A little history…
Humboldt County has been the number one name in cannabis growing for well over 30 years. Now more than ever we are going to need to live up to that name if we are going to maintain our way of life. By analyzing what we have done in the past to overtake our competitors, we can inform our strategy in the future.
In the first phase it was easy. We were the only people producing cannabis. There was no competition. The price point difference between “sinsemilla” and Mexican marijuana was too large to create a price war. There was no CAMP. Landrace strains dominated the market. The hashish trail brought afghani genetics from Mazari Sharif and bred them with Mexican sativas. This blend comprises the backbone of Humboldt county’s genetics to this day.
When CAMP came in the early 80’s many of these genetics were lost. First we moved under the trees and started breeding genetics that produced well in the shade. Eventually, The Humboldt county grower was forced to move indoors. The second Phase (the indoor movement) brought with it an influx of Amsterdam’s established indoor “Dutch heirloom” genetics. These foreign genetics quickly dominated the market.
At that time Humboldt was producing such a large percentage of the national market share, that by simply promoting and propagating strong mazari genetics (Blue dragon) we were able to hold our own and overtake the competition. Soon, most of what the country smoked was again Humboldt county heirloom genetics. This is not surprising since Humboldt county has always had genetics ranked in the top five most popular products.
The Canadians then became fierce competition. They undercut our pricing and took over the market. Blue Dragon’s days were over. We lost many of our dealers who could not see the difference in quality nor consistency and our prices dropped. We learned there was no loyalty from our buyers. We needed something new.
A local geneticist developed and distributed a unique mazari indica (Purple) that no one could compete with. Prices again soared and we regained control of the market. This lasted until southern California began developing sativa crosses (OG Kush and Sour Diesel) that rose quickly in popularity. Sativa does not grow well in the cold mountains of Humboldt county. We again lost ground. These new genetics eroded our market share and with that lowered the price point on Purple until we could no longer afford to grow it. This effectively ended the indoor growing movement in Humboldt.
Mendocino County then became our biggest competition. They were closer to urban areas and produced much larger volumes of outdoor grown cannabis at lower rates. Although their product was less consistent, nevertheless, they drove the price down. We became a little fish in a big sea!
The price gap between “sinsemilla” and Mexican marijuana closed as the cartels began infiltrating California’s public lands. Humboldt county growers were in direct competition now with the Mafia.
Eventually we had to find a way to grow what people wanted, meet higher volume demands from dealers, at lower price points, with indoor quality cannabis. The fear that cartels would move into and take over Humboldt was ever present in the background.
In the third phase, we evolved into greenhouse light deprivation. This allowed us to grow warm weather strains in larger volumes at close to indoor quality at a fraction of the overhead. This strategy, combined with a 20 year long dealer awareness program, finally worked. The dealers finally saw that it was worth their while to buy in Humboldt county!
Our most recent additions to the genetics world are Three Kings and Girl Scout Cookie. While they are both world class and in the top 5 best sellers, neither of them solves our problems empirically. We need to develop genetics that can grow in all of Humboldt’s various climate zones and be desirable to the public. Humboldt should specialize in no more than five varieties that coincide directly with elevation and proximity to the ocean.
We will need to establish medical cannabis genetics as well. Since there is little overlap between the medical cannabis world and the black market, we have not paid much attention to medical genetics. Most of what is sold in clubs is grown in the city the club resides in and this is 90% indoor grown. Black market growers grow both outdoor or greenhouse/dep crops and clubs do not buy from them. The proliferation of more clubs in the future will not change this.
We have just in the last five years begun understanding “acclimatization”. During the indoor phase no one bothered to determine if they were growing the right genetics for the zone they were in. The artificial environmental conditions allowed anything to grow anywhere.
Given today’s “more stable” politics and the ability to share information between farmers and begin logging statistics, we can now really start testing the waters….so to speak!
We know that sativas grow in hot weather at low elevations and that indicas grow in cold weather at high elevations. We know that clones grow at low elevations and that seeds grow at high elevations. We know that cannabis does not like to finish in a humid climate. It needs an arid temperate climate during its last month to be considered AAA.
With this information the conversation about our appellations can begin. By mapping these regions, and measuring arable land and water sources, we can begin to evaluate our resources against our competitors and devise our next plan of attack. How do we meet our demand, given our conditions? How do we place among our competitors? What will we have to do to stay competitive?
Currently Humboldt county’s population is about 130,000. It has been estimated that there are 30,000 cannabis farms in Humboldt county today. It has been estimated that the average farm size is ⅛ of an acre or 5,000 square feet. If these estimates are even close to correct that means there is less than 4,000 acres of cannabis farmland in Humboldt county. Almost 700,000 acres or ⅓ of the county is in some kind of agricultural production. The total impact of cannabis on the environment is negligible when compared to other agricultural pursuits. In fact, all of the Humboldt cannabis farms combined isn’t even 1% of the land dedicated to agriculture. The point here is that the cannabis farmers are a small entity.
We need to leverage the resources we have in a responsible way. Much of Humboldt is in Climate Zone 14. This puts us on the same agricultural pedestal as Sacramento valley, Napa valley, and Santa Rosa as the number one growing climate on the planet! The Pacific breeze that created the redwoods also influences the quality of our agricultural products. Washington, Colorado, and Oregon can never compete with that.
Within Climate Zone 14, there are areas of high elevation prohibitive to growing anything with sativa genetics or clones. This excludes much of northern Mendocino county and eastern Humboldt county as ideal cultivation locations.
There are areas of low elevation that are too hot in the fall. Many ag products may finish well in these climates but cannabis isn’t one of them. This excludes much of southern Mendocino and most of Sonoma county as ideal cultivation locations.
Humboldt is a unique combination of Climate Zone 14 and the coastal influence of Climate Zone 15. A confluence of coastal breezes and low hills creates a temperate climate that does not exist anywhere else in the world. However, much of the county has too much coastal humidity to grow cannabis well. Much of the county is also at too high an elevation. These zones need to be mapped and evaluated. Only zones 20 miles from the ocean along the border between zones 14 and 15 and below 1500 ft are recommended; and only land below 1000 ft can be considered “prime” for cannabis growing.
Our task is to make this work for us by creating appellations that secure Humboldt as the premier location to grow the cannabis that the world wants. Once this fact is documented and supported by the county and state, our future will be indeed bright. We must identify the genetics that excel in our micro-climates. Then all Humboldt county growers need to decide what to do with this information.
Do the people of Humboldt county want to increase the tourist industry 1000%? Is it possible to attract enough tourists to Humboldt to make it the “Napa of cannabis”? Can our current revenue stream be replaced by increased Humboldt county tourism? The answer to all these questions is NO.
The people in Humboldt came here to get away from other people. We want it to remain rural. We are not Napa county; we are in the middle of nowhere with no infrastructure (and we like it that way). There is no way to replace our revenue stream within Humboldt county. We export and will continue exporting; we desperately need to develop a county outreach program. “Think locally but act globally” for a change!
Making a strong connection with our closest urban center will position us for statewide representation. San Francisco is just now beginning talks about preparing for the end of prohibition and the formation of a California version of Amsterdam. Thanks to the work of Cannabis Voice, we already have our foot in the door to be a major player in the San Francisco arena. San Francisco should be thought of as a foothold from which to become the number one player in California. The market in SF has been retarded by zoning policies that are changing this year. It is a prime time to be heard and form a lasting bond. Our unfortunate fear is that relying on Humboldt county government to adequately represent our interests is potential suicide!
If we quickly leverage ourselves into a powerful position, we can replace our now illegal national revenue stream with a legal in-state marketing and sales program.
If we do not act immediately we will be left with the status quo. Humboldt county growers will continue exporting to locations nationwide, but California won’t see any of our tax dollars. Identifying with the statewide market now will enable us to leverage legalization and then, when the country transitions to total legalization on a federal level, we will be positioned to retake the national market. When the price point drops low enough to put an end to the Mexican market all together in the coming years, we will be there to fill the gap as the nation’s customer base explodes.
Back on the home front, we need to be asking ourselves “What services will our state and county be offering us for all this tax revenue we are going to generate?” How do we retain what we generate? What do we deserve for creating the number one cash crop in the state? We don’t see any red carpet…yet.
The southern Humboldt cities need to incorporate. Our voice needs to be heard. We need to retain all of the tax dollars we generate. Infrastructure needs to go into southern Humboldt (certainly including roads, education and health care), but what about infrastructure specific to cannabis cultivators? We need a county wide statistics bureau dedicated to evaluating our resources, an expansion of public water districts, a development plan for more reservoirs, and grants to drill wells and store water. The power grid needs to be expanded, with electricity offered at commercial rates. Monopolies on services need to be ended. A state university program specific to cannabis cultivation would bring a lot of revenue. A Southern Humboldt Cannabis Exchange would secure us as the economic center for the county. We need subsidies for tourism installations like hotels and theme parks. All of this can be powered by cannabis farm loans. We can initiate an “easy” permit process for cannabis cafes, lounges, clubs, etc. so we can get our toes in early. And backing this effort, we need a guarantee of established appellations. This is just at the local level.
The big picture is national representation by state and county officials and representatives at the federal level. We need to begin pushing for legalization in the states where the majority of our product is sold. If our county wants the tax money, they are going to have to foster these avenues. When this “service package” is established, it will inform taxation. When we see what the plan is and what we will get in return, we will feel better about paying the taxes. Next, we may proceed with a marketing plan.
This is no start up company. This is the largest cannabis related entity in the world; we are possibly one of the largest privately held and independently run set of related “companies” in the world. This is going to be more like coming out of the closet or unveiling a giant than branding just another corporation. Likely there will be 1000 cannabis brands coming out of Humboldt, but they will all need to be associated if the are to be successful. That association will need a brand handled by a world class agency. The “Humboldt Pound” needs to be as infamous as Coca-Cola.
The product coming out of Humboldt, like it or not, needs to be as standardized as possible. That “gold standard” is what today is getting buyers to drive past millions of pounds of cannabis in counties south of us so they can have the “one and only” Humboldt pound. That perfectly cured, clipped, packaged pound that you can’t find anywhere else in the world and we will place it in standardized recyclable packaging.
We can also gain ground from standardizing our growing methods and harvest times. When all of Humboldt county’s growers convert to greenhouse light deprivation crops, as a group entity we can have our “humboldt pounds” to the table months before the competition. Not only can we conserve our resources but we can also make sure that the world sees our product first. Beating the competitor to market is undoubtedly the most sound strategy.
Proposing a forward thinking strategy for the NEW employee structure of our farms will circumvent future rates of unemployment as migrant labor floods the county. Sustainability is as much about the process as it is about the resources. The present way that employees are involved in our cannabis business is not sustainable. How can we handle the number of people we need without hurting our environmental resources? And we want to be able to retain our “hand made” esthetic. In order to accomplish this, we want specialists rather than migrant workers; we want our processors more fully involved in our harvests; and we will need to provide appropriate automation.
Existing Humboldt county entities (dispensaries, collectives) should be hiring professionals in preparation for PR campaigns. General outreach and networking should be taken very seriously. Humboldt county should be entertaining the most qualified professionals in the business. For a marketing firm this is the job of a lifetime.
We can do this. But, we must show that same adaptability, innovation and unrelenting passion that we have shown in the past. Together we can lead the industry.