Author: Fiona Murphy
Marijuana, weed, kush, grass, the devil’s lettuce, whatever you call it, Humboldt County, Calif., has it. I moved to Humboldt as an incredibly naive 7-year-old, and one of my first questions was about the smell. The scent of indoor marijuana farms, also known as grows, accompanied me on my way to school, and people smoked in the streets long before weed was legal. Everyone and their grandparents either grew or smoked or sold. That's just the way that it was, and for the most part, still is.
A recent Netflix documentary series delves into the unique culture of marijuana production in Humboldt, with special focus on one of the more dangerous areas, Alder Point, also known as Murder Mountain. As a resident of Humboldt County, I was particularly interested to see how we would be portrayed. Too often, media fails to find the complexities in Humboldt’s drug production, and only shows it as desperate, dangerous and lawless. However, this documentary series did a surprisingly beautiful job capturing all sides and stories.
The first thing I noticed in this documentary was the visuals: breathtaking aerial shots nearly capture Humboldt’s mountains, redwoods and ocean. While it may seem mundane, these visuals serve as an explanation to why the marijuana trade is so free here and why it is so easy to disappear. The series is shot with a drab sort of color scheme, which I must give some leeway on due to Humboldt’s abundance of fog and dank weather, added a gloomy and stark element which seemed out of place in many scenes. It changed cheerful, playing children into an eerie, unknown message.
About one half to two thirds of the docuseries focuses on the missing, and eventually dead, Garret Rodriguez. The other part is a mix of interviews with the locals to get a picture of real life in the area. I found this to be one of the best choices the directors made.
In allowing people who have lived in Humboldt and grown marijuana their whole lives to talk about the subject, the series opens up an entire sector of Humboldt that outsiders rarely see. It allowed an honest discussion about the peaceful origins of the business, how it became dangerous and how legality is affecting it.
Episode two takes a special focus on the origins of the Humboldt weed trade. By interviewing some original growers, or OGs, and using video clips of the original hippy communities, “Murder Mountain” shows just how much the business changed over the years, going from nude house building and campfire songs to guns and missing persons. I think the addition of the clips was essential to illustrate this, something words would not have achieved.
Through talking to locals and small-time growers, the series shows the damage legalization has done to the community. While I support the legalization of weed, the set up in California has decimated the small-time grower. The process of receiving a permit is set up for large corporation-esque growers, of which there are very few. The cost of applying for a permit and doing all the environmental studies bankrupts the families who have been growing for years without even promising a permit.
Growers who choose to stay on the black market are usually more inclined to violence, and with the cost of legalization, the more relaxed and legitimate growers are pushed out. Due to this, the marijuana industry becomes more dangerous This is the first time I have seen coverage of this outside local news, and I greatly appreciated it. For me, the local growers are community members, friends’ parents and even friends themselves.
I believe the directors also did justice to the side of the series that focuses on the missing persons and the murder of Garret Rodriguez. A mix of interviews and dramatic reenactment gives the viewers both a realistic and honest retelling and keeps them on the edge of their seats. While reenactment can be a risky move, “Murder Mountain" uses it sparingly and carefully enough that it satisfies without boring.
Many consider Humboldt county a dangerous area. We have a disproportionate number of missing persons for such small population, plenty of murder and a rather high crime rate. However, I feel perfectly safe walking the streets alone.
The majority of the missing persons are “trimmigrants,” people who migrate to Humboldt in order to make money trimming marijuana, as the series illustrates. While locals do try to help locate these people, the usual belief is that they just left without telling anyone. Last year, a woman was reported missing only to end up on ABC’s “The Bachelor.” However, that doesn’t mean all missing trimmigrants have happy endings.
Having lived in Humboldt for most of my childhood, I am no longer fazed by the missing persons and constant crime. I believe the most telling sign of this is that I wasn’t even aware of who Rodriguez was or the events that took place at Alder point.These events aren’t big news or even surprising to most residents. They are a fact of life. Most of us live here happily: we are friends with the local growers, the widespread homeless population and know most of our neighbors.
All in all, Humboldt county is a complex and extraordinary place. We are home to the redwood forests, beautiful nearly untouched beaches, the hippiest people you will ever meet and huge amounts of marijuana. We may have a high crime rate, and many may call it a dangerous place to live, but for my friends, family and I, it is a safe place to grow up and raise children. Somewhere with weekly farmers markets with live music and hula hoops for everyone. Somewhere any beach can be a nude beach because no one cares and where you regularly see horses walking down the street. I am grateful that the makers of “Murder Mountain” showed the wacky blend of danger and community, that someone finally decided to look deeper instead of simply show us as a lawless, crime-filled wasteland.
To find more information on what Humboldt county is like, I recommend checking out https://lostcoastoutpost.com/ , out local online news source with a running list of who was arrested and who was released as well as the infamous WeedFeed.