Arcata, California. The smell of weed is as prevalent as the white boy dreads, transients, tie dye, Earth tones and Vanagons. I avoid the place whenever possible, the same way most people avoid the public toilet with the mess on the seat. When I can’t help but visit, I try to make it a short trip. It’s a “college town.” It’s an “artist community.” Yeah. I suppose those terms are right. More than that, though, it is Pot Central, USA.
Arcata has some things worth noting. Good stores. Good food. Even a few good people. It’s a throwback to the ‘60s while still maintaining a façade of progressive leanings. The motto tends to be, “Green is good.” Green, of course, represents money, Mother Earth and Mary Jane. Green is good. Yes, it is. If you can mix and master all three, why that’s called the ArcataOrgasmic Swirl.
Pot rules the roost in Arcata, as it does for most of Humboldt. Non-native, smaller-time growers took over and jacked up the real estate prices a few years back, though. Then, sensing the way the wind was blowing, spoke out against the legalization of the drug as black market prices would tumble and a once-sure would become an oh-so-uncertain. Their laments even started to crossover to the more “refined” growers who, as they like to think, aren’t in it for the buck but for the principle. The risk of jail (almost nil) is worth the prize … now. Crime is king because it pays. While Colorado opens stores dedicated to the one-time devil weed, Humboldt’s natives are scratching their heads and saying, “Why weren’t we first?” A lot of those queries are coming from Arcata. Why weren’t they first? Ask the growers.
Back in the day when I saw what was happening with the legalization movement, I was going to trademark a Humboldt brand for smoking devices and then sue the holy fuck out of anyone who used it. I figured once it was (inevitably) legal, some of the bigger corporations would find a way to weasel on in. Since it is only really legal by the grace of a “progressive” Fed in places like Colorado, those corporations haven’t banged down the door yet. After all, they have stockholders, and stockholders have this fear of the Feds. Plus, if you follow politics you know that if the Republicans take over, things as we know them will be radically different. You can bet that they won’t be proponents of states’ rights when it comes to this subject. Stockholders may be fearful, but they’re also a kind of smart. They are waiting to see how things pan out because as of now it’s still too early to tell. Proponents, however, are already claiming victory. Proponents. Not growers. Not all of them. Not the ones who operate in the secretive world of underground grows, well-hidden outdoor grows, and the less-than-rare gutted house grows. The native growers with big operations operate well outside of Arcata. Arcata has its mom and pops, but it also has those late arrivals to the party who took over and slightly altered the course of the town.
So Arcata’s residents ride a wave of Humboldt quasi-legalization, a curl that suits the non-native perfectly well, thank you. Pot is legal to use and grow if you have a doctor giving the nod (and they all do around here). You most likely won’t get busted if you don’t have the card giving you that right, though. You could be. You probably won’t be. The police have better things to do, as it should be. For the capitalist grower, this keeps the prices high and the risk low. Any student of capitalism knows this is the “sweet spot.”
I imagine if pot ever gets the full-scale legal treatment, Arcata is going to look a lot different. That low- end, psychedelic vibe that it has now is going to subtly change in a way its residents may not like too much. While there are folks there who maintain that capitalism is king, there is a decidedly larger group that feels much the opposite, and the idea of pot becoming a commodity like a McDonald’s hamburger or hip hop leaves them with a bad taste in their mouths. The purity of God’s gift will be violated, and violation will not be tolerated. Green isn’t always good when it denotes rot.
Arcata has its charms. It’s not the people or the product, though. It’s the idea that the various philosophies can work if given the proper foundation and structure. It’s the idea of hope. It’s a place where art wants to rule over commerce. All of that, however, has been ruined by a population of people who only think they know what makes it special. It’s not the pot or the entitled fucks playing at being homeless. Those two things can be tossed out with the unused bathwater. These people think they and their love of the weed is what keeps the town held together. That social glue is as weak as their will, though. What makes Arcata different is that underneath the sticky veneer is an experiment that kind of works as it maintains that delicate balance. People care about where they live. They care about what comes in. They care about their way of life being destroyed by the very thing that gives so many of their lives meaning.
It’s admirable. It’s honorable. In the end, though, it will be wasted. The tolerance Arcata’s citizens have shown to non-native growers (and the scumbag landlords who profit from them) will be its undoing.