Chronicling pot's role in Emerald Triangle
Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 7:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 7:50 p.m.
Correction added August 9, 2013:
This story includes a brief description of the book "Marijuanaland," written by retired Sonoma State University professor Jonah Raskin. The passage is in no way intended to depict the author as being involved in marijuana trafficking. He is a longtime reporter and chronicler of the marijuana trade.
Emily Brady was 14 when she watched her best friend in Occidental say goodbye to her father on the morning he left to serve a prison sentence for marijuana cultivation.
Her friend ran to her bedroom and shut the door as her younger brother wailed, said Brady, now 36. A notice that the property had been seized and belonged to the FBI hung on the door.
“It seemed like he had gambled his family in a way, this risk he took stuck with me,” Brady said in an interview.
Brady's memories of that moment in part fueled her first book, “Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier,” which Grand Central Publishing released last week.
In “Humboldt,” Brady chronicles four people's relationship with the county's primary cash crop: A 1960s-era back-to-the-lander, a sheriff's deputy, a man growing for the money and a college student who rejects the pot culture around her.
Brady taps into the dueling optimism and dread among Humboldt County residents during the months leading up to California's 2010 bid to legalize marijuana, Proposition 19, and stays with the community through the months after it failed at the polls.
“I couldn't have written this book otherwise,” Brady said of the timing. “It's a very secretive world, and it cracked open because of Prop. 19 and I slipped inside.”
Many writers have have tried to capture the culture of the pot-steeped communities of the Emerald Triangle — Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties.
Retired Sonoma State University professor Jonah Raskin's book “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War” also touched on the 2010 proposition's rise and defeat through the eyes of people intimately involved with marijuana in the region. Raskin draws heavily from his personal experience, starting with his father's secret pot garden at the family's Sonoma County property to the trips he made on Highway 101, driving pot south and cash north.
“Humboldt” is not about Brady. But she draws on her experience growing up in west Sonoma County as she spends a year chronicling the lives of the four Humboldt residents.
Brady primarily grew up in the west county. She lived in Tomales and spent a decade of her childhood on a sheep ranch near Bodega. As a child, marijuana was something adults smoked at parties, Brady said.
Brady attended El Molino High School in Forestville before earning her diploma equivalent at age 16. She left Sonoma County, moved to Napa, San Francisco and then New York City. She had lived in Ireland, France and Venezuela when she returned to California in 2010.
The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and later an assembly bill that established dispensaries had fostered a different culture surrounding pot, Brady said.
“People were smoking in the streets, the whole medical thing had outed it, they were holding cannabis conventions in the cities,” Brady said.
Brady traveled to Humboldt County in August 2010, aiming to document marijuana's legalization from California's marijuana heartland.
But what she found was a web of counterculture and progressive values mixed with a money-making enterprise. She ended up staying until November 2011.
The book opens with a meeting at the Mateel Community Center in Redway to discuss what might happen to the community if marijuana is legalized, dubbed the “Post-Marijuana Prohibition Economy Forum.”
“That was the first time that there was a public conversation about marijuana growing,” Brady said. “It was like the town factory is going to shut down, what are we going to do?”
The book introduces Mary Em Abidon, 70, who moved to Humboldt in the 1960s, fought to keep old-growth redwood groves and had been growing pot plants in her backyard for decades.
Then, there is Crockett Randall, 35, who grew up on a Marin County commune and is in the pot business for the money. The name is not his real one, a deal Brady made to gain access to his life and million-dollar pot garden.
Emma Worldpeace, 23, was a college student born in a cabin along the Eel River whose stepbrother is accused of killing a Guatemalan immigrant tending his pot garden.
Brady rode along with Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputy Bob Hamilton as he patrolled towns filled with outlaws. The veteran lawman said he voted for Proposition 19 because the war on drugs had long been lost.
There are endless aspects of the marijuana trade to be told that “Humboldt” breezes over: The true believers in medical marijuana, the environmental concerns with large, illegal marijuana gardens and the shadowy criminal networks that drive the black market.
Brady's portraits show intimate glimpses of the roots of Humboldt's marijuana culture, the strengths of the community and the violence intertwined with the illegal marijuana trade.
A large part of “Humboldt” focuses on the ways incarceration, secrecy and the lack of legal jobs affect the community, particularly young people.
In one scene, Worldpeace pushes her little brother in a stroller in the courthouse hallway while her mother attends a hearing about her criminal marijuana cultivation charges.
Another chapter shows Randall, as a child, bringing his lunch to school in sandwich bags with remnants of pot in the corners and, as an adult, zipping through the Humboldt woods at midnight on an off-road vehicle to check on his crop.
Abidon recounts a memorial ceremony for a 38-year-old social worker beaten and strangled to death in a marijuana drying room by robbers.
At the end of the book in an author's note, Brady is clear she supports legalization and regulation of marijuana because that might be the only way to curb the violence associated with its profits.
“There's a saying in Humboldt, 'It's all fun and games until sales,'” Brady said.
Brady will read from “Humboldt” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Copperfield's Books, 138 N. Main St. in Sebastopol. Her website is at emilyebrady.com.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.