The words "Humboldt County" are synonymous with just a few things: redwoods, unshorn armpits, and marijuana. And not in that order. California's Redwood Empire is legendary for the cannabis trade, which boomed to never-before-seen heights following President Barack Obama's election in 2008.
The proliferation of pot farms in the woods -- and we're talking people on private land more than we're talking the renegades on National Forest land -- led to success in ancilliary industries, from real estate to garden supply (dirt! dirt is valuable) to security and turkey bags, as well as a crash in the price of pot.
It's now, at last, also led to federal attention: as what could be one of his last acts in the office, outgoing White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has declared Humboldt a "high-intensity drug trafficking area."
Just what is a HIDTA? It's Washington bureaucratese, mostly: like a disaster area, a place so-designated is eligible for "extra" federal funds. Think of it as a stimulus, except just for cops and prosecutors.
If you're reading this, you probably live in a HIDTA, and you may not even have known it: 12 Northern California counties comprise the "Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area." They are: Alameda, Contra Costa, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties. Solano and Napa, you get a pass.
For that matter, if you are an American, chances are you live in an actual reality drug silk road: 60 percent of Americans live in HIDTAs, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Where there are people, oddly enough, there are drugs.
Today's press release from Kerlikowske -- who Obama has nominated to be the next boss of Customs and Border Patrol -- doesn't address the odd timing. It's mid-November, and the cannabis buds are off the plants, hanging and drying if they're not already vacuum-sealed away in turkey bags on their way to dispensaries in LA, street dealers in Hawaii, or the weird delivery guys in New York City.
This does mean that in an age where funding is being diverted away from old-school drug enforcement -- Gov. Jerry Brown has drastically reduced in size state-level efforts against Norcal pot farms -- cops in Humboldt will potentially get more, next season.
Of course, there's not much going on in Humboldt, economy-wise, aside from marijuana. There's Humboldt State University, there's some logging left, and there's some fishing in Humboldt Bay. And supposedly, there's Thomas Pynchon, but the famously reclusive author might not support many businesses aside from select Arcata pubs.
In other words, rather than create economic opportunities that provide an alternative to the semi-legal drug trade, there will be merely extra risk for participating in that drug trade. This may mean an end to the several years-long trend of fewer pot plant seizures -- and if there's more plants being seized, it may also raise the price of a pound of Humboldt outdoor.
Thanks, Uncle Sam!