Not the Humboldt I remember


The burgers were good, but the rest of the scene was pretty weird. This was my first clue I wasn’t in Plumas anymore. Humboldt County is very different from the way I remembered it. ~Bud de Tocqueville

Last July, I rode my motorcycle with a friend on the back from Plumas to the California coast in Humboldt County via Highway 36.

In the town of Mad River, about 50 miles from the coast in the coastal mountains, we stopped for a late lunch at a burger stand along the highway.

While waiting for our orders, I noticed that there were a lot of young males just sort of hanging out who were speaking various languages—none Spanish. At first it puzzled me because it seemed out of place for the area, but then it became obvious that they were there to work on pot plantations as cheap labor.

While eating, I walked around to the side of the stand to look at a bulletin board. Fairly typical stuff until I noticed a poster with a headline that read, “Missing” with four photos of young Asian males in their twenties. The poster also had the words, “last seen at this location about 30 days ago.” It reminded me of what I see out in front of the post office in Quincy, posters for missing dogs and cats, except these were people. Creepy.

Tailgaters everywhere

Throughout our trip, I saw an inordinate amount of young, mostly white males with beards, sunglasses and trucker hats, driving new-looking and very expensive large pickups. At least half of these vehicles were towing trailers, mostly with either water tanks or fertilizer bags. Most of the trucks were lifted and driven aggressively. I was tailgated frequently by these “work trucks.”

Another thing I noticed about Humboldt County were the unsightly tall wooden fences and or chain-link fences with green netting blocking the view of plants. They were nearly everywhere we went. Rural blight. Certain areas along the highway had a very strong pot smell—especially obvious while on a motorcycle.

During our second day on the coast and on the way back from the beach we were trying to get to back to the 101, which I could see about a mile to the east. We were not way out in the woods where I would be cautious. I turned on a road that appeared to head straight there. It started as a two-lane road, but narrowed after a bit.

After about a quarter of a mile, I realized I’d made a mistake and I was looking to turn around. Three dogs—one of which was a huge pit bull—came flying out of a driveway on my left. I quickly accelerated ahead of them before they were able to get close and hoped I’d never see them again when we dead-ended 400 yards or so later at an old county dump site. I felt sick knowing we were going to have to face the big pit bull again.

Chicken with a pit bull

As I turned around, the two smaller dogs came at us aggressively, but backed down pretty quick when they saw my bike coming at them. The pit bull was different; he was all business. He stayed back about 100 yards or so and waited for us, standing right in the middle of this narrow single lane road. There was vegetation on both sides, I had nowhere to go but straight at him.

When we got within about 50 ft of the pit bull, he came at us in a full sprint right down the center of the road. I gunned the bike and was prepared to hit him square if he didn’t move out of my way. It was a game of chicken. At the very last second he dodged my front tire with only inches to spare as we passed each other at about 30 mph. If we’d hit him, most likely we’d have gone down, but there was no other option—this dog was out to kill.

As we went by the driveway, the owner of the dogs was standing there like nothing happened. Welcome to Humboldt County. Yee-haw!

During our stay, we talked with many of the locals. We quickly learned from conversations that you don’t casually go meandering down small country roads around here, and they were not talking just about miles deep into the backcountry way away from the towns. It’s sketchy at best and downright dangerous at worst. Doing this is liable to get you mauled or shot.

Whole new Humboldt vibe

I hadn’t spent time in Humboldt County in over 30 years. This last visit was a real eye opener. I have fond memories of camping all over Humboldt County in the 70s. It’s clear to me that the cannabis industry has changed the area significantly. While it is still quite beautiful, it has a very different vibe today.

It’s obvious that for some in Humboldt County, commercial cannabis has been very lucrative. For certain local businesses, I’m sure it’s been good also.

For me, I would never trade what we have in Plumas County for the economic gain of a certain percentage of residents—especially if it ends up looking anything like what I witnessed in Humboldt.

~Plumas resident who wishes to remain anonymous
Image by Annette Teng

6 comments on “Not the Humboldt I remember

  1. Susan Christensen says:

    This was an eye opener. Commercial marijuana changes things and not for the better. No amount of money in the county coffers is worth seeing the deterioration of the place I live. And with an all-cash business, how would the county even KNOW if it was collecting the full amount of taxes due from growers? With Measure B, growers have put themselves in the driver’s seat–essentially, they can pay whatever they want and call it “full payment of taxes.” No banking, no checks, no paper trail, no ability to audit, just the word of the grower that they’re paid in full. No, thanks.

  2. Taurin Wilson says:

    The author of this post traveled to Humboldt July of last year, sales of commercial cannabis became legal January of this year. The examples given of undesirable cultural elements therefore cannot be attributed to legal commercial cannabis as it didn’t exist at the time of the authors visit.

    1. Patrick Luscri says:

      Hi, Taurin

      This author’s examples of Humboldt’s undesirable cultural elements are based on the presence of commercial cannabis, not on legal commercial cannabis. Humboldt commercial cannabis cultivators have operated in gray areas of consent for decades. The Prop. 64 timeline is virtually irrelevant to his points.


  3. Taurin Wilson says:

    I agree that grey and black market cannabis is not in the best interest of society.
    This post has nothing to do with Measure B then?

    1. Patrick Luscri says:

      This post has everything to do with the negative effects commercial cannabis activity—legal, illegal or gray—has on counties in which it’s allowed, looked the other way on or whatever. Measure B is a poorly-written and unconstitutional mess of a measure. If you disagree with this assessment of it, your argument is with our legal expert and other thoughtful, fair-minded folks in our group. If you disagree with eyewitness perspectives of other residents who’ve seen the way commercial cannabis—legal or no—has lowered their quality of life by negatively affecting culture and character of their California counties, you may want to rethink your perspective of their perspectives.

  4. Taurin Wilson says:

    First I would like to clearly state that I have no “argument” with any member of your group, I disagree with some of the conclusions reached by members on how best to keep our community safe and healthy. My concerns are with the message not the messenger; I don’t feel that it is necessary to take an adversarial position with members of my community to express my opinion on how best to serve my community. I would prefer that my desire to communicate my concerns with my community members not be framed in this way.
    Whether or not I agree with you, I respect everyone in this group for being willing to take the time to stand up for your beliefs. We have the same goal, preserving our way of life in Plumas and fostering the health and safety of our community, but we have different ideas on how best to achieve that desired result. There is no need for acrimony.
    There are eyewitness perspectives from people In Humboldt, and other legal commercial counties, who have nothing but positive things to say about their county’s legal commercial ordinances, and feel that their county’s choice to provide a legal regulated alternative has increased their quality of life.
    My brother lives in Washington State, he doesn’t consume cannabis at all but feels that legal cannabis has improved the quality of life in his state, should his eyewitness perspective be discounted? Let’s not discount anyone’s perspective, and let’s also except that perspectives are opinions, everyone has one. We could debate ad infinitum about opinions and not reach a substantive conclusion based solely on opinion.
    Having had grown up in California, I’m well aware of Humboldt, Mendocino, and trinity counties and what went on there. It is from this perspective that I have felt the need to advocate for legal commercial, because I don’t like many of the things that happen there. Everyone that I know who voted for Prop 64 list the elimination of the black market as one of their primary reasons for voting for it. You may disagree with the effectiveness of legal commercial at eliminating the black market, but it is important for your understanding of the issue, that this is a primary reason that folks support legal cannabis.
    This is why the timeline of the story above matters to people who advocate for legal cannabis, as this account could just as easily be a pro-Measure B message. Most of the people who advocate for Legal commercial cannabis do so partly because they also don’t like the state of illegal cannabis culture in Humboldt and other areas heavily controlled by the black market.
    I feel we, as responsible citizens, have an obligation to find a solution to this problem. We’ve tried banning sales of adult use cannabis since the early 20th century and we know it hasn’t worked because here we are one hundred years later talking about it. I feel that one hundred years is a big enough sample size to conclude that what we’ve tried hasn’t worked. How long do we do the same thing before we admit to ourselves that it isn’t working?
    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Generally credited to Albert Einstein)
    I do not wish to have a long protracted back and forth, so unless you have a specific question that you would like answered, I will let you have the last word (it is your site after all).
    Thank you for your time and consideration of my perspective, have a wonderful day. Taurin

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