Legalizing Marijuana: A View from Among the Weeds

Michael Vitiello & Rosemary Deck

Volume 69, Issue 3, 961-984

The United States is on a fast-track to a new era in marijuana law. The prospect of a federal pathway to legalization opens a Pandora’s Box of issues for states like California. This Article focuses on Humboldt County in the Emerald Triangle, California’s prime marijuana growing area, and examines how the region might be impacted by state legalization. After a brief look into the development of the marijuana market in Humboldt County, this Article identifies some of the costs that have come with leaving the county outside the legal fold, including a failure to address poor working conditions for seasonal trimmers and an epidemic of sexual harassment that has only recently come to light. The Article then explores some of the obstacles to bringing the county into the legal economy. Depending on how policymakers and marijuana producers respond to these issues, Humboldt County may become a boom-or-bust economy. The Article then examines some of the benefits of bringing producers into the legal economy, including improved working conditions for the scores of individuals employed in the industry. Failing to bring the county into compliance with county and state cannabis regulations also threatens the goals of marijuana reformers. The Article concludes with thoughts about how Humboldt County might fare in the new world of legal pot. Just as in the wine industry, the region’s best hope may lie in the move towards marijuana appellations, which will require entry into the legal market.

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