HUMBOLDT by Emily Brady


Life on America's Marijuana Frontier
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Straightforward overview of Northern California’s “Emerald Triangle,” the rural region renowned for producing America’s best cannabis.

Brady spent a year among participants in the marijuana trade, earning their trust while observing their lifestyles. Although her narrative demonstrates that every resident is affected by this enormous illicit industry, she focuses on a few individuals, including a beleaguered sheriff’s deputy, an itinerant manager of isolated cannabis “grows” and a young woman whose undergraduate research suggested that growing up amid pervasive illegality creates dangerous consequences for the region’s youngsters. Brady notes that since the “Back-to-the-Land” movement of the early 1970s, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties have become a strange synthesis of redneck and hippie perspectives, fueled by the development of a secretive yet widespread cannabis-cultivation industry. The financial rewards of “marijuana moonshining” only strengthened the residents’ libertarian outlook: “This was a community that had paid a price for their decades long rebellion,” including raids by the U.S. Army. Brady ably captures the social complexities of life in a region where dependence on cannabis (and the artificially high prices created by prohibition) is universally understood yet kept concealed: For instance, the deputy profiled by Brady theorizes that “many growers became members of local fire departments out of guilt over how they earn their living.” As a narrative framework, the author uses the failed 2010 ballot proposal to legalize all uses of cannabis statewide, noting that many area growers actively opposed it, putting financial self-interest ahead of idealism. She thus captures a community torn between the unknown future of cannabis legalization and a present in which prison terms, violent rip-offs and destructive police raids remain commonplace. Though more a work of journalistic observation than social argument, Brady still demonstrates that the war on drugs makes “normal” life impossible in communities like those in the Emerald Triangle.

A relaxed yet disturbing look at an alternative lifestyle, its heady profits and its hidden costs. 

Pub Date: June 18th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0676-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2013


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