Petols: Press

The Silver Currency of Cannabis Country

Story captured 7/19/2023 at Story written by Jason Motlagh.

“Illicit cannabis farming allowed residents to sustain their homestead lifestyles, and they learned to grow it well. Humboldt, Lake, and Trinity Counties became known as the Emerald Triangle, leading the country in high-grade pot production. When authorities began cracking down on cannabis farmers with troops and helicopters in the mid-1980s, an us-versus-them nativism hardened in the valley.

Pot profits kept Petrolia residents flush through the 2000s and helped support an array of community-oriented projects. Biodiesel production, stonemasonry, a farmers’ cooperative, a seed bank, winemaking, hemp clothing, herbal medicine, roadkill skinning—these were just some of the goods and services available in what was loosely called the Mattole Self-Sufficiency Project, an informal network of three dozen members that promoted barter trade and interdependence. Young believed that minting coinage was the next step.

Young’s evangelism, and the general disquiet following the 2008 financial crisis, convinced many residents and organizations to invest in his idea. Several contractors and massage therapists agreed to accept the Petol, as did some vendors at the weekly farmers market. By 2016, Young had reportedly sold at least $150,000 worth of Petols. But much to his disappointment, the Petrolia general store, the lone place to buy provisions in town, would not tender the currency. “It was just too hard to deal with—always having to check the price of silver, making calculations, and so on,” says a longtime store employee who does not want to be named. But still, she adds, the Petol was “real money, no question.”

Petol Power

Source: North Coast Journal, September 27, 2007. Story by Jenoa Briar-Bonpane.

In the event of a global economic collapse or catastrophic drop in the value of the U.S. dollar, Petrolia residents could be sitting pretty. That is, if they are savvy enough to invest in Petols, newly minted silver currency slowly circulating in the Mattole Valley and beyond.

Ken Young, a maverick Petrolia resident — redundant, perhaps — is the mastermind behind this new money. A humble, lean man, Young describes the Petol as his legacy to a community he clearly cares deeply about. His own nest egg covered the bill for the first 2,000 Petol coins, which are selling for around $17 US dollars, depending on the value of silver.

Young felt compelled to create the Petol in response to what he believes is a wildly out-of balance money system in the United States, and as part of his quest for building a sustainable society. In order to achieve a sustainable community, “culture, economy, and ecology have to be in balance,” opines Young. By creating an independent money system that holds its value, the Petol is “a step in the right direction.”

Sitting behind a table displaying juicy red tomatoes, homemade salt and Petols, Young is a fixture at the monthly farmers’ market at the historic Mattole Grange Hall. Approach his table and you are most likely to be greeted by him saying, “I bet you’ve never seen real money before.” Offering his controversial perspective on the US monetary system, Young emphasizes two ill-fated events: the formation of the Federal Reserve Bank and the abandonment of the silver standard. 

On a dark day in 1910, a handful of the wealthiest bankers in the world met with a few senators and identified a lucrative opportunity to establish a federal bank to manage the US money system. In 1913, the Federal Reserve was born, and the power to issue money was transferred from the federal government to this newly formed private corporation. Though the U.S. Constitution requires silver or gold as backing for all currency, by 1965 Federal Reserve notes were no longer payable on demand in silver to the bearer and the silver standard became a thing of the past. Dollars ceased to be a “store of value”; instead their value lay solely in their use as a medium of exchange. “U.S. dollars are not backed by anything. It’s fiat money, decreed by the government to be accepted in payment of debt … no fiat money in the world has ever lasted much more than 50 years,” purports Young.

To make matters worse, the Federal Reserve has created a debt-based monetary system which relies on fractional-reserve banking techniques which undermine the value of the U.S. dollar. “The whole system is unstable. We can’t get to a sustainable society with a debt money system,” Young asserts. By insulating the community from an economic collapse, Young believes the Petol can strengthen the self-sufficiency of the Mattole Valley and provide a counterweight to inflation. 

Though contentious, Young’s skepticism about the U.S. monetary system and the Federal Reserve are shared, at the very minimum, by most Libertarians. Among them, Texas congressman Ron Paul, the anti-war, anti-choice libertarian physician who is running for president on the Republican ticket. Among other things, Paul is calling for a return to the silver and gold standard and the abolishment of the Fed. His face is even emblazoned on the Liberty Dollar, a true silver dollar that was minted by one of his fans and is circulating throughout the country.

More on Petols and other Community Currencies in Humboldt