S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Pot Shots,” Park shares what pot growing was like before it was legalized.
Pot growing has undergone a drastic change in the Northwest, with legalization doing what the Drug War never could, i.e. destroy the black market. I charged three hundred an ounce and thirty-five hundred a pound back in the day, numbers that have dropped to a hundred and a thousand dollars respectively. (Unless you’re able to ship your product back East, in which case you can still make a generous living … for now.)
So most of the young growers I know don’t bother to sell their product at all. They raise maybe six females every couple months, harvest an ounce from each for themselves and give the rest to friends.
It’s a sorry state of affairs when a crook can’t make a living, but the laws of supply and demand are pretty inflexible that way. My getting out when I did seems like a shrewder move than it was, given that—after a quarter century of twenty-four-hour-a-day growing—I was looking for any excuse to bail. I even attribute my increasingly sloppy security to this yearning, believing if I couldn’t stop growing myself, maybe I could get the law (or even thieves) to do it for me. (Neither the front nor back doors of my grow house had locks on them.)
In the end my customers provided the solution themselves, saying they could buy cheaper ounces elsewhere and only continued purchasing mine out of loyalty (bless their stoner hearts). That was the final nudge for me: risking my neck to grow was fine—it was just like printing money, after all, and there were the highs to think about—but now that growing was legal anybody could do it.
It’s been seven years and I’ve few if any regrets. I could have saved more of what I made, I suppose, but that’s been true since I was fourteen, and in most respects the financial remuneration and highs were only part of the payoff, anyway.
There was, for instance, the sheer joy of being an outlaw. I liked being hunted: it’s a Jones I never would have exercised otherwise, and it saved me from my hand-to-mouth, multiple-job existence.
There was the sheer joy of being an outlaw. I liked being hunted: it’s a Jones I never would have exercised otherwise, and it saved me from my hand-to-mouth, multiple-job existence.
I was forced to confront danger immediately, in fact, when my first backyard grow (in Bolinas, California) was threatened. It was mid-October of ’81 and sixteen plants remained. They’d been started by friends of my girlfriend, not me, but after four months of pampering they felt like mine. Plus those friends (hippies who planted by the moon and buried dead snakes beneath the soil) had done a terrific job: their early finishing “Princess” Indica had yielded nearly two pounds by herself.
I had no one to advise me so researched “the best time to harvest in” books (not easy in 1981, when the available literature on the subject was scant and anecdotal), and judged that the plants remaining were still a week to ten days from their peak.
The idea that their continued exposure was worth the risk was naive on my part, a brutal reminder that what’s critical with outdoor crops is getting them in, not producing a “maximized high” that no one but the grower would recognize, anyway. Every one of those plants had been forged with primo Emerald Triangle genetics and if harvested then would have produced buds infinitely superior to the Mexican ragweed most Americans were smoking at the time.
So everyone who knew Karen and I encouraged me to harvest them but, as my old friend Rick Silverdale likes to say: “Nobody ever told High what to do.” We received several phone calls that night warning us that—after a series of flyovers—the local narcs were busting crops all over town. I had time to chop our plants down, hide them up the street until the heat died down, but oh no, I dug a hole beside the shed instead, covered the bottom and sides with a tarp, thinking if I spotted the cops on the hill above us I could chop down half the crop, squeeze the plants in the hole and cover them before the police arrived.
This was absurd on so many levels that I’m ashamed to admit it now; suffice to say that if I’d seen a suspicious vehicle and decided to act on that suspicion, I would have had maybe thirty seconds before the first officer arrived. I couldn’t have chopped through two of those plants by then, as several of them had trunks over six inches thick.
I think I just needed something to tell myself, some assurance that I’d done all I could, because as I stood there in the dark, a long-handled axe over my shoulder and my eyes and ears tuned to everything around me … I was in my element, I’d never had anything to protect before and I enjoyed it. Karen and I were broke, and if busted faced not only property forfeiture but jail time and fines, and there I was, not only confronting the danger … but loving it, embracing it, wallowing in it. Thinking: We shall see which one will bend! Or: Bring it on you narco fucks, just try to take my girls!
More ridiculous yet? I considered Bolinas a town full of morons and didn’t include myself in the group: the cops never showed that night, but two days later the thieves did, stealing all sixteen plants while I slept.
If it took growing to reveal my defiant nature it also exposed my level of paranoia, which was pretty much non-existent. (One of the reasons I enjoyed being hunted, of course, as I didn’t believe it was happening, anyway.) Growing weed in the Eighties and Nineties was flat out dangerous (Portland’s Indoor Marijuana Task Force was busting over eight hundred grows a year, and the accused homeowner faced two to five years in prison and the loss of his or her property). I had some close calls but barely noticed the pressure otherwise; the Drug War was just a cash machine to me.
But most of the growers I knew? They should have walked on tiptoes. (“Shaky Jakes” I called them.)
One of my favorite errands at the time, for instance, was visiting grow shops. The rumor (perpetuated by articles in the local newspaper) was that the Marijuana Task Force had eyes on all of them. They’d note your license plate, trace you through the registration, then contact the electric company (Boregon being the only state in the union that still allowed this) to track your power usage. If it was too high (or they had nothing better to do that day) you’d be busted.
I never knew if this were true. It’s what the authorities should have done, as all growers needed supplies and those halide stores were the only place to get them, but at some level I either didn’t care or thought the police were too lazy or ineffectual to bother.
Mostly the latter. They certainly never caught me, and I took pleasure in parking directly in front of the stores, not hiding my truck blocks away or borrowing a friend’s vehicle like most growers did. Then I’d stroll inside and it was comical really, the way everyone would turn to look at you (Who’s the tall asshole? He’s got a mustache like a cop!) before returning to murmured conversations or pulling their ball caps lower on their faces.
I was in just such a shop in early ’89, one that specialized in parabolic hoods for plants. They did the sheet metal work themselves, so offered models larger than the three- to five-foot hoods in other stores. I had my eye on one with a ten-foot radius, but not only was assembling it a problem (me being mechanically disinclined and all), but at six hundred dollars it was out of my price range.
So I’m in there buying a box of sodium bulbs and when I get them to the counter the guy next to me has one of those disassembled hoods in front of him. I didn’t generally speak to other customers (even mentioning marijuana was verboten and we were supposed to pretend we grew tomatoes indoors), but the sight of that hood excited me: I had the perfect spot for it and was sure it would increase my production exponentially.
“Damn!” I said to the guy, pointing at it. “I’d love to have one of those in my room.”
He seemed abashed by my breach of protocol and barely grunted in return. After he’d paid (all of those store transactions were in cash, too), he leaned towards the clerk.
“Say,” he muttered. “Any truth to cops surveilling these places, checking who comes in or out?”
“Why would they care about tomato growers?” I said.
Neither of them laughed. The customer (he was “Shaky Jake” royalty for sure) shot me another dark look, then lumbered off with his purchase. After I paid for the bulbs I caught up with him at the front door and, as we emerged into the sunlight and started down the steps, I glanced across the street, spotted a police car parked in an alley.
I’d seen him there plenty of times before: he was a patrolman clocking speeders. I tried not to say anything but that wouldn’t have been fair … Jake was a paranoid, he’d love having his worst fears realized.
“Hey look, buddy!” I said, pointing across the street. “It’s a cop!”
“What!? Where!?” He followed my finger, saw the patrol car as we reached the bottom step. In a single motion he flung the hood assembly aside, sped off in the opposite direction, running as fast as his middle-aged legs would carry him.
I was stunned: He didn’t so much as thank me! I thought. I carried the box of bulbs to my truck and wedged them into the cab. Leaned against the door and smoked a cigarette, curious to see if Jake returned.
When five minutes passed I sensed he wasn’t coming back. Scooped up the hood assembly, tossed it in the truck bed (no sense wasting it, right?) and drove on home. An engineer buddy assembled it for me, and the females I grew under it produced twice as much as their sisters in the decades to come.
Seems I owe you one, Shaky.