BY ED MURRIETA
ARCATA — When I embedded in Humboldt County before last fall’s vote on Prop. 19, visions of cannabis vacations danced in my head: a potpourri of pot tastings, meet-the-grower field tours and cannabis-infused spa treatments — like a wine country weekend, but with marijuana.
I’d check into a hotel, where, next to plush terrycloth robes, I’d find a vaporizer and a mini-bar stocked with Humboldt’s finest canna-crops — heirloom outdoor buds, indoor diesel nugs, joints as fat as hippie chicks’ dreads, and great balls of hash.
A masseuse would knock on my door, and my 5-hour drive up the gorgeous but grueling Redwood Highway would end happily with cannabis salves soothing my stiff muscles.
Dinner would be a ganjanated feast: beef from happy, grass-fed cows; salads of local, organic marijuana leaf; microbrews finished with hemp, not hops; and sativa sundae dessert.
After a soak and a toke in a hot tub, I’d retire to my hotel, where, on my pillow, chocolate kief truffles would ensure sweet sleep.
Then, on Nov. 3, I woke up to the morning-after election news that the majority of California voters — and most Humboldt growers — nixed legalizing marijuana for non-medical pleasure.
Canna-vacation dream over?
Dream still on.
While California won’t be Amsterdam on the Pacific any time soon, if you’ve got a Prop. 215 medical marijuana recommendation, you can enjoy a legal Cannabis Country Vacation.
Here’s my Humboldt trip.
LAY OF THE LAND
Most growers are in SoHum, the southern Humboldt frontier towns of Garberville, Redway, Briceland, Petrolia and Shelter Cove, where black-market grows outnumber medical grows and outsiders can easily, and understandably, feel unwelcome.
All of Humboldt’s medical marijuana dispensaries – are north, about an hour up Highway 101. Eureka, the county seat, has a methy, port-city vibe, even around its charming Jack London-era Old Town. Arcata, with its picturesque downtown plaza and artsy air of a college town in the trees, is the center of the scene.
With an amenable if not entirely friendly city council, there are four dispensaries Arcata, equal to the number of bars on The Plaza. As of this late-January report, there is one dispensary in Eureka, where marijuana-growing busts make more headlines than methamphetamine arrests and a newly elected conservative city council is now addressing medical cannabis. Meanwhile, county supervisors and SoHum growers hash out a master plan. My deadline observation: Humboldt medical marijuana rules are hazier than Snoop Dogg’s dressing room the last time he played Arcata.
While many Humboldters ask me, “Got your 215 card?” before they even ask my name, don’t expect buds to fall from branches and land in your bong, unless you’re in Garberville at harvest fest. Otherwise, medical marijuana dispensaries are the safest and most legal places to score. All are cash only.
Humboldt Patients Resource Center
980 6th St., Arcata
The most popular and most service-oriented of Arcata’s dispensaries, HPRC often has lines out the door, so don’t be put off by the one-eighth-per-day limit. Grown indoors on site, HPRC’s medicine is organic, and the occasional mite in a clone sets local wags a-wagging. Four to six strains are generally available –- recently it was mostly indicas, but there were two tantalizingly speedy sativas — priced at $38 an eighth. Growing director Kevin Jodrey says he keeps an open door, so if you get a chance to talk with him, grab it: He’s been growing for 30 years and delivers a master class in even the most casual cannabis conversation. Edibles, tinctures and balms are made locally. HPRC recently closed its wellness center, where it offered massage, yoga and nutrition classes, citing financial difficulty as it awaits city approval on a larger growing and dispensary facility.
Humboldt Medical Supply
855 8th St., Arcata
Tucked into a simple, clean and efficient space, Humboldt Medical Supply sounds like the source for catheters and wheelchairs, but is, in fact, the most medically minded of Humboldt’s dispensaries, specializing in medicine for catastrophic patients. The intake questionnaire is, refreshingly, more detailed than most doctors’ Prop. 215 evaluations. Grown in-house, all medicine – Kush, Trainwreck, Purple Nepal and Pineapple Diesel comprised the menu in late January – is Clean Green certified organic. At $200 per ounce, or $13 a sixteenth, Humboldt Medical Supply boasts “the lowest prices in town.”
The Humboldt California Association, Inc.
601 I St., Arcata
Resembling a kiosk jutting out of a hydroponics store, The Humboldt California Association is a bodega among dispensaries. It’s also the only one in Humboldt that charges membership fees (minimum $25) but gives 30-day trials, convenient for canna-tourists. The drill is like a home-spun bank cum peep show: Step up to the glass-windowed counter and slide your ID and Prop. 215 recommendation through a slot. Only then will the curtain be lifted and the goods revealed: 14 fat buds pinned to a board like science specimens, and jars of small buds and bud crumbles. Top-shelf strains, all grown indoors on premises, are $15 a gram and skewed toward indicas. Eights of small bud and crumbles are $32 and $25, respectively.
1025 K St., Arcata
Some folks like a familiar taste of home when they travel. (Hello, Paris McDonald’s!) If the thuggy, druggy dispensary experience makes you yearn for home, then welcome to Sai Center, where, in a make-shift back room of a building that dares to advertise “wellness” on its front window, customers can bury their faces Tony Montana-style in one-pound bags of vendor buds and decide for themselves whether budtender phrases such as “You liked that shit, right?” amount to customer service. All prices based on $39 eighths, plus tax but with thuggy-druggy attitude included.
The Humboldt County Collective
1670 Myrtle Ave., Suite B, Eureka
Open since November, The Humboldt County Collective is the newest and slickest dispensary in Humboldt – small, but resembling service-oriented dispensaries of the Bay Area and Sacramento. All medicine is Clean Green certified organic, evenly stocked with indicas, sativas and hybrids – including outdoor, greenhouse and indoor offerings. “B-grade” buds start at $10 a gram and some are discounted to $7. Top-self buds top out at $15 a gram. Crumble-bud joints are $2.50 and full-bud joints are $6. Budtenders use chopsticks to handle product, packaged in – of all things – classic Chinese food take-out containers, small to large.
WHERE TO SMOKE
You can’t consume medical cannabis at any Humboldt dispensary. Here are some suggestions:
Moonstone Beach is about 15 miles north of Arcata, near Trinidad, a fishing/artsy riche village. Stunning Pacific vistas and headlands in a rocky cove landscape. Open beach, rock climbing, kayaking. On the bluffs above, there’s Moonstone Grill for throat-clearing drinks on the deck.
Redwood Park is a five-minute walk away from Arcata Plaza, but grab a designated driver and explore the redwoods in Patrick’s Point State Park, about 20 miles north of Arcata, or do it up right and day-trip through SoHum’s other famous tall trees, the redwoods among the Avenue of the Giants.
Rent a bike at Life Cycle Bike Shop (1593 G St., Arcata) and explore the Arcata Marsh or the 5-mile-long Hammond Coastal Trail, with stunning vistas along the Pacific and easy access to estuaries.
The state Salmon Hatchery near Blue Lake, about 10 miles east of Arcata off Highway 299, offers easy access to the Mad River, where short hikes lead to swimmin’ holes in the summer and fall.
If you left home without your doctor’s recommendation, or if you just want to squeeze in all the medical tourism you can, you’ll need a local doctor specializing in cannabis consultations.
Dr. William Courtney is an internationally recognized expert in whole-plant cannabis therapy — including juicing and eating strains rich in the non-psychoactive CBD cannabinoid. He keeps an office in Arcata, (707) 825-9420.
Dr. Laurence Badgley of Eureka is a expert in fibromyalgia and pain management. Dr. Badgley – a Yale-educated MD known in a previous medical life as Dr. Feelgood, tour physician for the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin – is conducting a study on the efficacy of medical marijuana edibles. THCExam.com
Pipes, bongs, vaporizers and bubble bags at Humboldt Glassblowers (815 9th St., Arcata; and 214 E. St., Eureka) — why, they’re all for tobacco products. Sure. Play along, enjoy local glass and don’t talk about toking, for nobody wants to be the next Tommy Chong. Speaking of cleaning up: If you don’t want to return home with dirty glass in your car or luggage, don’t throw it away: contact Jason at Pathways Trading Co. in McKinleyville, (707) 834-3210. He advertises high-pressure steam-cleaning service starting at $5.
GROW FOR IT
Signs warn against talking about marijuana. So if you want to stock up on soil, nutrients or lights at any of Humboldt’s many grow-supply stores – they outnumber supermarkets 2-to-1 here — refer to your crops as tomatoes. Stores need to appease their product suppliers, who do big business in mainstream agriculture. Kinda like some Humboldt vegetable farmers, who, according to local gossip, also grow marijuana. Hush,now. Play along.
SOAK ‘N’ TOKE
This part of my canna-vacation dream is easily realized at
Finnish Country Sauna and Tubs (495 J St., Arcata
(707) 822-2228), where many locals come here for the waters, with their own stashes in hand. A half-dozen private, open-roof hot tub cabins ring a fairy-tale frog pond and garden. At $9 per half hour per person, you can enjoy a soak in a well-maintained 8-foot-diameter wood hot tub, with an adjacent changing room and hot outdoor shower. (The steam sauna is also $9 per half hour per person.) The toke is up to you, but just remember there’s no glass allowed. Reservations are required, but if you want to hang out in the coffee house (stuffed with international periodicals but no free wi-fi) you’re likely to snag canceled reservations. Open at noon daily, until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
SEASONS AND REASONS
Big indoor grows start when winter rains cover sounds of diesel generators in the hills. Outdoor planting starts in March, and outdoor harvest in September, along with the international influx of trimmers and other seasonal work-seekers. Many Humboldters grow in apartments, houses greenhouses and rented warehouses year-round. Dispensaries grow their own. Cannabis is an all-seasons attraction. Why do you think George Clinton hauled his ancient ass to play grower-built Mateel Center this winter? Here are other cannabis-friendly, touristy, and even educational reasons to visit Humboldt throughout the year.
Reggae on the River is a huge international gathering of reggae bands, craft and food vendors set against the Eel River outside Garberville in mid-July. reggaeontheriver.com.
Heading into its 21st season, Hempfest is a gathering of growers, vendors and musicians in Redway. Last November’s Hempfest featured Lukas Nelson, Willie’s pro-marijuana-farmer kid. mateel.org
707 Cannabis College in Garberville offers one-day classes and weekend seminars on growing, legal issues and cooking with marijuana. 707cannabiscollege.com
The Humboldt tourism bureau maintains a calendar of other events – from bird-watching to beer-drinking – at redwoods.info
Driving: Arcata is five hours north of San Francisco on Highway 101. From Sacramento, take Interstate 80 to Highway 39 in Vallejo to Highway 101. From Redding, take Highway 299 West to Highway 101. For a spectacular windy road favored by black-market marijuana couriers speeding to Los Angeles, Highway 36 meets Interstate 5 near Red Bluff and meets Highway 101 about 50 miles south of Arcata.
Flying: United and Horizon airlines serve Arcata/Eureka Airport, which has a reputation for being slower and less reliable than a stoner.
WHERE TO STAY
The first time I stayed at Hotel Arcata in the pre-Prop. 215 1980s, I brought my bong and puffed out a window overlooking The Plaza. Most recently, and now a card-carrying medical marijuana user, I asked the desk clerk if it’s OK to smoke a bong in the historic hotel. “Just don’t have a party in the hallway and we won’t bust down your door,” was all he said. (And much more friendly than Benbow Inn near Garberville, which asses $500 fines for “any smoking” in its rooms.) Better still, if you check into Hotel Arcata (rooms starting around $80) bring your own vaporizer. hotelarcata.com.
Camping is easy in Humboldt: The county operates three nearby campgrounds. Clam Beach features beach and RV camping and is northern Humboldt’s seasonal hub for itinerant trimmers; Samoa Dunes offers RV and tent camping, a boat launch and showers on Humboldt Bay; and Big Lagoon offers waterfront camping, boat launch and showers. Patrick’s Point State Park is a good choice, too.
WHERE TO EAT
Brio, on Arcata Plaza, is the place for coffee and pastry – and to see and be seen, inside or outside.
Luke’s Joint, also on Arcata Plaza, sources locally and serves playfully, breakfast through dinner. Pork Butt & Jelly isn’t a sandwich, but an open-faced mound of pulled barbecue bathed in fruit compote. Ancho-chili corn waffles are eye-openers. Veggie and meaty sandwiches and wraps, too.
Naan of the Above (867 7th St., Arcata; naanoftheabove.com) tweaks taco trucks, serving Indian food from a turmeric-colored trailer and tent.
The Arcata Farmers Market happens Saturdays on The Plaza.
Arcata Scoop (1068 I St., look for the wooden ice cream cone) makes organic ice cream from Marin County’s Strauss Family cream and local ingredients, such as lavender-honey from Willow Creek that sublimely saturates the Scoop’s vanilla.
Samoa Cookhouse started serving loggers all they could eat in 1893 and continues the tradition today, with a rotating menu of hearty, if middling, comfort food — biscuits and gravy, meatloaf, pot roast, fried chicken — that keeps coming until you’re no longer hungry. Worth a visit for fresh-baked bread and logger memorabilia. samoacookhouse.net
These local writers will make you feel like a Humboldter before you arrive:
Kym Kemp’s Redheaded Blackbelt is the canna-cognosenti’s must-read. News, analysis, gorgeous local flora and fauna photography, and real SoHum marijuana workers feeding the blog’s comments. kymk.wordpress.com
Sharon Letts’ Behind the Curtain is a fictionalized, serialized look at everyday lives of NoHum cannabis growers, their families, friends – like Tales of the City in Humboldt County. arcataeye.com.
Mikal Jakubal’s One Good Year is both a blog and a promo for his shot-but-unedited documentary of the same name. Set in the year leading up to Prop. 19′s defeat, stories follow four mom-and-pop SoHum growers for that mythical “one good year” of growing before allegedly retiring. onegoodyear.com
POSTCARD FROM THE FUTURE
As deadline descends like couchlock indica demanding this story be put to bed, I hear hazy but hopeful Humboldt canna-tourism plans: a reality TV medical marijuana farm and campground in Carlotta; a Prop. 215 hotel resort near Orick; and a spa in Arcata that promises massages with canna oils and lotions for medical marijuana users who bring their own. Pipe dreams, or how you’ll spend your Cannabis Country Vacation in 2012?
Pot Appetit’s Ed Murrieta talks about pot tourism (near the 10-minute mark) in this report by Los Angeles public television station KCET.