Murder Mountain

My name is Jesse Duncan.  I’m a lifelong Humboldt County resident, a private financial consultant operating in the cannabis space, and a commercial farmer.  I recently viewed the Netflix “docudrama” Murder Mountain in its entirety and found it both entertaining and insightful. 

The local cannabis community is making quite a stink over the supposed merits of the program, while others applaud bringing the darker and largely repulsive side of our industry to further light.  Opponents dismiss the program as sensationalist and argue that one small corner of the growing community is not representative of the whole.  Entirely true, but Rancho is one of many such places that exist throughout the county.  Having worked atop Waterman Ridge, Bear Creek Road and yes, in between Blocksburg and Alderpoint over the past few years, what was depicted about Murder Mountain was relatively tame.

Arguably stretches of highway 36 are far more lawless and dangerous.  In 2017 alone I heard someone get killed one night around 10pm while foliar spraying the crop (passed the coroner heading down the hill around midnight).  There was the buck mountain shooting, the car chase through the construction zone, regular assaults and armed robberies, and numerous scorched vehicles that were eventually shoved cliffside after being completely destroyed.  Our joke (although not real laughable) was that any car left roadside near Dinsmore was on blocks overnight, completely trashed the next day, and torched by the third.  This I saw at least 6-7 times that summer alone and most were far from junk vehicles.  There were storefront fist fights, rampant amphetamine use, roadside drug deals and much more.

            Waterman Ridge (like southern Humboldt) was home to poppy farms, serious levels of wildlife poaching, roadside garbage like farm slash, and deliberate poisoning of unwanted visitors like bears.  While near Blocksburg I learned that the preferred method for disposing old tarps and plastics was to burn them.  I have been told, multiple times, that they only burn black for a minute or two and have heard many males brag about Murder Mountain being in their backyard so they seem tough.

            Couple these experiences (and dozens more) with the fact that the vast majority of Humboldt farms didn’t give two shits about entering the permitting process, it seems reasonable to assume that our local industry is, quite factually, dominated by relatively bad actors…and no they aren’t all from out of state! 

            As I have heard countless times when consulting with holders of temporary cultivation permits, many of these were sought to gain another year or two of coverage before closing shop and moving back to illicit, indoor grows, which are currently flourishing once again.  When the dust settles, very few of the temporary permits will ever come to full fruition.  The environmental impact of most mountain grows is significant and when considering that road repair alone for many has a six figure price tag, it just simply isn’t going to happen for most farms.  Couple this with the lack of business and cannabis growing prowess that many demonstrate, I’d be surprised to see more than 500 lasting cultivation permits ultimately granted out of the couple thousand now on the table.

            So why the fuss about Murder Mountain when most local residents know how “lawless” Humboldt County pot farming really is?  The answer is simple.  More ethical operators like Humboldt High Five and others are engaged, like the industry as a whole, in a rebranding effort where cannabis farming is positioned as legitimate, life giving, and earth friendly.  Why do you think Hezekiah Allen went to such great lengths several years ago to debunk the absolutely factual claim that female trimmers are being preyed upon sexually?  It is because that ugly and indisputable truth didn’t jive well with the newly forming narrative designed to professionalize and legitimize an industry with lots of skeletons in the closet.  If I only had a dollar for every farmer who laments that trimmigrants are now often accompanied by a male counterpart…

            It seems a more appropriate industry response to Murder Mountain is to own that fact that many participants in both the white and black market farming spaces are less than desirable in terms of their moral compass, ethics, and relationship to consumers and the environment.  In so doing, that will only strengthen the hand and value proposition of those acting in a more socially responsible fashion.  The industry should use this information to create such fervor for snuffing out the black market and illegitimate white market operators that the National Guard troops recently offered should be met with red carpets and fine wine.  While not all market participants behave repulsively, attempting to smooth over the largely grotesque nature of our local and largely illicit industry is silly and will not serve the goals of professionalization and legitimization well at all.

            The fact that many are looking at Murder Mountain as a sensationalized, isolated anomaly is ludicrous and most of us in the cannabis industry know this.  Those portrayed in the Netflix Documentary are not simply “tweekers” as many are quick to point out.  Many farms I’ve seen are in a similar state of disrepair, resembling garbage dumps more than agricultural facilities.  To pretend otherwise is disingenuous and again, will not serve the conversation well.  We must embrace the facts, take a courageous stand against the very real lawlessness that plagues many of the county’s growing regions, and must passionately and ardently tell the stories of other operators doing things right. 

            We must not forget that the regulatory push for cannabis regulation here in Humboldt was largely predicated on the fact that we needed to drive bad actors out of the hills and return some sense of normalcy and environmental protection to a region that seems out of control to many a casual observer.  Now it seems we are saying that’s not the case…seems fairly insane to me.  And to stand for the equally absurd copout in saying that’s not really Humboldt or not the Humboldt we know is also silly.

            Actions speak louder than words. More operators should use interviews, farm tours and Instagram posts to show the world they mean business and are serious about environmental protection, consumer protection, and producing world-class products.  To be defensive about the dominant behaviors plaguing our industry or to be outright disingenuous in pretending they don’t exist will only fan the flames of discontent and make our local industry look more pathetic than it already does.

Jesse Duncan

Creme Brule

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