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What Is The Emerald Triangle?

Imagine it’s 1967—the infamous Summer of Love. San Francisco's flooded with burgeoning hippies and young people, and you need to get away from the throngs of youth, get back in touch with nature, maybe grow some weed for money.

What better place to go than under cover of the towering redwoods and rolling hills due north? You wouldn’t be alone in having this idea. In fact, hundreds of other San Francisco residents are doing the exact same thing. 

This mass exodus created one of the world’s most premier cannabis cultivation hubs called the Emerald Triangle. It’s been the subject of many true crime documentaries and rap songs, but today, we’ll be taking a closer look at this notorious region. 

What Is The Emerald Triangle? 

The Emerald Triangle refers to a specific section of Northern California composed of three counties: the southern Mendocino County, the eastern Trinity County, and of course, the coastal Humboldt County. Why is it called the Emerald Triangle, you ask? It’s simple—when viewing the three counties on a map they make a distinct upside-down triangle shape. The emerald part comes from the lush vegetation in the area, including the vast plots of land dedicated to cannabis cultivation for decades. 

Even today, cannabis drives the region’s economy. Almost 20% of Humboldt County residents make their living in the industry. The triangle’s known for producing a significant amount of the country’s marijuana and for cultivating extremely potent, high-quality buds. If you’re smoking top-shelf product in California, it very likely came straight from the Emerald Triangle. 

The History Of The Emerald Triangle 

During the late ‘60s, many hippy urbanites felt compelled to reject the comforts of modernity in favor of homesteading. The phenomenon would later come to be known as the back-to-the-land movement. For the West Coast flower children migrating out of San Francisco, the crop of choice wasn’t corn or wheat; it was weed. 

Of course, there weren’t any legal dispensaries or recreational marijuana laws on the books during this era, so any budding farmer out in the blossoming Emerald Triangle absorbed quite a bit of risk. In fact, the danger presented by thieves and police played a huge role in drawing people to the area, to begin with.

The Emerald Triangle is an incredibly rural area. There’s not a lot of people poking around out in Humboldt County, and the thick woods offer visual cover. The area also notoriously has an incredibly small police presence, which is perfect for those engaging in illicit activities like operating illegal grow operations. 

The Emerald Triangle Today

Despite the ever-expanding legal marijuana market boasting record-breaking profits year after year, things are done a certain way in the Emerald Triangle. One would think that when California legalized medical marijuana in the ‘90s with Proposition 215, or more recently when the state legalized recreational cannabis, many of the triangle growers would pivot to lawful cultivation. 

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. A large portion of the area’s cultivators still primarily grow for black markets, as it’s seen as more profitable. The culture of the triangle likely plays into this as well. 

There’s a sense of lawlessness in the Emerald Triangle—an almost wild west vibe. The extreme isolation led residents to create their own system of vigilante justice and self-reliance that operates outside of the purview of state and federal governments.

It’s this culture that contributes to the obscenely high crime and homicides rates in Humboldt county, inspiring such docuseries as Netflix’s “Murder Mountain.” In this context, it’s not so surprising to learn that Emerald Triangle farmers would eschew the legal process in favor of larger payouts. 

The Emerald Triangle’s Future

As the cannabis trade continues to morph from a shady illicit enterprise into a mainstream business venture, it’s unclear how the area’s cultivators will adjust. We already see Emerald Triangle CBD and other nationally legal products come out of Humboldt and the surrounding counties, and we’ll likely see more farmers in the area go legit as legal cannabis continues to expand in the market over the next decade. 

One thing’s for sure; we’ll still have great bud come out of the Emerald Triangle. The conditions are ideal for growing cannabis, and Emerald Triangle potting soil is some of the most conducive to marijuana cultivation. They’ll always be wine grapes in Napa Valley, and they’ll always be weed in the Emerald Triangle.