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Changing Economic and Cultural Impacts of Cannabis Production in a Rural Place in California, USA

Authors: Erin Kelly*, Humboldt State University, Marisa Lia Formosa, Redwood Community Action Agency
Topics: Rural Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Land Use
Keywords: cannabis, ecological restoration, rural, economics, land use
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Despite the prevalence of cannabis production in many rural places in the US, most researchers focused on rural economic development, land use, identity, and culture have ignored or avoided the sector. During research into the economic and cultural impacts of the ecological restoration sector in the Mattole Valley, California, we found inextricable links between ecological restoration and cannabis production; in other words, to understand the restoration sector, we needed to understand the cannabis production sector. In this paper, we explore the intersections and impacts of the two economic sectors, one well-studied and visible (ecological restoration), the other understudied and largely invisible (cannabis production). We trace the overlapping history of these two sectors, and argue that the cannabis production sector has had profound impacts on the ecological restoration sector and the Mattole Valley more broadly, and that many other rural places likely cannot be understood unless their informal, shadow, and/or illegal economies are considered. Through semi-structured interviews and participant observation, we identified three eras in the sectors’ evolving relationship since the 1960s, from 1. mutual support; to 2. competition for labor and disagreements over natural resource impacts and land uses during the "green rush"; to 3. potential for re-partnering and cooperation under cannabis legalization and regulation.

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