Correction added August 9, 2013:
This story includes a brief description of the book "Marijuanaland," written by retired Sonoma State University professor Jonah Raskin. The passage is in no way intended to depict the author as being involved in marijuana trafficking. He is a longtime reporter and chronicler of the marijuana trade.?
Emily Brady was 14 when she watched her best friend in Occidental say goodbye to her father on the morning he left to serve a prison sentence for marijuana cultivation.
Her friend ran to her bedroom and shut the door as her younger brother wailed, said Brady, now 36. A notice that the property had been seized and belonged to the FBI hung on the door.
"It seemed like he had gambled his family in a way, this risk he took stuck with me," Brady said in an interview.
Brady's memories of that moment in part fueled her first book, "Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier," which Grand Central Publishing released last week.
In "Humboldt," Brady chronicles four people's relationship with the county's primary cash crop: A 1960s-era back-to-the-lander, a sheriff's deputy, a man growing for the money and a college student who rejects the pot culture around her.
Brady taps into the dueling optimism and dread among Humboldt County residents during the months leading up to California's 2010 bid to legalize marijuana, Proposition 19, and stays with the community through the months after it failed at the polls.
"I couldn't have written this book otherwise," Brady said of the timing. "It's a very secretive world, and it cracked open because of Prop. 19 and I slipped inside."
Many writers have have tried to capture the culture of the pot-steeped communities of the Emerald Triangle — Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties.
Retired Sonoma State University professor Jonah Raskin's book "Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War" also touched on the 2010 proposition's rise and defeat through the eyes of people intimately involved with marijuana in the region. Raskin draws heavily from his personal experience, starting with his father's secret pot garden at the family's Sonoma County property to the trips he made on Highway 101, driving pot south and cash north.
"Humboldt" is not about Brady. But she draws on her experience growing up in west Sonoma County as she spends a year chronicling the lives of the four Humboldt residents.
Brady primarily grew up in the west county. She lived in Tomales and spent a decade of her childhood on a sheep ranch near Bodega. As a child, marijuana was something adults smoked at parties, Brady said.
Brady attended El Molino High School in Forestville before earning her diploma equivalent at age 16. She left Sonoma County, moved to Napa, San Francisco and then New York City. She had lived in Ireland, France and Venezuela when she returned to California in 2010.
The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and later an assembly bill that established dispensaries had fostered a different culture surrounding pot, Brady said.
"People were smoking in the streets, the whole medical thing had outed it, they were holding cannabis conventions in the cities," Brady said.
Brady traveled to Humboldt County in August 2010, aiming to document marijuana's legalization from California's marijuana heartland.