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Back in December, when we selected and wrote about Humboldt County's "Top Ten Stories of 2008" (patent pending), reporter Ryan Burns came across a startling fact. For the first time in many, many years, Humboldt County's unemployment rate had just slipped beneath the state average. For the first time in living memory, more Humboldt County people who wanted a job had a job, compared with California at large.

The curious statistic, a ray of hope in an otherwise glum economy, made us harken back to a previous number that had crossed our desk some time before. Back in 2006, the Policom Corporation, an economic think-tank, had rated us the 21st-strongest "micropolitan" economy in the U.S.A., out of a list of 576 such places. (We dropped to a still-respectable 33rd in the 2008 rankings.)

Now, it's not really any sort of secret as to why we'd have such a strong showing, neither in the Policom rankings nor in the official unemployment statistics. We're not a high-class resort for the rich, like Hilton Head, S.C. (Policom's #1). We're not an affluent bedroom community like Grass Valley, Calif. (#7). We're not a podunk state capital, like Helena, Mt. (#13). What we have is a black market, and according to some educated guesses by some economics professors at HSU, it probably brings somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million into our economy annually.

For people who watch out for the health of the local economy, the big question mark is what happens when the Washington, D.C. Politicos finally throw in the towel and decriminalize marijuana, our number one cash crop by a very large margin, and the thing that has come to represent Humboldt County in the imaginations of tens of millions of enthusiastic, discriminating smokers. People in the know don't talk about it much, but it's always been assumed that legalization -- an inevitability -- would be the thing to bring the county's better-than-average economy to a shreaking standstill.

We have something that might be of interest to the policymakers and businessfolk who quietly fret about such things. There have been a number of reports coming across the transom lately to the effect that the marijuana trade with San Francisco and Los Angeles has bottomed out. This, the reports say, has happened very recently and very quickly. Once, a pound of standard Humboldt outdoor would fetch something like $5,000; nowadays, people we've talked to can't seem to move it for $2,500.

Why is this? There's at least three possible reasons. One: Proposition 215, the 12-year-old state law that with a wink and a nod basically legalized marijuana in this state is finally being fully felt. With weed all but legal, there's a lot of new entrants into the market, leading to something of a glut. Two: On the demand side, the urban stockbrokers and real estate agents and computer engineers who enjoy their toke have been brutalized by the recession, and have taken themselves out of the market. Three: The quasi-legalization of the weed has opened up new avenues for Mad Ave.-style hucksters to brand their product to the kids of today. No longer do you buy weed, you buy "Kush" or "Purp" or etc., etc. If you can't think of a bullshit name to plausibly hang on your product, you're toast.

So the indoor geneticist geeks have taken the lead, leaving ol' organic Mom and Pops to hang. So the theory goes. But though we've heard of people in that world who are doing pretty well, we've also heard reports from people who seems to have done everything right and are still looking for markets. They bought their O.G. Kush starts, raised them lovingly, and still they can't find a buyer. Take warning.


We ran out of space in last week's column, but we wanted to make sure that y'all took notice that the Journal's First Annual Short-Short Fiction Contest is underway, and the entries are already beginning to trickle in. Join the party! We're talking short-short-short, here -- 99 words or fewer. We've semi-assembled an all-star team of judges, who will read the stories blind and pick their favorites. The best of the best will be featured in an upcoming issue. There will be prizes of some sort.

General hint, non-binding upon the judges or the entrants: Everyone likes to read about the place they live.

This is exciting! We launched fiction issue last year with Crawdad Nelson's excellent short story "California Improved" (Feb. 7, 2008), and it's taken us a bit too long to get back to it. We're thinking, with fingers crossed, that this is a beautiful way of democratizing the thing and getting a lot more voices in there at the same time.

Send your entries to [email protected], or snail-mail them to North Coast Journal, Fiction Contest, 145 G St., Suite A, Arcata, Calif., 95521. Deadline: Feb. 15.

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Hank Sims

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