Dreamers, schemers, dealers and profiteers go to Humboldt County to grow, sell and transport marijuana. They’ve gone there to smoke it, steal it, write and make movies about it. They’ve been going there for nearly fifty years and they haven’t stopped going yet, though creeks are dry, land is increasingly in short supply and law enforcement knows, from aerial surveillance, the precise location of all the indoor and outdoor cultivation sites. If you don’t want that kind of exposure Humboldt might not be the place for you.
At the hip Mariposa Market in Willits, where she stopped for a wheat grass hot shot and a salad, Emily Hobelman, 34, a pot smoker and a gen Xer, studies a map from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that shows grow sites in two colors. Published on the front page of The Willits News, large red dots on the map represent outdoor cultivation sites of 101 or more plants. Large white dots represent greenhouses with more than 201 plants. There are smaller red and whites dots for smaller sites. The headline reads, “Study shows marijuana is sucking Eel River Drive.” Hobelman smiles and says, “You can go to Google Earth and see the grow sites, too.” Rarely at a loss for words, and almost always candid, she adds, “It ain’t just marijuana growers who are sucking the Eel Dry. It’s humans. Marijuana growers once again get demonized.”
A marijuana journalist, smoker, and industry worker, Hobleman came to Humboldt to study math at Humboldt State University, home of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research where undergraduates study marijuana to fulfill academic requirements and receive a degree. Hobelman arrived in Arcata with a B.S. from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where marijuana was readily available but not nearly as prevalent as at Humboldt State.
After she received an M. A., Hobelman stayed in Humboldt to teach math at the College of the Redwood and to conduct her own independent study of the world of weed. “I couldn’t really teach when I was stoned,” she says. “I’d laugh too much at my own jokes.” Over the last decade-and-a half Hobelman has smoked more joints than she can count, done dozens and dozens of dabs, got high again and again, worked on weed farms, trimmed and transported pounds, and as a reporter for North Coast Journal and Lost Coast Outpost observed the marijuana culture and the marijuana business up-close. As a bartender at the Alibi in Arcata, and at the Benbow Inn, located on the South Fork of the Eel River, she met growers aplenty, many of them mighty generous with their tips after guzzling beer.
More recently she’s come out of the cannabis closet nearly everywhere that she goes. That means talking candidly about her “twenty year love affair with weed.” She’s out and about in a variety of ways: on Facebook; on her live weekly radio show on KMUD; around the offices of the station itself; and in Garberville where she has lived since 2013 and where she belongs to a peer group of women who live and labor in the cannabis industry.
“The hand of God brought me to Garberville,” she says. “It’s a cool place with cool people like Kevin Jodrey, the owner of Wonderland Nursery and the co-founder of the Ganjier. “There are cool places, too, like the dispensary where I can hang out and smoke with people I know. If you have to buy weed in Garberville you’re way outside the loop.”
Hobelman moved away from Humboldt several times. She entered a Ph.D. program in Hawaii and then withdrew, but not before learning to be a radio host and DJ. In Hawaii, math lost much of its appeal. Later, she worked for a San Diego firm that made vaporizers. Each and every time that she has come back to Humboldt she has discovered new aspects of the weed world and found new ways to reconnect to it. Now, she’s one of the most visible women in the marijuana world in Humboldt and perhaps as well known as Mary Ellen Jukovitz, the founder of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center in Arcata, Kerry Reynolds, a cannabis reporter whose stories circulate widely, and Kym Kemp who writes about local issues and news at her website, Redheaded Blackbelt.
Hobelman and friends, both women and men, are part of a growing movement in Humboldt and elsewhere that calls for smokers, growers and traffickers to let go of the shame, stop feeling guilty and embrace weed openly. “Back in the day nobody talked,” she says. “That’s shifting radically.” Encouragement to do so comes from groups such as California Cannabis Voice which is based in Humboldt and that calls itself “a grassroots direct action organization.” The Voice would like every closet smoker to come out now.
These days Humboldt County marijuana certainly isn’t a dirty little secret. It was when Hobelman began to smoke pot in 1994 at the age of 14. She lived at home with her family in L.A. and attended an all-girls’ Catholic High School named Reina that she describes as “super repressive.”
Hobelman and her high school girlfriends smoked weed as secretly as they could: in cars, garages, and their own bedrooms with the doors closed. They called their group “The Drug of the Month Club.” They liked to joke about Jesus and the weed that he and his disciples smoked at the Last Supper. The girls weren’t ever arrested, but friends and even family members busted them.
“My group once robbed a pot garden in Southern California,” Hobelman says in-between bites of her leafy-green salad and a bottle of Kombucha. “We scoped it out during the day, went back in the middle of the night, snatched it and then hid it under the deck of my parents’ house. My big brother didn’t like weed. He ratted on me. That was an early snitching experience.”
She adds, “I didn’t stop smoking. In fact it was part of my rebellion against just about everything. I drank alcohol, I did psychedelics, and I ran around pretty wild.” Early on she came to the conclusion that marijuana was a sacred herb and at the same time had medicinal properties. Smoking weed helped whenever she had severe craps and nausea during her menstrual cycle. It also helped her to relax, let go and laugh.
She hasn’t stopped laughing, though everything she’s seen and done hasn’t been funny, like the time she witnessed a bust on 101. The police arrested a driver and piled confiscated weed on the roof of his vehicle. Then there are the hostile comments from weed folk who read her column, “LoCO on the Pot” at Lost Coast Outpost.
“People love my writing or hate my writing,” Hobelman said. “Some say I’m a fraud and that I turn out pieces that are stoner clichés. Granted, I don’t eat sleep and breath cannabis 24/7. I think you have to get out of the marijuana bubble. Sometimes I can get paranoid and my anxiety level kicks in. Mostly I feel good about weed. I have my own right relationship with it.”
Five days a week, Hobelman solicits underwriting for KMUD. Growers are still generous, she says, but not the way they used to be, in part because the price of marijuana has dropped and because disposal incomes have shrunk.
“Some people around here would like to see weed crash and burn,” she says. “Others are convinced there’s only a year or two left to make big money and still others are eager to get into the next phrase when cannabis cultivation is legal in California. There’s also a growing movement to make cannabis a sustainable industry, not to gobble up water and to respect the environment.”
After twenty years, her love affair with marijuana hasn’t cooled down. She has a new flesh-and-blood boyfriend and feels good about him. “I tried a lesbian relationship in college,” she said. “It ended badly. I came to the realization that I’m like a dude person.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, Humboldt is a dude place, though there are lesbian growers in the hills and a growing presence of women who speak for and who represent the industry.
“Mendocino County seems more of a feminine place than Humboldt,” she said. “There are all those men who are manly in Humboldt. For me there’s no place in Mendocino that has the beautiful darkness of Humboldt and where you can see heart-breaking human tragedy along with incredible community and inspiration.”
Lunch finished — salad devoured, Kombucha drained to the last drop — Hobleman walks behind the Mariposa Market for a smoke. She takes a puff, then another, and then an employee of the store shouts, “You can’t be back here. It’s a liability issue.” Stoned again and busted in a way, Hobelman shrugs her shoulders and smiles a smile that would probably make Cheech and Chong smile from ear to ear.