"They just don't care," said Kym Kemp, a teacher and blogger in the mountains of Sohum, as locals call southern Humboldt County. "They're not thinking, 'I want my kids to grow up here.'
"Now there are greenhouses the size of a football field that weren't even there last year," she added.
Kemp said she feels her region is being colonized and worries about the colorful, off-the-grid people that small cannabis patches long supported.
"So many people who live here are just different," she said. "They don't fit in regular society. They couldn't work 9-to-5 jobs. But they've gotten used to raising their kids on middle-class incomes. What are they going to do?"
Tom Evans, 61, a small-time grower in northern Mendocino, said the sense of peace and self-reliance he moved here for 30 years ago is disappearing so fast that he may leave for Mexico.
"It used to be a contest to see who could drive the oldest pickup truck," said Evans, a former Army helicopter mechanic who sports a woolly gray beard and tie-dyed shirt. "There's just been this huge influx of folks who have money on their mind, instead of love of the land. A lot more gun-toters. A lot more attack dogs."
Evans lives in a small rented home that generously could be called a fixer-upper. He said he doesn't have a bank account or credit card, and his Honda Passport has more than 300,000 miles. "It's 'make a living, not a killing,'" he said.
His friend, a bear of man who goes by the name Mr. Fuzzy, noted that it's not only outsiders causing problems.
"You know the weird part, these are our kids too," he said.
It's a recurring lament among longtime growers. Some of their own children are going for the large-scale grows, big money and fancy cars.
The larger irony is that the marijuana pioneers are being pushed to the margins by the legalization they long espoused.
"Ultimately we worry about Winston or Marlboro getting some land and doing their thing," said Lawrence Ringo, a 55-year-old grower and seed breeder deep in the wilds of Sohum. "We see it time after time in America — big corporations come in and take over."
Ringo saw the 2010 marijuana initiative, Proposition 19, as a ploy by Bay Area activists to dominate the market with giant warehouse grows in Oakland.
He suspects plenty of people will still want high-quality, organically grown cannabis but fears the big business interests will dictate how marijuana gets regulated. Ringo points out that Colorado, the one state that fully regulates marijuana, helped push most growing indoors and place cultivation under the control of large dispensaries.
"We're afraid of losing what we've been doing for 40 years," he said.
As competition drives prices down, even chamber of commerce types acknowledge that the North Coast economy is at risk. Pot kept things afloat as the logging and fishing industries declined. Restaurants, car dealerships, banks, hotels and dental clinics all depend on marijuana money.
"There's probably not one business that doesn't benefit," said Julie Fulkerson, who founded a home furnishings store and comes from a prominent third-generation Humboldt family.
Walk into the upscale Cecil's New Orleans Bistro in small-town Garberville and you'll find growers in dirty T-shirts unpeeling rolls of $20 bills to pay for martinis and $38 steaks. More soil supply and hydroponics shops line stretches of Highway 101 than gas stations, and trucks laden with bags of soil and fertilizer kick up dust as they make deliveries on the most isolated roads.
During harvest, hardware stores put out huge bins of Fiskars pruning scissors, the preferred tool for marijuana trimmers. Safeway stocks so many turkey bags that an outsider might wonder how such small locales could consume so many birds. The sealable, smell-proof bags are used for storing and transporting weed.
"I wouldn't survive … if it wasn't for growing," said Tom Ochner, 54, who runs a country store and rental cabins outside of Covelo — a business called the Black Butte River Ranch. "Owners realize this is what makes their business go."