HIGH TIMES Books is pleased to announce the publication of Marijuanaland: Dispatches From an American War by longtime contributor Jonah Raskin. In the early '80s, Raskin began working as a marijuana reporter in and around his native California, with a beat that encompassed pot politics, pot growers and potheads. For Marijuanaland, he returned to the field to detail the good, bad and ugly sides of cannabis culture throughout the famed Emerald Triangle. Follow his gonzo adventures as he speaks to the growers, dealers, dispensary owners, lawyers, smokers and cops who comprise the quasi-legal marijuana industry in Northern California. Like Hunter S. Thompson before him, Raskin doesn't shy away from participating in the stories he's supposed to be covering. Here, we find him at a trimming party—a writer who's not afraid to get his hands sticky.
I took part in a harvest on land owned by two brothers who were in their early thirties and had resolved their sibling rivalries to become friends. They had 100 or so plants, all Cannabis indica, and they estimated that each plant would produce at least a pound and perhaps two. But they were being modest; I could see that many of the plants would yield closer to three or even four pounds. The brothers would have more marijuana than they had ever had before, and they were overjoyed. They didn't want to count their money before it was in their pockets, but they were counting it in their heads and their eyes were bulging.
I arrived five days into the harvest and went right to work. In the garden, I cut down the tops—huge, sticky colas—and transported them uphill in a golf cart to the trailer where the manicuring took place. The work was steady and unhurried; it was quiet everywhere around us. I felt that I was in the land of silence—I could barely even hear the bees buzzing or the hummingbirds humming. There was no sound of wind in the fir trees. The landscape was gentle, the sky was cloudy, and I felt at peace—Marijuanaland at its best.
The two brothers, Pancake and Rye, along with four of their friends, harvested and manicured all day long. The marijuana strain they were trimming, which I also helped manicure on the day that I visited, was called LA Confidential. They hoped to sell all their pot to one dealer from LA that they trusted at $1,800 a pound. They would front him most of the pot and would be in no rush to sell it. If they had to wait until February, they said, then they would wait, but they would not drop their price.
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I had met Pancake and Rye in February and followed Pancake around for about eight months. (His brother, Rye, had other matters to attend to.) Pancake showed me their indoor and outdoor operations and talked almost without stopping about politics, pot, his two favorite authors—Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut— and his all-time favorite TV show, South Park, which had played, he felt, a crucial role in his development.
Pancake went to work for his dad after graduating high school and learned how to grow legal flowers such as roses and zinnias. "For a while, I hated roses," Pancake told me. "I once planted Z,500 bare-root roses, thorns and all, and after a while I began to call them `bastards."' For cannabis, on the other hand, he had a real affection; the pot plants were his "darlings."
During his teens and early twenties, he was in full-blown rebellion, he told me, against his parents, his family and whatever else came along. He and Rye were both arrested for possession by a cop they knew from their high-school days, and who had never liked their irreverent style. The arrest didn't deter them from their newfound mission: to grow the best marijuana ever.
Their parents were worried about them, and for a time the family came apart. Then they decided to turn Dad on; he started to smoke marijuana and enjoyed it, and felt pride in his sons who grew such unconventional flowers. The old father-sons rivalry faded away, and the family that smoked together grew closer.
"I started to grow pot when I was a teenager," Pancake told me one day when we were driving around town in his battered station wagon. "Most of my classmates smoked—the honor-roll students and the auto-shop guys. I didn't like the idea of buying weed from someone else; I wanted to be able to smoke my own pot—and then, after that, I wanted to make enough money by growing it to support myself."
Pancake parked the car, and we went into a garden-supply store where he bought bags of fertilizer and a pair of clippers. Then, back in the car, he continued his tale.
"At the start, I was a guerrilla grower because I didn't have land of my own," he said. "I grew it in a creek bed in direct sunlight; I had to walk a mile or so to get to the site. I pumped water out of the creek and visited the garden every three to four days. I made enough money my first season to move out of my dad's house, rent my own place and buy a car."
One day in August, Pancake picked me up at my house and we drove together for about two hours to reach his garden, 1,600 feet above sea level, and also above the highest level of fog that rolled in from the Pacific. Before we left my place, I had shown him my pot, but Pancake was unimpressed. True enough, it wasn't exactly commercial-grade.
Pancake and his brother were growing on a 40-acre parcel that their father owned. When I arrived, I noticed the American flag at the gate and another flag with the words "Don't tread on me." Pancake explained: "We're libertarians—we believe in states' rights. We want the federal government off our land and out of our lives."
For protection, they had a few guns, but they mostly relied on two ferocious watchdogs, Nightshade and Mugwort. The dogs never took a liking to me, and I did not mess with them.
All around the hills and valleys, their neighbors were growing marijuana; the two brothers knew about these nearby gardens because they routinely scanned the landscape with binoculars and the gardens popped up—especially at the end of the season, when they were the only green around. "I was relieved to know my neighbors were growing," Pancake told me. "That meant they had their own and weren't going to poach my plants."
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Outlaw grape growers existed side by side with the pot growers in these parts. The grape growers did not bother with permits from the county and did not follow county rules and regulations; it was too expensive. Even if the grape growers were caught and fined, it would be less expensive than paying the necessary fees for the vineyards. In addition to marijuana, Pancake and Rye grew vegetables and fruits: tomatoes, basil, pumpkins, apples, blueberries, grapes and corn. They had a grove of olive trees for olive oil. They installed solar panels for electricity and pumped water from a spring down the hill to a large tank uphill; gravity then delivered that water to their plants. Self-sufficiency was their goal, and they were getting there quickly thanks to marijuana. Before long, their enterprise would be sustainable.
Their garden wasn't out in the open, and it was nowhere near as obvious as some others I'd seen. It was located on a steep slope with southern exposure, and it received bright sun in the afternoon late in the season, when it counted. The plants, grown from seeds, were grouped together so thickly that I felt like I was in a jungle whenever I walked through them. In my 30 years in the pot scene, I had never seen so many plants packed together in one place. As the season wore on, Pancake and Rye thinned out their jungle; the 10-foot plants spread out, filled out and shot up toward the sky with thick, beautiful colas.
During the harvest at Pancake and Rye's farm, we listened to the soundtrack of a compelling documentary called Grass. Narrated by Woody Harrelson, it covered the history of cannabis and was being broadcast on KPFA, the listener-sponsored radio station in Berkeley. Suddenly, the voice of Fiorello LaGuardia, the legendary New York City mayor from the '30s and '40s, filled the room in which we were manicuring.
"The people of the United States do not want it enforced," he said. "It," of course, was the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that LaGuardia opposed, much as he opposed Harry Anslinger and the rest of pot prohibition's fakery. After Grass, KPFA ran a program about John Lennon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his birth, with lots of Lennon's music.
We smoked homemade hash from a water pipe, and I was really stoned once again. I manicured merrily and listened to the trimmers tell stories about marijuana raids, thieves who were caught, and enforcers who returned stolen pot to fai__ mers.
I asked Nomo, one of the trimmers, whether he had voted for or against legalization. "I like the way things are," he replied. "I don't want marijuana to become corporate, and I don't want to be part of any fucking system for the regulation of marijuana. I want pot to be taxfree, government-free, with free access to information, free seeds and freedom for drug offenders. Even if it were to pass in California, Uncle Sam would still knock on doors, arrest us
and steal our crop. Fuck that, man!"
Pancake took a hit from the water pipe and passed it to me. I puffed a little, took the smoke into my lungs and felt it travel instantly through my body. I was in dreamland. At ease and relaxed, I went on manicuring ounce by ounce, until I'd manicured about $3,000 worth of marijuana. It was just all in a day's work.
At the end of the day, I was covered with marijuana leaves and marijuana resin. My clothes and my skin smelled of marijuana perfume. Marijuana was in my hair. It stuck to
every part of me-arms, legs and face—and that's the way I wanted it to be. I would go down the mountain with the marijuana in my pores, in my blood and in my head.
I got in my car, Pancake unlocked the gate, and I drove away slowly; I didn't want to leave. At the first bend in the road, I heard the crack of a rifle, and I stopped for a moment and looked at the horizon. Then I started down the mountain again, going slowly. I was not in any hurry to get back to civilization. I didn't hear another shot, so I decided it was a kind of salute, a friendly farewell, a goodbye-come-again.
Driving down the mountain, I thought about Nomo and the battle to legalize pot. It was clear that the Feds would not budge anytime soon; that was their message everywhere in Marijuanaland. They were still busting "dirty hippies," not unlike the original hippies of the 1960s. And they were busting Indians just because they were Indians and poor. They busted women and men, Mexicans and Anglos, chopped up the pot they confiscated and, as part of their ritual, buried it in secret places in the ground as though it were evil—a legacy of the Puritans, who demonized wild things, and a legacy, too, of the descendants of the Puritans, who went raving mad about reefer, grass, marijuana, pot, cannabis, dope, hemp and whatever else one called it.
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The outlaw life would go on, and outlaws would continue to grow it in the mountains and valleys—grow it from seeds and clones, in sun and in shade, loving it as though it were their own flesh and blood, this outlaw plant that had survived for thousands of years despite the burnings and executions of the Sufis, that had traveled to Europe by boat from China and India, had sailed across the oceans as sailors and pirates got high, had finally reached England, this holiest of herbs, and endured yet more persecution and demonization, yet never lost its identity as the eternal sacrament and medicine, and that spread from continent to continent and to every mountain top in America; and it had reached California, where it became the king of crops—behind the Green Curtain, in the Emerald Triangle where Flora grew it, and where I lived among the growers of Mendocino after my father died, and where I inherited his marijuana that sent me on a journey I am just now beginning to see as it stretches behind me, circles around me, leads me ahead, takes me forward and into the future, to another spring, another summer, another fall harvest in the land of silence and helicopters, with the perverse addictions of policemen and politicians, in the strange beauty of the rough, dry land of rains and rebirths, the green, green land of marijuana ....