humbolt county cannabis or tomatoes

Humboldt County Can’t Tell Tomatoes From Cannabis

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by Dan Larkin

You say tomatoes, Humboldt County says cannabis. Then they call the whole thing off. This is a cautionary tale of innocent, hardworking farmers facing fines from high-tech satellite-wielding county bureaucrats in California’s fertile Emerald Triangle.

Humboldt County Cannabis

First some background. The Emerald Triangle region of Northern California consists of three counties. Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity. It’s considered to be the largest cannabis growing region in the US.

Humboldt County is thought to be ground zero for the cannabis industry in America. They’ve been growing it there since the ’60s and are good at it. Of all the regions or appellations associated with cannabis, Humboldt County stands out as the star. Cannabis is so much part of Humboldt County’s identity that many believe that everyone who lives there is in the industry.

Not Farmer Tom O’Gorman

Humboldt County may be full of cannabis cultivators but Farmer Tom O’Gorman isn’t one of them. He grows tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables on his Trinty River Farm. He’s known for his sauces, jams & jellies too.

But we’re not talking cannabis-infused sauces, jams, & jellies either. Farmer Tom knows he fits the profile of an old hippie cannabis grower. In fact, he fully supports others growing it. He just doesn’t himself. But, that didn’t stop Humboldt County bureaucrats from accusing him of growing it.

Humboldt County Cannabis Cops

In fact, a process server even showed up at Farmer Tom’s place and served him with an abatement notice. It’s an official legal document that gives you 10 days to destroy your cannabis crop or get in touch with the county. If they fail to do either they face a fine of $10,000 a day for every day they don’t comply.

“I asked the gentleman who served me the papers how he was doing. He said, ‘I’m fine, but you might not be as well as you think you are.’ Then he handed me an abatement notice.”

Farmer Tom O’Gorman

So, at this point, Tom had some questions. He wanted to understand how this could be happening. It probably seemed surreal. By the next day, he was hearing from his friends that he was listed in the newspaper as someone who had been served notice for growing cannabis in Humboldt County. That was just not cool. Not cool at all. But, Farmer Tom took it all in stride. If anyone could get out of a jam it would have to be a guy who makes it.

How Did This Happen In Humboldt County?

Humboldt County has been working hard to eradicate illegal cannabis operations. They have done a pretty good job of it too. They know it’s important to protect the rights of licensed, legal operators who have to compete with the still strong black and grey markets for cannabis.

Their not so secret weapon in this effort is new satellite technology that works kind of like Google Maps. It comes from a company called Planet.

Humboldt County’s satellite software Planet maps real images of Humboldt County’s landscape, allowing the county to spot any greenhouses that could be storing illegal marijuana cultivations. (Planet contribution)

With Planet’s satellite assistance, Humboldt County has increased its cannabis code reinforcement efforts by a reported 700%. But guess what? It’s not a perfect system. Here’s how it works.

The Planet satellite picture scans for anomalies and then county officials red flag any anomaly that appears to be a large greenhouse that wasn’t there before. That’s how Farmer Tom got caught up in all of this. He had a large greenhouse they hadn’t seen before. It’s a greenhouse for his tomatoes and some other fruits and vegetables. But Humbolt County thought, “Aha!, cannabis!”

Humboldt County hasn’t offered a comment about the success or failures of the satellite system but records indicate that it’s helped net the county, as of last November, $1.2 million of an expected $2.2 million in abatement revenue.

Humboldt County Cannabis Conundrum

So, on one hand, you have Humboldt County, trying to do the right thing by eradicating illegal cannabis cultivation. And, on the other hand, there’s Farmer Tom who’s being accused of something that isn’t true. To make matters worse for him, the county ups the ante on besmirching his good name by publishing it in the paper.

How does one solve this so it doesn’t happen to others? (Note: it has!) Well, the county seems to not be in a hurry to solve this issue. After all, it’s making millions and following the law. But why couldn’t they use human beings to verify that a greenhouse has cannabis growing in it? Good question. It was posed to Humboldt County officials who, as I mentioned, have not commented.


So this is where the lawyers get involved and try to get this all figured out. While most people understand that building a new bureaucracy to contain and control cannabis in Humboldt County is hard, they also don’t want to be falsely accused. It all turned fine for Farmer Tom. He received a retraction from Humboldt County officials a week after being served papers. But he’ll never forget that day when he said ‘tomatoes” and they said “cannabis” and then called the whole thing off.

Farmer Tom in his greenhouse. Source: Facebook

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How do you feel about Humboldt County’s “Big Brother” approach to controlling illegal grows? Have you ever had an experience of “mistaken identity” or been wrongly accused of cannabis possession? Share your Cannabis In Real Life story with us. Email it to Thanks!

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