (sorry mom) and know that they have two options for success in life: move out or start growing.

Last week my dad sent me an online survey from the County, which is collecting feedback on where we’re going to go with the relative legality of marijuana, and as I answered question after question I realized just how contradictory my opinions on the subject are.

I hate marijuana and judge marijuana smokers… but in the same way that I hate tobacco and judge tobacco smokers. I think it’s riddiculous that such a relatively harmless drug is illegal, but I’m sceptical of “medical marijuana” in California and the even laxer laws in Mendocino County in terms of how they stack up against National law. How can a substance be both legal and illegal?

My opinons get even more complex when my hometown comes into it. Undoubtedly the economy has improved, but at what cost? And since social services and education haven’t come with the improvements, while a complete dependence on an illegal substance and the resulting addiction among a large part of the populace has, what good is it?

I know growers well, I know dealers well. I know a boy who is funding his college education at an elite university by selling pot, and I applaud him for that. I’ve also noticed the high percentage of news about my high school graduating class that involves incarceration, arrest, or drug-related injury (not to mention the drug-related relationships and unplanned pregnancies).

I get angry when I see druggie San Francisco hippies arguing for the legalization of Marijuana, not thinking about how their high is impacting my community. But would legalizing marijuana make these problems worse? Or would they relieve them by evening them out with the rest of the state and the country? I just don’t know.

ETA: A trailer for this movie was featured content on the Apple start page over the weekend. Interesting coincidence.

4 Responses to "Life in the Underground Economy"

when i’m not completely overwhelmed with hundreds of pages of reading to be completed by…uh…tomorrow night, i will respond to this in detail.

as a brand new resident of atlanta, i am now realizing just how crazy it all is out there (remember, i went to humboldt state, and while there are subtle differences from willits, its pretty much the same thing). this is my first time out of the culture, and WOW.

you should see some of the looks i get when marijuana comes up and i talk about the good ol’ emerald triangle.

Katie–thanks. I look forward to your response, as you’re one of my few readers from back home. When I ran away to college I was in about the same place you are now. I mean, there are people into marijuana everywhere, but it isn’t as omnipresent as it is in the emerald triangle. They don’t have radio commercials addressing “indoor gardeners” or ::cough:: grow stores blocking the view of their LDS churches ::cough::.

Hi Molly!
I saw your post on LJ (I think it’s an RSS of this) and popped on over to see the whole post. The culture of Willits and what you’ve described here is SO interesting. My parents are selling their house and moving for the exact reasons you have described – the amazing amount of money floating in the community and the desperate poverty of many of it’s inhabitants.

I think I am the same as you in that I judge pot smokers solely for the reason that I grew up seeing the devastation that it caused in a community. I can stand proudly next to you and say that I am also a person your age who has not smoked pot. And neither has my husband, Beau. When I tell people about Willits, I think they assume that I am a stoner. Just because we grew up in it, doesn’t mean we are a part of it.

I think it’s sad when kids who have gone off to college and earned a degree go back to Willits to become growers and dealers because they know they can make more doing that than with their Liberal Arts degree. It’s a shitty society that let’s that happen. I too have mixed feelings re: medical mary jane. Hard hard issues.

Interesting post! I applaud you.


You’re not just another person my age who’s never smoked pot; you’re another person my age who grew up in Willits and has still never smoked pot–rock on. I know what you mean. It’s hard to explain the degree of influence drug culture had on me growing up without sounding like a stoner.

I think the biggest problem with medical marijuana is that it’s a halfway solution that is in no way shape or form followed regularly. I really wish they’d just make marijuana illegal for people over 21 or something so that it would stop being a big deal and people would stop flooding NorCal for it and creating all these problems. I feel like it must have been just as terrible to live on the US-Canada border during Prohibition. I’m sure I would have hated alcohol with a passion there and then too, just because of how much stupid behavior and violence went into people getting it. Dumb.

Anyway, thanks for commenting!

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