Cannabis Legalization Killed This Town’s Economy

The town of Garberville in Humboldt County was once the poster child for California’s green rush. Today, it’s an example of the green collapse

“The economy here has crashed,” Laura Lasseter, Director of Operations for the Southern Humboldt Business and Visitors Bureau, told SF Gate. “...The economy in Southern Humboldt is in crisis mode, and 90% of that crisis mode is because of the cannabis industry.”  

Cannabis has been grown in Garberville since the 1960s and 1970s. Long before Prop 64, this town was a Mecca for pot cultivation, and weed formed the backbone of the local economy for many years.

After medical marijuana was legalized in 1996, mom and pop cannabis farms exploded. So did Garberville’s economic vitality.

The legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016 was supposed to make things even better. Instead, it cratered economies like Garberville’s. Growers blame overregulation, taxation, and the allowance of massive pot farms for putting many of those smaller growers out of business. Runaway production has led to plummeting wholesale prices, while stringent permitting costs have made it nearly impossible for small growers to operate.

Making matters worse was a footage-based cultivation tax implemented by Humboldt County in 2017. Officials scrapped that tax last year, but it may have been too little, too late. Lasseter said 50-70% of cannabis farms in Humboldt County are expected to disappear. 

The fallout has reverberated across Garberville where empty storefronts now line the downtown. Officials hope they can revive the economy by capitalizing on another kind of plant — the majestic redwoods that form the backdrop of this forlorn region.

Garberville may be broke, but its natural beauty remains.  

“Mother Nature isn’t making another Avenue of the Giants or Lost Coast,” said Lasseter. “That’s here, and the fall of cannabis can’t take that away.”


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