SINCE ITS INCEPTION, HIGH TIMES HAS BEEN DEDICATED TO PROVIDING INTENSIVE COVERAGE OF MARIJUANA CULTIVATION ACROSS THE GLOBE, A TRADITION THAT CONTINUES TODAY. THE GURU OF GANJA, ED ROSENTHAL, TAKES US BACK 20 YEARS AND BEYOND TO COVER THE UPS-AND-DOWNS OF THIS ELUSIVE BOTANICAL WORLD.
In 1937, when cannabis was illegalized federally, there were an estimated 5o,000 marijuana users in America. Use was centered in the black community around New Orleans and other jazz centers, and in the Hispanic communities of the Southwest. use by white bohemians was self-reported in stories and novels, but was not really of concern to authorities, Almost all the marijuana imported was from Mexico or other countries to the south.
Use of the herb spread with the northern migration of blacks, increased by new drop-outs such as the Beats. Interest was piqued in the adventurous by lurid stories of the herb and the hippie trail. Since the weed came with seed, a few users cultivated the herb. Mexican varieties were most easily grown in the South and Southwest. This limited serious domestic production to only a small part, of the country.
Use and cultivation increased exponentially beginning in the early '6os. The newly emerging avant-garde and left-wing college students quickly adopted the new intoxicant; soar after. it even reached the
fraternities. By i966, the first booklets on marijuana were being sold in the psychedelic shops that were opening nationwide. By 1967, a peak year of the hippie revolution, use had doubled and redoubled until there were an estimated 15-z0 million users. Obvis' ously, pothibition had not worked. After 30 years of enforcement, use was up about 15,00o%.
A cultural phenomenon was fueled on imported marijuana. The herb was taken very seriously. Mexican, Colombian, Panamanian and Jamaican came from the south;" Thai and Vietnamese were imported from Asia. Hash came from the 3oth parallel, Morocco, Lebanon, Kashmir and Afghanistan.
The hippie generation was the product of an affluent society. These were middle-class kids who could work minimally or take extended vacations (and get involved in political action). Not content with the commercial tourist areas, travel to exotic lands was not uncommon—India, Nepal, Thailand, Afghanistan and Morocco were all on the list. Coincidentally, these areas were all known for their cannabis. Less exotic, but no less important, grass from all over the world was available in Amsterdam.
By 1968, there were several books about marijuana cultivation and others with chapters on the subject. Still, marijuana cultivation was not really popular; imported was preferred to homegrown, which was considered low quality. People believed that it was impossible to grow good-quality weed domestically, indoors or out. indoor weed was considered the worst. There was a popular myth that good indoor weed was a total pipe dream.
In 1969, Nixon decided to escalate the War on Drugs with his "Operation Intercept." This slowed traffic and commerce along the border and forced the Mexican government to act on US government demands to stop the flow of herb. No longer could a smuggler just drive a truck across the border. The price of herb began to rise steeply. The "Free Mexican Air Force" was born. Instead of trucks, old cargo planes began piercing the sky. Planes were used to import from as far away as Colombia. At the same time, the
Colombian ships began off-loading along the islands off the East Coast. The Keys, and the islands off the Carolinas and Georgia were the usual destinations, although ships were caught as far north as Maine.
Nixon escalated the War, and the subsequent drought started a lot of people growing. Rather than depend on an uncertain supply, you could grow your own and be free of commerce. The problem was a lot of first attempts were unsuccessful, and people were discouraged. A few books, such as Sinsemilla Flowers, (And/Or Press, out of print) alerted growers to the possibilities of home cultivation.
Everything changed in 1978 when Craig Copetas broke the story of the DEA's secret paraquat spraying in Mexico in HIGH TIMES. Nobody wanted to smoke poisoned pot, so people began to take a second look at "homegrown." By that time many home growers had discovered
that smoking buds was much more pleasant than torching the leaves.
Growers in Hawaii, California and the southern tier of the country were able to produce very potent buds using the cultural techniques they had learned with the new seeds, including the indicas.
Dilly the rarest imported marijuana, Thai stick, special Colombians such as Wacky Weed, Santa Marta gold and Punta Roja, could compare with the flavor, fragrance and potency of high-quality sinsemilla. Once a person tried domestic sinsemilla, the often stale, poorly cultivated commercial imports lost their luster.
The golden age of marijuana growing was in full swing. People grew in their backyards, on windowsills and under lights. Cultivation in many areas of the country was not considered serious by the police. Confiscation was rare. Guerilla growing was less risky because there was not much of a police presence. A typical California garden could contain 30-40 large plants. Each one could have a breadth of 10 feet. The garden could occupy an area up to 4,000-5,000 square feet, about one-tenth of an acre.
When law enforcement started to take cannabis cultivation seriously, large gardens began to disappear. Outdoor growers tried to hide their gardens by making them smaller. Sometimes individual plants would be grown in several locations. Growers had success under partially shaded canopies, grew smaller plants or used camouflage in many novel ways. Even with more enforcement, until the mid-'8os the main threat to the outdoor grower was rip-offs and thieves. Outdoor gardens were preyed upon by teenagers and armed robberies occurred with some frequency in rural areas. Outdoor cultivation was becoming dangerous; a game only for the serious and committed. Even with increased risk the outdoor scene continued to flourish for a while, especially as good seed spread. However, new policies were soon to change the scene.
By 1980, growers had 10 years of serious cultivation experience and had been adapting varieties to local conditions throughout the country. Growers attempting to develop short-season varieties from formerly tropical sativas met with mixed results. The introduction of indica varieties in the mid-'7os spurred cultivation because it was easier to bring in mature buds, even in the Midwest. The plants produced denser, heavier colas, had a higher yield per square foot and were much shorter and more compact. indica-sativa hybrids of all kinds appeared and marijuana became the plant subject to the
most breeding programs in the USA, since there were no seeds available commercially.
Early in Reagan's first term, First Lady Nancy garnered bad press when she decorated the White House with corporate "gifts" as the nation tumbled. To remedy her image she joined the "War on Drugs." Her cynical campaign has turned out to be a war on people's consciousness and has helped to usher in the police state. Armed with new interpretations of the Constitution by a statist Supreme Court, police began flying legally at 50o feet.
Local cops, financed by the feds, conducted helicopter tours of cities, suburbs and rural areas with a zero tolerance point of view. Whole careers, such as notorious "One Pound" Charlie Stowell's in California, were built on spotting marijuana. Many people's lives were disrupted or ruined by these searches.
Indoor cultivation, a second choice for most cultivators up to this point, took on greater significance. Growers moved indoors to escape the visual surveillance. People soon realized they could grow all they needed in 5o square feet or less and were secure from garden thieves, police, the weather and other vagaries of nature. People often started with fluorescent, then in subsequent grows switched to metal-halide and high-pressure-sodium lamps.
Luckily for growers, two Dutch seed companies had just started up. Nevil, the proprietor of the Seed Bank, obtained very high grade seeds from US growers and then hybridized them. His Northern Lights series was an adaptation of seeds provided by a Northwestern grower. Big Bud produced stabilized hybrids. Early Pearl was a fair producer but very early. These four varieties and their hybrids were probably the most popular varieties produced. Skunk #i was very adaptable and a heavy producer. The Northern Lights varieties were well adapted to indoor growing and were very powerful. Big Bud was an incredible producer, but hard to clone.
SSSC adapted varieties from the stock available in Holland. Their most successful plant was probably William's Wonder, a short-season indica with very powerful, fragrant buds, large but compact and a vigorous heavy producer. It could also be grown very successfully indoors or out, even in the North.
Although these companies were forced out of business by the DEA in Holland, their impact has continued because they changed the cannabis gene pool in America. There are still some seed companies functioning in Holland, but they only sell there and do not ship to other countries.
At first, people tried to adapt outdoor techniques to the indoor garden. They grew big plants in big containers filled with soil. Slowly they adopted methods better suited to the indoor garden. Hydroponics, growing plants in a water-nutrient solution, became increasingly popular as people realized that growth and ultimately, production would increase if the plants' root and nutrient conditions were optimized. The "Sea of Green" technique, which fills the space with many small plants in small containers rather than growing a few large plants, decreased production time substantially. Ninety-day wonders became very popular, and were possible as the time between transplanting clones and harvesting buds shortened. Other techniques substantially increased production.
There were both legal and police responses to the new indoor phenomenon. In 1987, new federal laws considered each plant 100 grams (or its actual weight if greater) for sentencing purposes. The law also mandated a minimum five-year sentence for 100 kilograms or more. Congress did not consider these statutes draconian enough. The i989 law kept the same rules for growers of 49 or fewer plants, but for sentencing purposes considered each plant a kilogram if a grower was cultivating 5o plants or more. Convicted growers who were shown during the sentencing phase of the trial to have 100 plants or more are usually given a minimum sentence of five years. Under these laws a cultivator of large gardens can draw life imprisonment. These laws are
in force today. There is an army of growers in federal prisons.
The police have been given tremendous incentives to apprehend growers. Both federal and state forfeiture laws return most of the property seized to law enforcement. Although the public hears much about violent crime, the jails and prisons are really filling up with victims of the Drug War, their most violent crime growing plants or selling some herb.
Thermal imaging can detail heat being emitted from walls or windows. Police use unusual sources—attics, basements, bedrooms—to try to obtain a warrant. Since the judges signing the warrants do not generally understand the images, they often OK them, no questions asked. Once granted, the warrants are rarely overturned.
Law enforcement check electric bills and get tips from power companies. Their main tool, however, remains informers. All kinds of incentives are used. Rewards, dismissed charges, lighter sentences, claims of offering help, some tangible rewards. Other informers are ex-partners and ex-lovers, competitors, enemies and disgruntled customers.
Grow stores and accidents of all kinds are two more risks. Law enforcement has a history of poaching grow stores. They have watched them and subpoenaed their records. They have also subpoenaed UPS records, which can detail deliveries to a specific location. Informer leaks, electrical shorts, light leaks and general mishaps can alert police to grow rooms. In 1989. Operation Greer Merchant targeted customers of grow stores advertising in HIGH TIMES. Some stores cooperated and some resisted. Several owners went to prison. Kevin Bjornson, the owner of Hydrotech in Seattle, became a self-confessed informer for the DEA.
Smart growers have adapted to the times. Rather than growing two-to-four plants per square foot, they grow somewhat larger plants, spacing them at one per square foot. Even larger plants are sometimes found in gardens with more space. Growers find they can regenerate some varieties several times, cutting down on cloning problems.
With the War on Drugs still strong al the cop shop, gardeners have condensed their gardens and tried to increase productivity. A small garden containing plants with superior characteristics in an environment with CO2 enrichment, ventilation and hydroponics can be very productive.
Outdoor growers have had varied success each year, depending upon which direction enforcement searches. People still cultivate in their yards, in parks and on deserted land. Recently late planting has become very popular because the plants stay smaller (e.g. less noticeable) and are at risk of being discovered for a shorter period. Instead of placing the plants in the ground in May, they are transplanted in late July to mid-August, depending on variety and climatic conditions.
One commercial cultivator, Homer Grown, whose gardens have been documented in HIGH TIMES, maintained several gardens as far as 5o miles apart which he reached by motorcycle. They were all in desolate areas and were hard to get at or to penetrate. One was on an uninhabited island. Most were on the borders of forest and land that had been clearcut several years before. After successfully farming outdoors for five years, he disappeared in January 1989.
Here we are in the '905. Marijuana is more popular than it has ever been. Recent estimates of cannabis users vary; about 30-50 million. In spite of the government campaign, marijuana is available. even if high-priced. As long as people use marijuana, some people will grow it no matter what the downside.
Here's to 20 years for those who didn't exhale.