Cannabis has grown in the spectacular natural surroundings of Humboldt County, in northern California, for decades, with farms propagating top-shelf stuff here despite prohibition. The Emerald Cup originated in the county, and home-grown buds often sweep the competition.
Yet, in the face of the legalization of cannabis, which has brought many challenges to Humboldt County, including high fees and taxes, as well as competition from well-funded corporate players, local civic leaders have decided the county must diversify. In 2018, the Southern Humboldt Business and Visitors Bureau launched a marketing campaign branding Humboldt as “America’s Cannabis Heartland.” Polished videos and magazine spreads depict Humboldt as a place of natural beauty, laden with family-run marijuana farms.
“We are already known for growing the best, simply the best craft cannabis, and part of what we are doing is helping get the word out,” Laura Lasseter, Director of the SHBVB, told Weedmaps.
“We are the first destination marketing agency in the state of California inclusive of the cannabis industry,” Lasseter said. The county government is even getting behind it, with a “small but important” amount of funding going toward the campaign.
A huge amount of cannabis consumed in the western United States prior to legalization was grown in Humboldt County. Weedmaps says “According to Fred Krissman, Ph.D., a research associate with Humboldt State University's Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, 40% to 60% of all cannabis consumed in the United States prior to legalization in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, was grown in California's Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, collectively known as the Emerald Triangle.”
Humboldt has also become a center of cannabis research. “It originated here and it developed here. Not only the techniques for evolving new and innovative strains of cannabis with different qualities, not only high-THC, but also high-CBD and different terpene profiles as well,” Krissman told Weedmaps News. The HIIMR, which was founded in 2012, has become “the preeminent cannabis research institute for all things related to the traditional center of marijuana production in the United States,” says Krissman.
Humboldt’s history of cannabis cultivation goes back to the 1960s when hippies moved to the ancient redwood forests of southern Humboldt County to “live off the grid” and escape the strictures of a conservative country. Many grew cannabis strains to support themselves and fund projects such as organic farming. Helicopter raids became a daily occurrence when the government cracked down on cannabis farming in the 1980s. “We have farmers and family members [who did prison time]. I think part of what makes southern Humboldt special is that we all have our own stories that are unique and authentic,” said Lasseter. She says the area’s outlaw heritage is an asset, giving it a legitimate claim to authentic American cannabis cultural roots.
One thing happening in Humboldt that may appeal to tourists is the SHVBV's new Meet the Farmers series of special dinners. These intimate meals are held at sites like the Benbow Historic Inn, in Garberville. “Meeting the farmers and sharing those stories and sharing that authentic culture simply cannot be recreated anywhere else,” Lasseter said.
Other options for Humboldt’s budding cannabis tourism industry are taking off as well. Humboldt Cannabis Tours is a mini-bus tour through southern Humboldt’s rolling cannabis hills, visiting small family farms. “About a quarter of my guests are already international,” tour guide Matt Kurth told Weedmaps News, adding that when it comes to cannabis, “Humboldt County can be what France is to wine.” Nevermind California’s famous wine country.