Based on 19 months of fieldwork and interviews, this book chapter traces the impacts of marijuana’s legal status on the regional and local development of Humboldt County in California’s rural North Coast. The study examines the influence of extractive industries, whether legal and illegal, on the region’s political economy. In Humboldt, as marijuana became embedded in the forests and economy, the timber industry faced a treacherous decline. Marijuana’s legalization, however, became critical to maintaining a timber-based developmental regime for a time.
After a crisis hit the timber industry in 2007, groups within the region organized around two dominant visions of development, one of smart growth environmentalism and another of growth via rents and unproductive consumption. Marijuana and its legal status became crucial elements of each development regime as groups struggled to define what should be developed versus under-developed. Overall, the chapter grounds abstract processes of prohibition and legalization within the politics, economy and development of California’s North Coast region.