Book review: Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier, by Emily Brady

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 2:09pm

Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier

by Emily Brady

Grand Central Publishing

If only "weed" were as widely accepted as wine. Judging by a new look at Humboldt, America's hazily legal marijuana hub in California, the restricted herb should be.

"Just as the Napa Valley, a few hours south, fills with the smell of fermenting grapes during harvest season, the skunky forbidden odour of marijuana hangs over the hills of Humboldt every autumn. But whereas in Napa, tourists can line up to see the grapes brought into the crush pad to begin their journey to the bottle, in Humboldt, the marijuana harvest goes on behind high fences and locked gates, and up dusty roads. The harvest of America's favourite illegal drug is a private affair," writes investigative journalist Emily Brady.

Brady immerses herself in the secret society where growing weed is allowed with a medical permit. She spends days and nights with her four sources: a "green rush" prospector called Crockett, a peacenik called Emma, a legalisation activist called Mare and a sheriff's deputy called Bob.

Brady accompanies her sources everywhere from the grocery store to parties, and even works in their gardens. In the case of Bob, she also patrols the area. Plus, she conducts interviews with many other locals.

"Sometimes it felt as though I had interviewed the whole town. During my time in the community, I straddled the role of outsider and insider," she writes. To support her research for her "opus dopus", she served wine and crepes at an area jazz club.

Her devotion paid off. Her study of the "Emerald Triangle" represents a potent contribution to the anti-prohibition canon built by the likes of Pot, Inc author Greg Campbell.

Brady's work has run everywhere from The New York Times to Time, Village Voice and Smithsonian. Raised in Northern California, she attended Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism then worked for an English-language newspaper in Caracas, Venezuela. She has also reported from Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean but lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

Prohibition in Humboldt is pointless, judging by the likes of policeman Bob, who according to Brady, feels he is pointlessly fighting the tide. As long as a black market exists for weed, the linked criminality will continue.

So, Bob argues, treat the cash crop like alcohol: "Legalise pot, tax it and enforce laws pertaining to it."

Brady agrees. "For the readers who wonder about my stance on the issue, here it is: I believe that marijuana should be legal and regulated, for the economy, for the environment, for civil rights, for Mexico, and to end the violence associated with its illegality. No one should ever die over a plant that doesn't kill people," she writes.

On the other side are growers who love the black market profits.

Still, it is hard to fault Brady's logic. The murders she documents only strengthen her argument that marijuana should be decriminalised as soon as possible.