Legal Pot: Death of the Emerald Triangle?

Combined, the Emerald Triangle is home to more than 200,000 residents and, according to Hamilton, if you're not directly growing pot, then you're working in the stores that cropped up to cater to the growers' needs.

"There is no other economy," Hamilton said. "All of the service economies are totally dependent on marijuana. ... All the businesses in our little town, the richest ones, sell accessories for growing."

Joy Greenfield, 68, is a medical marijuana grower in Mendocino whose collective, Light the Way, has more than 1,000 members.

"It affects all kinds of people you wouldn't even think," she said.

So when the price of pot jumps or dives, the ground shakes in the Emerald Triangle.

Mass Production Changes Face of Market

Ever since California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use in 1996 (and approve an expansion in 2003), growers in the Emerald Triangle have faced increased competition in the form of hundreds of dispensaries that popped up across the state. Earlier this month, city officials in Oakland, Calif., gave preliminary approval for four large-scale marijuana production factories, paving the way for unprecedented state-approved mass production of pot.

As a consequence of mass-produced pot flowing into the market, Emerald Triangle growers expect the price of pot to drop -- but not nearly as badly as it will if the state votes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in November.

A study earlier this month by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center concluded that legalization would throw the price of pot into a freefall -- down as much as 80 percent.

As a result, Emerald Triangle growers, business owners and officials have been thrown into a frenzy to come up with ways to meet the devastating effect such a crash would have on their community and have been divided into two camps of thought.

The first is the hope that the Emerald Triangle can survive on the weight of their "superior product" and emerge as the elite, highly specialized "Napa Valley of pot." Legalization would also allow growers to better cooperate with authorities to curtail violent criminal elements that also have made the Emerald Triangle their home.

The second theory is that the counties are doomed.

The only thing that everyone agrees upon is that nothing will be the same.

Survival of the Fittest

Back in March, the idea that pot legalization could destroy her hometown became lodged in Anna Hamilton's mind. Using her gift for words and local popularity, she began organizing meetings with business owners and county officials that were meant to answer one question: How are we going to survive?

At one of the meetings, Hamilton took a quick survey. How many people believe legalization of recreational pot will improve the local economy? Of the 185 community representatives from various industries, a resounding 95 percent said it would be "a disaster."

"The idea that my generation would let this economic world that we have created for ourselves..." Hamilton said before trailing off in thought. "I started the meetings to try and prepare the county for the impacts on the social services" -- social services that she believes will be strapped when "tens of thousands" of people are driven out of work.

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