Medical Marijuana's Eco Boomtown

Other medical marijuana dispensaries, however, recently received written reminders from Luzzi.

"Not all of them were paying taxes," she said.

And taxes aside, most here acknowledge marijuana sales have for years contributed to county finances.

Vocal medical marijuana advocate Martha Devine was sitting on a park bench in the flower-lined Arcata Plaza, near a large circle of people kicking around a hacky sack and dozens of dancers. A steel drum band was playing for an enthusiastic crowd, and shoppers were wandering in and out of stores.

"The economy of Humboldt County would have ceased to exist a long time ago without it," said Devine, glancing around the plaza. "This county was built on marijuana."

Devine, who's known to some here as "Granny Green Genes," said this place was a ghost town when she arrived in Humboldt 32 years ago. She's witnessed the decline of the county's other traditional industries, like timber and fisheries, and believes marijuana is largely responsible for Humboldt's progressive culture and thriving businesses.

"I think it's really kept our economy going," Devine said.

While Devine acknowledged that Humboldt's cannabis cash crop has brought in the bad with the good -- things like harder drugs and guns -- she said she hopes medical marijuana will help the industry fight the negative aspects associated with black (or even gray) market economies.

She said she does not have a medical marijuana ID card "at the present time" but believes many ill members of the community have benefited tremendously from their "medicine."

Despite widespread support for medical marijuana, tensions seem especially high in towns like Arcata, where people are struggling to agree on the details of medical marijuana, such as rules for growing and limits for medical marijuana possession.

It's a debate that's playing out in counties around California, from historically pot-friendly places like Mendocino County to Los Angeles.

The City of Arcata was recently reviewing the standards of its own marijuana guidelines when the new guidelines by the California Attorney General's Office were issued late last month.

City staff members are currently reviewing the new statewide guidelines, which set clearer policies on medical marijuana identification cards, plant limits and mandate that dispensaries operate as collectives or cooperatives. Arcata hopes to soon send guidelines to the City Council for its approval.

But whether the new state and local guidelines can help bring peace to Humboldt remains to be seen. In the meantime, many local residents seem uncomfortable in their current position, caught between conflicting and confusing state and federal laws, where medical marijuana dispensaries that pay their state and local taxes may be raided at any time by the Drug Enforcement Administration or other federal agencies.

Some residents complain that a few grow houses have grown out of control, causing problems ranging from skunk-like odors to house fires.

So, even as California's attorney general seems comfortable delving into the medical marijuana debate, stores like Humboldt Hydroponics refuse to even discuss the topic.

When asked about the issue of medical marijuana and the economy, a man behind the counter of Humboldt Hydroponics shop in Arcata seemed on edge as he immediately insisted he had nothing to say because his shop had "no affiliation" with medical marijuana.

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