What is the Emerald Triangle?

If you have ever wondered which region in the United States produces the most cannabis, then you will want to know about the Emerald Triangle. Located in northern California, this tri-county area is a prime spot for marijuana cultivation.

Here you'll learn fascinating facts about the Emerald Triangle, how it got its name, and why it matters to weed lovers. 

Why is it called the Emerald Triangle?

The Emerald Triangle encompasses 3 counties in northwestern California:

  • Humboldt County
  • Mendocino County
  • Trinity County

Collectively, this trio of counties produces more cannabis than any other place in the United States. The region also boasts some of the highest-quality cannabis in the world. Sacramento may be the capital of California, but the Emerald Triangle is the unofficial capital of cannabis. Rolling hills and open spaces characterize the Emerald Triangle, which is sparsely populated compared to many other parts of California. Only the city of Eureka in Humboldt County has a population that approaches 50,000, with a collection of smaller cities and agricultural towns dotting the rest of the region.

marijuana plants
Collectively, the Emerald Triangle produces more cannabis than any other place in the United States.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

History of the Emerald Triangle

The story of the Emerald Triangle begins in 1967 during the so-called Summer of Love in San Francisco. This social phenomenon and countercultural back-to-the-land movement exploded in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. That year, more than 100,000 hippies gathered in the Golden City to protest the Vietnam War, promote art, spread love — and enjoy lots of weed. These progressive individuals, sometimes called flower children, created a foundation for cannabis culture to thrive.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1996, California passed Proposition 215 to legalize the use of medical marijuana. Opponents greeted this law with controversy both in and out of the courts, but the area was already ripe for cannabis cultivators to reap their harvests in California.

Today, the Emerald Triangle is home to nearly a quarter of a million people, many of whom either earn their living from the cannabis industry or partake in recreational weed consumption from local cultivators. Growing cannabis is a way of life in this region, whose temperate Mediterranean climate favors the cultivation of many crops besides marijuana. Just as the Napa Valley is ideal for growing wine grapes, the Emerald Triangle is hospitable for cannabis.

What is Humboldt County famous for?

Comprising one-third of the Emerald Triangle, Humboldt County is known as a farming community where a large segment of the population makes a living from agriculture. In fact, more than 20% of the county's population has a livelihood that involves cannabis cultivation. The county is also famous for growing top-shelf weed and boasts "proof of origin" labels for many of its cannabis products. 

Sometimes dubbed a "stoner's paradise," Humboldt County has been resistant to the legalization movement in California. While it might seem paradoxical, many growers in the county are concerned that widespread legalization of weed will cause prices to plummet. For some cultivators, a black market, though illegal, is more profitable than a regulated market. The red tape of paperwork and quality control requirements threaten to reduce profits even more for local farmers. In addition, the area's population is rapidly growing and some cannabis cultivators have lined their crops with booby traps to prevent theft. Such measures may seem extreme until we consider the notoriously high crime rates of the region, in particular Humboldt County.

Is Humboldt County still dangerous?

Besides its numerous marijuana grow sites, Humboldt County is famous for something less desirable: high crime rates. The homicide rate has historically been so high in the county that an Emerald Triangle TV show, Murder Mountain, debuted in 2018. Murder Mountain was a true-crime docuseries on Netflix that explored the darker side of the county's marijuana industry, notably the 2013 disappearance and homicide of local grower Garret Rodriguez. In response to the popular series, the Sheriff's Office called the grim portrayal an "incomplete narrative" in a 2019 article published in the Times Standard. 

Regardless of opinion, the crime statistics may speak for themselves, and Humboldt has California's second-highest homicide rate, as reported in a 2018 article in The Mercury News. While some contend that area crime is slowly improving, Humboldt may have a long way to go to shake the reputation that earned it a spotlight on Murder Mountain.

Interesting facts about the Emerald Triangle

The Emerald Triangle has inspired not only a television show but also a colorful vocabulary to describe local lore.

  • Croptober is the local nickname for the month of October when the season's harvest is in full force.
  • Trimmigrants arrive in Croptober from outside the region to assist with the harvest and prepare the cannabis for shipment.
  • Cannabis cultivators have bred many unique cannabis strains in the Emerald Triangle, such as Desert Diesel by Humboldt Seeds and Black Water by the Cali Connection.
  • Weed trees are a phenomenon in the fertile Emerald Triangle where some marijuana plants soar to heights of more than 15 feet.

Environmental concerns and the Emerald Triangle

Many cultivators in the Emerald Triangle use sustainable practices to grow weed without pesticides or other chemicals. The favorable soil of the region helps facilitate this type of organic marijuana cultivation. However, not all growers employ sustainable pot farming practices, and there are concerns from environmentalists about illegal damming, pesticide runoff, and the worsening of water shortages which have plagued California for years. Other pitfalls of unsustainable agriculture, such as landslides and the loss of animal habitats, are of equal concern to environmental advocates.

cannabis plant
Many cultivators in the Emerald Triangle use sustainable practices to grow weed without pesticides or other chemicals.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

The future of the Emerald Triangle

A combination of the right climate and cultural conditions have made the Emerald Triangle a hot spot where cannabis production thrives in the United States. While there may be tension between local growers and the state government, cannabis production in the Emerald Triangle is more abundant than ever. Marijuana is an integral part of the economy in California and shows no signs of slowing down as interest grows in the many potential therapeutic uses of cannabis.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on September 16, 2020.