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Changing The Face Of Humboldt County, America's 'Cannabis Capital'

Much has been said over the years about northern California’s Humboldt County, often referred to as America's cannabis capital. Marijuana media maven Sharon Letts is hoping to help change the conversation for the better.

The writer/producer’s latest offering, Humboldt Stories, is a collection of truth-based fictional vignettes about Humboldt County’s longstanding marijuana grow scene. Originally published in monthly instalments in the region’s now-defunct Arcata Eye, the comprehensive e-book presents the stories of 35 fully developed characters, many of whom Letts says approached her to offer their tales of THC triumph and tribulation. The stories offer a range of diverse perspectives from within the industry — from the abusive relationship endured by a 'grow girl' inside an indoor grow-op to the transformation of an historic apple orchard by one young man into a ganja hard cider operation. 

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Sharon Letts/Stock Pot Images

“Humboldt County has been stigmatized, along with the [cannabis] plant itself, as being a bad place with criminal activity, and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Letts, former executive producer of PBS travelogue ‘Off The Beaten Path’ and current cannabis content contributor for a range of international platforms.

“The farmers of Humboldt are healers, not dealers… we need to change the language,” says Letts.

Established sometime between the late 1960s and early 1970s with the migration of counter-culture youths from San Francisco, the now thriving grow scene in Humboldt County is said to enlist more than a fifth of the region’s population.

Police raids and theft have not been uncommon in the area over the years, but Letts worries this kind of coverage has dominated the narrative of Humboldt County for far too long. Through Humboldt Stories, she hopes to highlight “tales of the failed drug war, but… also stories of hope for the future, as a new generation realizes its medicinal properties and a new way of life outside the covert grow op.”

“The big secret of Humboldt County is that the healing was happening there with the plants decades before it became mainstream,” said Letts. “There’s medicine being grown in Humboldt County and a lot of healing is taking place.”

Letts’s own experiences with marijuana as medicine in Humboldt County largely informed her interest in exploring the stories of others. Around nine years ago, while producing a news show in Humboldt County, Letts was diagnosed with breast cancer. Letts said she was given a locally developed cannabis oil known as Rick Simpson Oil that she believes put her cancer into remission and “[changed] her life and career forever.”

“I was a stoner from the ‘70s but I didn’t know anything about cannabis as medicine, and nine years ago not a lot of people did. It was still very word of mouth,” said Letts.

“The common belief based on misinformation was that people were just using the excuse of medicine to get a card to get high… but when this oil in Humboldt County worked, I thought, ‘I’ve got to write about this.’ ”

Letts believes information about the medical benefits of marijuana is gradually gaining traction around the world. She hopes that Humboldt Stories will help to further that message.

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Landscape where Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino counties meet, making up The Emerald Triangle, (Sharon Letts/Stock Pot Images)

“Typically all you hear about Humboldt is the criminal aspect, the large scale grows and ‘what about the children?’ That’s the rhetoric,” said Letts. “I wanted to put a face on my friends, coworkers and neighbours that I knew in that region…The stigma of growing is so great that unless we keep talking about healing, nothing is going to change.”

Humboldt Stories is available for purchase on Amazon.

h/t Salon.

Banner image: Finish Hot Tubs & Sauna, Arcata - the Northern Humboldt town aka: 60s by the Sea (Sharon Letts/Stock Pot Images)


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