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The Emerald Triangle – What to Know

Updated September 19, 2022

Those with a deep interest in cannabis, including growing it, will want to take some time to learn about the Emerald Triangle. This is the name given to a region in California that is the United States’ largest cannabis-producing region. Many of the big names in cannabis growing are located within this area, which has a rich cannabis history as well as a culture related to the plant.

Nearly Everyone Is Reliant on the Cannabis Industry

According to some sources, many of the locals in the Emerald Triangle feel that everyone who lives in the region depends on the cannabis industry, either directly or indirectly. In the indirect cases, this is simply a case of economic reliance as the marijuana industry is a significant part of the region’s economy.


To put that level of involvement in perspective, consider that the 2010 census found that the Emerald Triangle has a total population of 236,250. Most of these people live throughout the area’s numerous woody hills. Given that the Emerald Triangle covers 11,138 square miles, this works out to a population density of 21 people per square mile.

Overall, the Emerald Triangle is sparsely populated. Eureka is the only city and its urban area has around 50,000 people. The next largest city is Arcata, which has 17,231 residents, followed by Ukiah, which has 16,075. The next largest city is much smaller than either of these.

Not Everyone Grows Legally

Some people in the Emerald Triangle have indicated that an incredibly large proportion of the population grows cannabis, either for personal use or for sale. So far, law enforcement has not seriously enforced the required permits and licensing for growing cannabis. In 2015, one resident of the area estimated that around 90 percent grow with just one percent getting arrested.

That, however, has changed over the years. As the legalization of cannabis spread, the law enforcement officials in the area have gotten tougher on illegal growers. Earlier in 2019, there were numerous reports of law enforcement intimidating illegal growers and sometimes even legal growers. There are low-flying planes frequently passing over the area, affecting legal and illegal growers. Law enforcement does specific, however, that legal growers have nothing to worry about.

The Location and Included Counties

On a map, you will find the Emerald Triangle at 40.0 degrees north and 123.5 degrees west. This region is in the northern portion of California.

This region includes three counties: Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino.

History of the Emerald Triangle

This has been an area with cannabis cultivation since the 1960s, well before marijuana was legalized for medical purposes in California.

How it Began

The Emerald Triangle’s history began when hippies moved to the area to get away from the pro-war sentiment and other people. They also moved this way to avoid the high cost of living in other areas of California. Once there, the hippies realized that the conditions were great for growing cannabis and the lack of roads meant their plants were unlikely to be stumbled upon.

The Summer of Love in San Francisco

The location of the Emerald Triangle also meant that it played a role in the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. This summer included up to 100,000 young hippies who enjoyed free-love, anti-war stances, hippie music, and marijuana among other drugs.

1984 Surveillance Lawsuit

Given that most people are (and have been) well aware that the Emerald Triangle has been a hub for cannabis growth, it is no surprise that some legal issues have arisen over the years, especially before medical and recreational marijuana were legalized in California.

In 1984, the residents of Humboldt County filed a lawsuit on the federal level. They claimed that the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft associated with the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting had illegally surveilled them by flying overhead at a high altitude.

The surveillance took place on just one day and was one of 524 cities in the state surveilled in 1983 as part of the campaign. At the time, the law enforcement officials involved argued that they had not broken any laws. After the announcement of the initial lawsuit for $10 million in punitive damages, and its appearance in the news, no more information was publicly revealed.

California Proposition 215

When California passed Proposition 215, the marijuana industry in the Emerald Triangle exploded. The legality of medical marijuana made it much easier for growers to cultivate cannabis as it was finally legal to do so.

Proposition 215 is also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1966. This was a key event in the spread of legal marijuana across the country.

It Is Now a Primary Activity Spanning Generations

Over the years, the cultivation of cannabis in the Emerald Triangle has spread, especially since the legalization of medicinal marijuana and then recreational use. Now, you can find many multi-generation cannabis farms, some of which even include three generations.

The Conditions Are Ideal for Cannabis Cultivation

There are few plants that would do well in the Emerald Triangle given its hilly terrain. Marijuana, however, thrives in the area. As an example, a 2015 article mentioned a grower who showed CNBC his garden and let the interviewers know that the plants could reach up to 14, 15, or even 20 feet. Each plant of that size would produce around two pounds of cannabis, which at the time was worth around $5,000.

The low population density and vast stretches of empty, unpopulated land offer plenty of growing space. This combines with the excellent environmental conditions for growing cannabis, including optimal temperatures, fertile and high-quality soil, lack of strong winds, and excellent solar exposure.

The ability to grow outside in the Emerald Triangle also holds a strong appeal. There is less set up involved than growing indoors, a lower startup cost, and significantly lower electricity bills.

The Napa Valley or Silicon Valley of Cannabis

Because of the amazing growing conditions for marijuana in the Emerald Triangle, it is common to refer to it as the Silicon Valley or Napa Valley of cannabis. This comes from the combination of the high percentage of the population that grows cannabis as well as the high quality of the plants, flowers, and seeds produced there.

The Fall of Other Industries Also Helps

In addition to the perfect growing conditions for marijuana in the Emerald Triangle, the region also has sociopolitical factors that help. Specifically, the cannabis industry expanded there as it filled in gaps left by fishing, lumber, and other failing industries.

Legalization Allowed Growers to Find the Best Sites

Before California legalized cannabis, most of the sites in the Emerald Triangle where people would grow cannabis were chosen for a combination of conditions and the ability to remain hidden. Since legalization, however, growers have been able to be more obvious. Now, they can choose sites based solely on factors like microclimate and soil quality without fear of legal repercussions.

Some of these areas that growers agree are best for cultivation include Bell Springs/Spyrock (in Mendocino), Hayfork Valley (in Trinity), Mattole Valley (in Humboldt), and Mid Klamath (in Humboldt and Trinity).

Environmental Concerns Exist

In the Emerald Triangle, the general acceptance of cannabis means that many growers cultivate it outdoors in addition to indoors. This has led to some local environmental concerns due to the agricultural impact.

Some of it comes from the lack of regulation for cannabis production outdoors typically found in the area. Because there is minimal to no regulation for those who grow cannabis outside in the Emerald Triangle, it is unfortunately common for some unscrupulous growers to illegally dam streams or divert and take the water from springs. This latter action is particularly common in the summer when water access is more complicated.

There is also the environmental concern of growers who use pesticides and other harsh chemicals. This leads to runoff that contains the pesticide. That pesticide can end up in critical salmon fisheries, degrading them.

Yet another environmental concern is the clearcutting that some growers need to create their cannabis plantations, combined with the roads that must be built to access them. This reduces the number of trees, which is bad for the planet as a whole. It also degrades the habitat of various animals, including endangering salmon.

There are even concerns about some cannabis growers cultivating their plants on public land, which is illegal.

Putting the Importance of the Emerald Triangle Into Perspective

To help put the importance of this region into perspective, consider estimates that the Emerald Triangle produces more cannabis than any other part of the country. Some even speculate that it is likely among the world’s most important cannabis production regions.

Attracting Seasonal Workers

In addition to the people who live in the Emerald Triangle all year round growing cannabis, there are also hundreds of people who visit the region in the fall. They come in search of jobs harvesting cannabis. Most of these people who come for seasonal work are itinerant trimmers, referred to as “trimmigrants.”

The counties immediately outside the Emerald Triangle also attract these seasonal workers, including Napa and Sonoma.

There Is Also a Regular Influx of Those Interested in Cannabis

The region also regularly attracts new people with an interest or experience in cannabis. In addition to the trimmers, there are breeders, growers, backpackers, resin extraction specialists, and more.

Growers and Strains From the Emerald Triangle

With such a rich history of cannabis growth and so many people dedicated to the industry, it should come as no surprise that the region is home to many of the most respected growers and many unique cultivars or strains.

Some of the growers and other cannabis companies you have likely heard of include:

Some of the cultivars from the region include:

  • 707 Headband (Humboldt Seeds)
  • Black Water (The Cali Connection)
  • Desert Diesel (Humboldt Seeds)
  • Mendocino Purple Kush (Medical Seeds)
  • Mendocino Skunk Chong’s Choice (Paradise Seeds)
  • Mendo Diesel (Apothecary Genetics)
  • Purple Trainwreck (Humboldt Seeds)

Can It Remain the Main Producer as Legalization Spreads?

Some people wonder whether the Emerald Triangle will be able to maintain its role as the primary producer of cannabis within the United States, especially as the legalization spreads. As more states legalize marijuana, medically and/or recreationally, there are more opportunities across the country for growing the plant.

It Still Has Numerous Advantages

Cannabis cultivation will likely continue to increase across the country and world as the legalization spreads, but the Emerald Triangle has some strong points in favor of it remaining a leader in the industry.

To start, the region has the perfect growing conditions to cultivate cannabis outside. This lowers the entry cost as well as the cost associated with electricity. Those who grow in an area that requires indoor growing will spend significantly more on electricity, cutting into potential profits.

The region also has a great deal of experience and is now filled with experts in cultivating cannabis as well as other aspects of the plant. With this knowledge and experience, the Emerald Triangle should be able to continue producing consistent, high-quality cannabis. Regions that are still new to growing the plant will have to experiment to see what works best, but the Emerald Triangle growers already know.

There is also the fact that the area is well-known for cannabis cultivation and therefore attracts more experts, trimmers, and other workers. People know that they can find a cannabis-related job in the area, but that is not always a given in other regions that are just starting to cultivate cannabis.

There will be competition in other regions, but the Emerald Triangle likely has the companies and experience needed to remain competitive.

The Bottom Line

The Emerald Triangle is a region in northern California that spans three counties and is the largest grower of cannabis in the country. People in the region began growing cannabis due to the excellent growing conditions combined with the unlikelihood of busts due to the remote location. With the legalization of cannabis in California, the region has experienced a boom and it will likely continue to be a key area for marijuana production.

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