In the weeds, so to speak

St. Petersburg Times
Special to the Times

    We live in the Emerald Triangle here in Northern California. The area comprising Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties is named not for the redwoods but for that other green stuff - marijuana. Some days this place feels so different from the rest of the country, it might as well be the Emerald City of Oz.

    Measure B passed this summer in Mendocino County, 52 percent to 48. You probably haven't heard of   Measure B, but it's all we talked about out here in what we consider forward-thinking California.

    Measure B repeals Measure G. An explanation: In l996, by referendum, California legalized medical marijuana, but left it up to each county to set the standards.
In Measure G, Mendocino County decided the appropriate amount of pot for a sick person possessing the required letter from a doctor was - get ready - 25 plants or 2 pounds of processed weed.

    Have you ever seen fully grown marijuana plants? They're as big as Christmas trees - 10 to 12 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide. Imagine 25 of them. Somebody who knows what he's doing can get 2 pounds of processed weed from one plant. That's 50 pounds per patient.

    A pound of processed marijuana looks like a bed pillow. I know because I went with a sick friend last year when he took his pound into the local Safeway to weigh it on the produce scale.
    We're not talking about a pound of twigs and seeds like we used to get, stuff that looked as if you'd collected it from under a tree and which you had to pick through for an hour to get enough for a joint. This is a pillowcase stuffed with buds: big, fat, juicy, green buds.

    In the old days, you smoked a joint with your friends, got silly and ate a lot of ice cream with Fritos. According to the Potency Monitoring Project (great name!), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana has doubled since 1983. With the new product, you take a puff and hallucinate. Nothing's funny and you're not thinking about a snack because you're too worried about whether you're still upright.

    Two pounds of this stuff, in my humble opinion, would send a medically needy person to the Promised Land ahead of schedule. By the time you smoke your way through 2 pounds, much less 50, you're either cured or dead.

    Then there are those 25 plants legally growing in your next-door neighbor's yard, medical letter posted on the front door to keep the law at bay. Consider the smell alone. The scent of mature marijuana can fell a skunk.

    There are burglaries. Over the hill in Ukiah, a man watched as a thief crossed his yard carrying a gun and climbed a fence to steal the neighbor's dope. The neighbor caught him in the act and got shot in the hand for his trouble.

    Not only can you personally have 25 plants, you can grow for sick friends. There are operations with nine medical letters posted on the door, each good for 25 plants.

In our climate, if you know your stuff, you get three crops a year. You can also grow indoors, in a shed or greenhouse, or get a couple of those metal shipping containers. Cut some holes for ventilation, set up big fans, and dump in some CO2 to speed things along. Add a discreetly muffled generator if you're not on the grid, and things will hum along 24/7.

    Maybe you're producing for your own sick self, but let's say you start feeling better and decide to sell your crop. You're looking at six figures per year, cash, no taxes.

To no one's surprise, people from outside the county saw an opportunity and seized it. They flocked up here to grow. We heard about a man who sold his house in England to come.
    As long as you possess enough medical letters to justify the number of plants, the local law can't touch you. Our tree trimmer said he was cutting on an operation so big they had Rhodesian ridgebacks patrolling the perimeter.

    Local people got fed up. On the one-block alley behind my friend Harry's house, there are three grow houses. And things have gotten more dangerous. Twice in the last month, grow houses have been robbed by armed men. In one case, the owner was beaten so badly he had to be airlifted to the hospital.

    Measure B set the same standard as the rest of the state. If you have a medical letter, you or your caregiver can have six mature plants or 12 immature, and no more than 8 processed ounces. Unless you have special permission from the doctor - then you can have more.

    When Measure B was first proposed, the medical marijuana growers went nuts. Signs sprouted all over the county: "Vote No on B," "Don't Punish Small, Local Caregivers." The anti-B people ran a candidate for supervisor, the lady who runs Herban Legend, our local dope store. This is the place where you go with your medical letter and buy marijuana in myriad flavors, from Purple Urple to Train Wreck. If you prefer not to inhale, you can choose brownies or dope-laced lollipops.
But Measure B passed. The Herban Legend lady lost.

    We could solve the whole problem by doing what the Mendocino Board of Supervisors recommends: legalize the stuff. It's a multibillion-dollar business up here in the Emerald Triangle, larger than our second crop - tourists. If it were legal, we'd at least get the tax money. The price of marijuana gets jacked up 1,000 percent on the black market. If it were legal, the bad guys might give up and move on to something more profitable.

    Meanwhile, with Measure B in effect, local law enforcement won't be completely hamstrung. Any large grower will be suspect, and hopefully, prosecuted.

    The anti-B folks haven't given up. They may have lost the vote, but they're appealing in court.
    Don't you wish you lived here? To the East Coast, we may seem demented, but usually we're just a decade ahead of the rest of the country. Get ready.


Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal. Her memoir, The Last Resort, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2011.