Sunday, May 6, 2012

Marijuana market takes a hit in California's Emerald Triangle

The closure of marijuana dispensaries and a federal crackdown on medical-pot cultivation are leaving growers in the North Coast California redwoods with harvested stashes many can't sell

The Sacramento Bee

So much cheap marijuana is getting dumped in the college town of Arcata, Calif, that some local medical-pot dispensaries say business is down 75 percent. ARCATA, Calif. — The pot market is crashing in California's legendary Emerald Triangle.

The closure of hundreds of marijuana dispensaries across California and a federal crackdown on licensing programs for medical-pot cultivation are leaving growers in the North Coast redwoods with harvested stashes many can't sell.
Purportedly legal medical cultivators are fleeing to the black market. So much cheap weed is getting dumped in the college town of Arcata, some local dispensaries say business is down 75 percent.

Even the region's itinerant and colorful bud trimmers are going broke.

By the scores, people have long trekked into the marijuana fields and indoor greenhouses of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties. Workers used to earn as much as $200 a pound meticulously cutting leaves from marijuana buds, prepping them for display at dispensaries or for sale in a purely illicit market.

These days, a 47-year-old man called Mover, a dreadlocked migrant from Ohio who is a fixture in downtown Arcata, says the tedious work isn't worth his trouble as the per-pound pay rate has dropped to $100 or often just a few nuggets of pot.

"I got paid in weed," Mover, who refused to give his real name, said of his last trimming job. "It's worthless here. You can't give it away. And I'm not going to transport anything. I'm too old, and I don't want to go to jail."

The region's pot pilgrimage had accelerated in recent years as people were drawn by local cannabis traditions and dreams of cashing in on the medical-marijuana market. They planted marijuana in the backwoods and in rewired houses with high-intensity grow lights.

But the saturation of pot growers set off a price tumble by 2010, as a pound of prime Emerald weed slipped from $5,000 to the $3,000 range for marijuana grown indoors to the $2,000 range for product grown outdoors. Lately, prices are in free fall.

"Last I heard, a pound of marijuana is $800 for outdoor grown," said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman in Ukiah. "That's plummeting. You might do better with tomatoes."

The marijuana meltdown could have major regional effects. In Humboldt County, a recent study by a local banker estimated marijuana accounts for more than one-fourth of the county's $1.6 billion economy.

At Arcata's Humboldt Patient Resource Center, a dispensary that grows its marijuana on site, cultivator Kevin Jodry said fewer people are coming to buy seedlings for this year's crop.

"Many people distributing

in the medical-marijuana market didn't get into it for the risk situation," he said. "The people who were formerly in the black market were able to stay functioning. People who were not criminals can't move their product."

Meanwhile, many worry the Emerald Triangle will go back to being the hub of California's illegal marijuana trade. Last month, authorities in Pennsylvania arrested the former operator of a Humboldt dispensary for allegedly shipping more than 25 pounds of pot in heat-sealed packets to a home he was visiting. State officers in Nebraska also stopped a Mendocino County man with 62 pounds of weed stuffed in duffel bags.

In consecutive days in late February, Humboldt authorities conducted two separate raids on growers suspected of criminal distribution, seizing nearly $700,000 in cash and 7,000 plants.

In Mendocino, Allman said his officers last year eradicated 642,000 plants, some loosely tied to Mexican trafficking networks but most involving Californians or residents from other states who secretly grew on public lands and private property.

With a federal crackdown and a shrinking market, Allman said, many out-of-towners may leave, and "everything is going to go underground."


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