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Legalize 

This week, we're delighted to run our friend Kym Kemp's sober and insightful essay about how Humboldt County should prepare for the inevitable legalization of marijuana in California and elsewhere. Her story hits newsstands just as the national media -- The New York Times, the Associated Press, National Public Radio and others -- picks up on a forum on the same subject that was being held at the Mateel Community Center in Redway as this issue was going to bed. On Kemp's behalf, we hope that it will contribute some useful ideas to a discussion that is only just getting underway here in weed country.

It's going to take a mountain of work to get some members of the local business community on board. For 40-odd years, local government and most of the county's movers and shakers have devoted immense effort into squashing the demon weed. Very soon, we will devote immense effort to promote it. This won't be an easy mental turn for some people to make, and there's a chance that internal dissent amongst the business community could hold back the very forward-thinking conversations that are starting to form around the issue. Marijuana has been falsely painted as a moral issue for so long that some will resist salvaging the scraps of our immense black market economy through sensible and creative means like those that Kemp and others are suggesting. They're not bad people, and so they will not wish to promote what they have long thought of as evil or antisocial.

This it understandable, if false, and it is to be hoped that the retro-moralists among us don't get much traction, as the county's economic well-being absolutely depends on a smooth and quick transition between prohibition and repeal. We stand to lose almost all of our region's largest export product, one that accounts for at least as high a percentage of our economy as timber did in the old days. As Kemp rightly notes, this will affect the bottom line of every single person in our county -- every merchant, every professional, every schoolteacher and policeman and government worker. The moment that marijuana legalizes, the bubble that prohibition has created will be burst, and unless Humboldt County is smart it will hit us far more deeply than the collapse of the nation's financial sector did a year and a half ago.

Here's the good news: "Humboldt County" means something in the world at large, and many smart business people have already subtly capitalized on that fact. Arcata's world-renowned Cypress Grove Chevre counts, in its line of high-end cheeses such brands as "Humboldt Fog" and "Purple Haze." Humboldt Brews sells a "Hemp Ale," along with a line of leaf-bedecked T-shirts promoting that particular brew. The entrepreneurs behind these and similar lines of product are doing us all a favor -- not only in bringing home the dollars, but by showing us clever, playful ways to promote our county. We're going to need them.

Why is marijuana prohibition doomed? Because the citizens of the state of California especially, and soon of the nation at large, are tired of wasting their tax dollars on a drug war whose only success has been (and ever will be) to prop up prices and make outlaws rich. Because just about everyone in this state under the age of 50 has smoked marijuana at one time or another, and so they know that it is physically far less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol and only rarely addictive in the way that those legal drugs are. Because it is child's play to point to eminent scientists, artists, captains of industry -- even Governors of California and Presidents of the United States -- who have had or continue to have their brushes with weed, and seem to have survived the encounter with little damage. Because state after state and country after country are realizing all this, and are starting to loosen up about it. Locally, because the citizens of Humboldt County are tired of the waste of resources involved in the "grow house" phenomenon, and because we're sick of the money-hungry yahoos who get into shootouts on the streets every couple of months or so.

Legalization will be on the November 2010 ballot, and what with the state budget crisis and the general gestalt, we're betting that it's going to pass. We're going to be poorer, and unless people in power start joining the efforts that Anna Hamilton and others are making we're going to be a lot poorer. But we'll all live more sanely and honorably. Stack that against the petty fear of a minor intoxicant, and then ask yourself which is the better way to go.

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Hank Sims

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