Boulder Creek, California is a town of willful Desaparecidos who've packed up and fled to the mountains; hippies neo and retro, outdoorsmen, hermit-intellectuals, fugitives from Silicon Valley just over the hill. The San Lorenzo Valley which cradles the town is lush and fertile, and justly famous for its vinyards, redwoods and marijuana.
Waldo's* house is an uninsulated pseudo-cabin perched on a forested hillside at the end of a car-wide twisty dirt road. The roof is drenched in redwood needles, and the deck is piled with scavenged, yellow, OSHA-unapproved office chairs; $5 apiece if you want one. Before I can get my bag out of my car, Waldo has taken me around to the back of the house to "see what I came to see". A large chalkboard blocks the way. It has equations scrawled on it relating to the amount of force exerted on a rock driven over by a car; evidence of a recent, protracted argument. Waldo lead me between two giant redwood trees and past his propane tank. I pass a plastic-covered sign indicating to any passing officers of the law that this garden is being grown for medical purposes under Proposition 215, and thanking them for their courage and understanding. A license to grow.
The plants are gone, recently harvested, but their "cage" is still there. White vinylized wire, cut and bent into a sun-permeable shed, houses about ten dirt-filled five gallon buckets. Green woody stumps poke out of the dry, canned dirt. Waldo folds himself down onto one, and motions me to do the same. I do so, and attempt to maintain sit-dignity while he tells his story.
"We built this after the deer attack," he explains, indicating the wire. "They ate it all, right down to the stalks."
"Fuck!" I commented. "How did you have time to replant?"
"Didn't have to. This plant is hardy, man. It really is a weed. A few weeks later there was full vegetative growth on the stalks again, and they reflowered."
He told me about fighting off fungus, insects, small herbivores, and larger plant lovers.
"That was my sentry post, over there," he says, pointing to one of the yellow chairs. This one is nestled between some bushes near the house. He sat there nightly in the week or so before harvest, loaded shotgun in his lap. I told him how I could see how easily people could get up the hill and swipe his buds, though I thought getting the cargo out again would be hard. He said that nobody had tried, fortunately, but his next-door neighbor had almost gotten shot for wandering around in the garden at night with a flashlight.
"I went out there screaming at him to get out, 'cause the flashlight would fuck up the flowering cycle... he's been a bit of a problem, calling me a 'dope-growing hippie motherfucker' and getting all pissed off when we wouldn't cut him in."
The neighbor in question is Gregory*, one of the Silicon Valley refugees. He's a shopping addict with ADD and an Acura NSX parked in the driveway. How he got it up and down the tiny, vertiginous dirt road to the house, I'll never know. Gregory later tells me that Waldo's house has previously hosted a heavy metal band and a meth lab which once caught fire. Marijuana farming, in his estimation, is infinitely preferable to either of the above. He doesn't seem to have much of a problem smoking the dope-growing hippie motherfucker's weed, either.
Any stoner stumbling into Waldo's house would think he'd fallen right into heaven. There is weed everywhere; shake carpeting the floor and piled on the table. One-gallon ziploc bags filled with the kindest bud I'd ever seen are heaped next to a gram scale. I count five of them. At harvest time there were buds as long as your forearm hanging from monofilament line all over the house, drying and curing. His deck is still piled with stripped stalks and dried out, iconographic leaves.
"We'd been expecting about ten to fifteen pounds, give or take," Waldo explains. He sits down and opens up a bag of his "Deep Blue" variety to let me smell it. "But with the deer, and the other stuff that went wrong, it didn't really work out. We got about a pound and a half. I dunno if the club will even buy that little."
That little being the most marijuana I've ever seen all at one time, essentially infinite weed to a light-weight smoker like myself.
The plan was to sell the crop to the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative, one of the Bay Area's medical marijuana dispensaries. They buy at "market prices", meaning around three thousand dollars per pound. If everything had gone as intended Waldo and his partner would be looking at up to forty-five thousand dollars in profit; as it is, they'll be lucky to clear four grand. It worked out to about forty cents an hour for Waldo's labor, not to mention the one thousand dollars in expenses.
Waldo shows me his "get out of jail free" card. It's a picture ID from the Cooperative (who also provided the sign in his garden), stating, for the record, that he is a certified "care giver" to a cannabis prescription holder. As such, he is entitled to grow, possess, transport and sell marijuana. I knew people who would cut out their right eye for such privilege. If he's pulled over with ten pounds of weed in his trunk, he flashes this card and drives away. Sweet deal.
But, in California, this is "legal, but not a hunnerd percent legal". Marijuana, after all, is still quite illegal on the federal level. Proposition 215 is essentially civil disobedience on a massive scale. The feds can and often do bust medical marijana collectives, arresting and trying fifty-year-old AIDS patients on pot possession charges. This is not risk-free. Waldo won't openly discuss his occupation on the phone, and he's still trying to figure out how to deal with his potential income. Money laundering has become a necessity for a bunch of otherwise reg'lar folk who now have income they can't federally report. What would you do with fifty thousand dollars you can't explain to Uncle Samuel?
I met Waldo's "in" a few hours later. George* is a sixty-something Vietnam vet with stage-four cancer at the base of his tongue, metastasized to the muscles in his neck. He has a fully legit prescription for cannabis, a not-encouraging prognosis, and a completely empty bank account. Fortunately for him the VA hospital will pick up the tab on his chemo, but the lights aren't gonna stay on at his house without some cash. Ironically, he and Waldo had planned on growing weed for money on the sly before George had been diagnosed. Someone had to become terminally ill to make this legal. So Waldo got signed on as his designated care giver, and off they went.
"Well, I didn't want this to be a street thing," says George. "But I don't think we're gonna make any money with the club." George gets 50% of the take for making it all possible. He's too weak to really do any of the heavy work, but without him they'd all be outlaws. Waldo has difficulty dealing with George sometimes... George's drinking doesn't mix well with his benzodiazepam prescription, and he's mildly delusional. He describes the marijuana forest they had out back before harvest; plants twenty feet tall, and the morning sun edging them in flames as it rose. George is on his way out for mexican food with a ladyfriend, 'cause they're gonna take his teeth out pretty soon. All of them. Chew while you can.
They waffle back and forth about the decision to sell their crop "street"; they know some guys who can sell for them, but they're all friends and don't feel they should have to pay the three hundred dollar-per-ounce going rate. The hassle makes Waldo feel like taking his chances with the club...sometimes. They all need the money bad, and they need to get all this pot off their hands. George burns a joint he's twisted up from the ample stash and listens while Waldo makes his case for cutting his friend Kevin * ten percent of the money for helping out at harvest time. It's become a business, and business with friends is hard to manage. When one of those friends is a dying old man, sometimes there's no profit in the "right decision."
Waldo has a plan for when George can no longer be a part of the operation; there's a doctor he knows who is obviously using Prop 215 to push for total legalization. He'll give damn near anyone a prescription for weed if they claim chronic pain. Waldo's gonna get his own scrip and keep on growing. In fact, he's going to start germinating seeds right now. A box under the house will keep the farm going all winter, and Waldo is well versed in the latest force-flowering techniques. He thinks he can bring his second crop in in about two months, give or take.
"How much are you expecting to grow?" I ask him, while sampling his fine, home grown pharmaceuticals.
"Oh, probably about ten pounds if all goes well."
We begin riffing on laundering schemes as he wets down his seeds, two baby criminals in the legislative shade.
*Names have been changed to protect the guiltily innocent.