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Humboldt County Moves To Support Its Cannabis Industry

Lode Van de Velde

Humboldt County has launched a program to build economic development support for the local cannabis industry using cannabis tax revenue. Now the county’s growers can get technical and capital assistance that was never available before. JPR’s Liam Moriarty recently spoke with Humboldt reporter Daniel Mintz about Project Trellis.

Liam Moriarty: Hi Daniel, welcome back.

Daniel Mintz: Hi, Liam. Good to be here.

LM: So, first of all, what's the meaning of the program's name?

DM: The name refers to a trellis structure that plants grow up along, in this case cannabis plants, and it has three growth support tiers: for business help and then there's compensation for the impacts of past enforcement, and marketing.

LM: So, what do those support programs consist of?

DM: One of the most substantial ones is the micro grant program. And that's for permitting assistance and farm infrastructure improvements. The equity program has similar purposes but that has more specific eligibility standards related to poverty, past non-violent convictions related to cannabis and also for people who might be subjected to discrimination. And then the marketing program is there to protect and define and promote the Humboldt brand and its producers

LM: Now, how would you say this compares to the more conventional agricultural associations? Like, you know, the Apple Commission or the Wheat Board or things like that, that a lot of states have, where members pay fees and they get services?

DM: Well, there's similarities to that, but with the involvement of county government and tax money, I guess, I would say it's more like a focused version of the federal small business administration, whose help isn't available to the Cannabis industry due to Controlled Substances.

LM: And what kind of business assistance have cannabis farmers gotten so far?

DM: Well, there's help with the very complex process of compliance, and improvements such as water storage infrastructure.

LM: What about the marketing element? How is the county and the cannabis industry approaching that?

DM: Well, it's a ground-up, local approach and the campaign is going to be based on region-based models, like Napa Valley wine, and Colombian coffee. The county hired the Humboldt Growers Alliance, the cannabis trade association here, to make marketing recommendations. Here Ross Gordon, the alliance's policy director, describes how regional industry-driven marketing works. This was during a presentation at a Board of Supervisors meeting last November.

ROSS GORDON: What makes these regions successful is cooperating, bringing folks together and leveraging, all of the resources within the community, in order to materialize a common vision for the industry and the community.

LM: So, he talks about a common vision for promoting Humboldt cannabis. Has that been defined yet?

DM: It largely has. There's been a lot of feedback through the Humboldt Growers Alliance's marketing assessment, and as well as the county's process of public town hall meetings and surveys. And I think at this point, the idea is to differentiate Humboldt cannabis, but not only the product, but it's culture and the roots of the industry, going back to homesteading in the "back to the land" movement of the 1960s. And the standard is smaller-scale production. There's a lot of talk about corporatization being not wanted here, and cheaper, bulk scale production being something that should be avoided.

LM: Now, the equity program is an interesting concept. It seems like an official acknowledgement that things have been unfairly done in the past.

DM: Yes. Legalization happened partly because of the realization that laws against cannabis didn't make sense. And in that, there's an admission that what we used to call "marijuana enforcement," in total, did more harm than good. Now, the state's equity funding guidelines focus on racially diverse, urban areas, but no doubt many people and families in Humboldt were hurt by incarceration and forfeiture and sudden loss of their income.

LM: So with all that going on, what's the attitude right now, would you say, about the future of Humboldt's cannabis industry? How are people feeling about that?

DM: Well, I think it's a mix of optimism and concern. The main challenges are protecting the brand and uniting the industry around it ,and then competing against the corporate-scale producers in other parts of the state. And there have been controversies over excise tax, for sure, but Project Trellis is seen as a huge positive step.

LM: Well, Daniel, thanks for talking with us today.

DM: Thanks for having me on.

LM: I've been talking with Daniel Mintz. He's our Humboldt County Reporter. I'm Liam Moriarty.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.