Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Pot Farmers See Legalization as End to Their Way of Life

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Pot Farmers See Legalization as End to Their Way of Life

Article excerpt

GARBERVILLE, Calif. - Laura Costa's son and husband moved quickly with pruning shears as they harvested the family's fall marijuana crop, racing along with several workers to cut the plants and drop them in plastic bins ahead of an impending storm. The farm, hidden along a winding mountain road in a remote redwood forest, is just one of many illegal "grows" that make up Northern California's famous Emerald Triangle, a marijuana-producing mecca at the intersection of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties.

California voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use - an issue that has sown deep division here among longtime growers. The Costas and many fellow pot farmers have yearned for the legitimacy and respectability that could be bestowed by legalization. But they also fear Proposition 64 will bring costly regulations and taxes and could put them out of business if corporate interests and big farms take over.

"It will end traditional marijuana farming like this," said Laura Costa, sitting in the middle of one of four 40-plant gardens, puffing on a glass pipe. "It will end our way of life."

That way of life is visible throughout the region. Four-wheel- drive vehicles hauling propane for farm generators roll up and down the dirt roads, dropping off workers and supplies. In Eureka, the largest nearby city, indoor growing operations abound in warehouses and garages.

Young people from around the world flock here for work, many arriving without job offers. They come with camping gear and cardboard signs announcing their desire to help harvest.

Police complain there are more people than jobs, exacerbating a homeless problem. Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills also worries about the danger of drugged drivers.

To Mendocino County grower Tim Blake, Proposition 64 is the next big step for an industry emerging from the shadows. When California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, he said, it ushered in a less restrictive era in which businesses could start to operate in the open and even attract deep-pocketed investors.

He endorses the provision that wipes clean many criminal convictions and stops the prosecution of many other marijuana- related crimes.

"It's time to end criminalization, Blake said. "There is a lot of fear among farmers, small farmers in general about losing their livelihood and "the way things have been. But they've already lost that aspect.

If the proposition fails, Blake argues, the state in general and Northern California in particular would be in danger of losing its position as the nation's top-producing marijuana region. Four other states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot, and four more states have questions on the November ballot.

"We can't afford to fall further behind, he said while giving a tour of his farm. …

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