There aren’t many decent weed documentaries on Netflix. The category is a shortcoming of it’s potential, but it’s likely we’ll see more to come since Netflix seems to have an ever-growing penchant for true crime documentaries. With the massive success of series like Making a Murderer, The Keepers, and Evil Genius, the streaming Goliath recently released Murder Mountain, its first true crime show of 2019.
The “Murder Mountain” area got its name from the 1982 murder of Clark Stevens, who was murdered by the San Francisco Witch Killers – a serial killer duo composed of married couple Suzan and Michael Carson. But today Murder Mountain is known for its lawlessness and missing persons.
According to California County News, 717 people per 100,000 go missing in Humboldt County every year (where the show takes place). This is a staggering number compared to the rest of the state and the show attempts to direct blame for missing peoples on the cannabis industry. It’s a convenient take to go after whilst the United States sits on the fence of legalization.
Situated in the Emerald Triangle, a 10,000-square mile Northern California area stretching across Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, the weed is about as famous as BC bud. Most of this crop, at least until recently, went out of California to fuel the black market.
Focusing on this mysterious area, it presents questions of vigilante justice with the fates of those involved and a heavy dose of historical footage documenting marijuana cultivation in Humboldt. But the main theme hinges on the murder of Garrett Rodriguez, a marijuana entrepreneur living in the Rancho Sequoia area in 2012.
The young man travels up to the region to make enough money to fuel his dream of building a house by the beach in Mexico and live as a full-time fisherman. But sometime between Christmas and New Years 2012, his family realized they hadn’t heard from him and eventually reported him missing. It becomes apparent in the first several episodes that a lack of police resources combined with an unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement makes Rodriguez’s case unpresentable and unrealistic to solve. Eventually, a group of citizens in the nearby town of Alderpoint band together to confront Garrett’s suspected murderer, which leads to his body’s discovery. This vigilante group became known as the Alderpoint 8 and caused a media frenzy surrounding their act of justice.
The whole point of the show feels stunted by intervals of morality, justice and profit. Especially with interviews of smaller growers working to meet the demands of regulation and stay afloat in a legal system on the fringe of society. This might just be a convenient story, or there’s another motive. Regardless, the show completely ignores any notion of the wealthy or those who have made fortunes in Humboldt. At one point it’s even mentioned that Humboldt County has been supplying as much as 80% of America’s weed for the last three decades… You do the math, or keep reading. There’s tons of public information regarding the wealth amassed in the area. As if that aspect, that wealth gap, doesn’t really exist.
The blind eye that opens to marijuana’s dark past and the gruesome inner workings that have somehow been masked by a new corporate presence in the cannabis industry are systematically revealed throughout the story to shine a negative light. This is, of course, to show how dark things can get in an outlawed state with no government supervision. Which in the case of cannabis, and it’s standing in America, only pushes for legalization; the thesis of this mini-series.
But that is exactly the problem with this narrative: the aspects of Humboldt that the producers decided to program into the concept of Murder Mountain. The ‘slums,’ the broken down cars, abandoned lots, and the countless murder victims. This goes without saying that anywhere there’s poverty, or the remnants of poverty, there’s the polarizing effect of wealth.
Look at it this way. In 2018 the United States smoked 8.5 billion dollars worth of cannabis. Netflix claims that 60% of that product was produced in Humboldt. That’s $5,100,000,000 generated by Humbolt’s LOCAL economy. So where’s the representation of people living GOOD? Those raking in massive margins in an unregulated market? There’s got to be plenty of them. That or Netflix is inflating the percentage for a dramatic effect. Either way, Netflix decided to showcase the lowest of the low – people fighting over 5K, killing each other over mono-crops – the hairy underbelly of the established underground. This has to be none other than a political move, or story that falls short of its potential.