California's conservative secessionists want to take Emerald Triangle with them

CaliforniaSo California's rebel rednecks think they're taking Humboldt County with them when they leave the state, it appears. The latest split-the-state initiative was unveiled at a Sacramento press conference Jan. 16, covered by USA Today. "The current state of California has become governed by a tyranny," the group declared. Their proposed solution is to form the state of "New California," taking most of the rural counties with them, and leaving behind the heavily urbanized coast.

Their website ostentatiously proclaims that their founders—as representated by vice-chair and mouthpiece Paul Preston—have "declared independence from California."

The accompanying map shows that only the coastal corridor between San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles would remain in old California. The state capital would remain Sacramento, as a panhandle would extend that far inland from the Bay Area. Significantly, San Jose and Silicon Valley would be annexed by New California. In the south, so would Orange County and San Diego. But they are going to really run into trouble in the north, where the secessionists claim everything above Marin County. This includes, of course, the cannabis-producing heartland of the Emerald Triange—Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, by the narrowest reckoning.

The New California rhetoric is predictable. "After years of over taxation, regulation, and mono-party politics the State of California and many of it’s 58 Counties have become ungovernable," the statement reads, citing a "decline in essential basic services" including education, law enforcement, infrastructure and health care. The group, organized around a council of county representatives, claims authority under Article 4 Section 3 of the US Constitution to become the 51st state. Their plan calls for the measure to be approved by the state legislature before going to the US Congress.

Cannabis has not been raised as an explicit issue by the New California secessionists. But cultural issues likely to offend the sensibilities of Humboldt hippies certainly have. One New California proponent, Lauren Rose, gripes in a YouTube video entitled "English is Dying in California" that the US "doesn't do nearly enough to assimilate people from other countries and other cultures into the US and American culture." She's particularly aghast at recent Census findings that California leads the nation in the percentage of families that speak a language other than English at home—44.6%.

The hippie-redneck cultural divide has been vexing the Emerald Triangle for generations now, and the redneck element becomes more prevalent the further inland you go, of course. An older split-the-state initiative has been floated for years in the area, for 21 northern counties—including the Triangle—to break away and form the state of "Jefferson." And this is definitely a redneck initiative, whose authors have no love for the herb.

Siskiyou County, bordering the Triangle on the north, and by some definitions within it, actually voted to approve the Jefferson initiative in 2013. So did Modoc County, just to the east, in the corner of the state along the Oregon and Nevada borders. Modoc and Siskiyou are also among those counties where local law enforcement have proclaimed a "Constitutional Sheriffs" movement—mostly in response to federal land-use policies in the National Forests, perceived as too restrictive on local logging and mining.

Hardly surprisingly, Siskiyou also takes a notoriously harsh hand with cannabis growers. County supervisors last year voted to declare a "state of emergency" over outlaw grow operations. And bringing together the contentious issues of cannabis and immigration, the Siskiyou crackdown was hit by litigation claiming it was racially discriminatory in disproportionately targetting ethnic Hmong growers, who have been moving into the county in recent years from the Laotian community in Fresno.

Trinity County also got on board with the "Constitutional Sheriffs," and as much as they may oppose federal environmental regulations, authorities there continued cooperating in cannabis enforcement. Things may be loosening up there with California's new legalization law. The Trinity County Board of Supervisors' first agenda of 2018 in early January was dominated by hearings on new county cannabis ordinances, including one to regulate wholesale cannabis nurseries and another for distribution facilities. The Siskiyou ordinance is more restrictive, limiting commercialization of cannabis only to certain areas of the county.

There are still other split-the-state plans. Tech billionaire Tim Draper failed to get a plan for dividing the state into six new ones on the California ballot in 2014. Last year, he tried again (also to no avail), with a simpler plan to divide it into three: basically, Northern California, the Central Coast, and Southern California (including the San Joaquin Valley). And then there is the more ambitious "Calexit" plan that calls for the whole state to secede from the USA. But this again raises the question of whether cannabis entrepreneurs will support this to get away from the federal marijuana laws—even if it means making common cause the resource industries and their grassroots-right allies who want to get away from federal environmental and labor oversight (such as they continue to exist after Trump). 

California is reckoned to have the sixth largest economy in world. Its 2.4 trillion GDP in 2015 ranked sixth behind the United States as a whole, China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom—ahead of France and Brazil. (As PolitiFact notes, it also has one of highest poverty rates in the United States.) California's new cannabis economy has been valued at $7 billion, the Associated Press reported last year.

Any split-the-state initiative would have to grapple with the question of whether legal cannabis would be grandfathered in to New California or Jefferson or any other new state to emerge from the old one. The idea may seem so far-fetched as to make the question mostly academic, but plans to divide California into new states have been around at least since the 1940s, and have been gaining currency in recent years.

Of course it isn't just hippies who grow pot. Lots of rednecks have got in on the action in the Emerald Triangle. And New California includes the Salinas and Central valleys, where agri-business is now planning to bring economies of scale to the legal cannabis market. The New California partisans are probably wise to hedge their bets by not weighing in on the rather obvious cannabis question one way or the other. That way they can play to cultural conservatives and cowboy capitalists alike—for the moment.

Cross-post to High Times


Who's new

  • Baba Israel
  • Karr Young
  • John Veit
  • YosephLeib
  • Peter Gorman