|The Feds came in heavy at the end of last year, flexing their muscles, showing who’s boss, and reminding the growers, that no matter what they think, the Feds are in charge.|
By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent
When I was a kid, you could look in the back pages of High Times magazine to see how much a pound, ounce, eighth was going in your town. Most of us were still too scared to be seen with that evil weed magazine. The sight of a glossy mag proclaiming the virtues of marijuana might lead to more questions than 16-year-old wants to answer.
Quickly opening the last few pages at the newsstand I found my state, and could get a pretty accurate idea of what I should be paying for my weed. Plus, you could see how the rest of the country was faring when it came to the Tao Jones of pot.Â
Ironically, in the Seventies, when there was a renewed interest in eradicating the hippies and their anti-war herb, when war was declared on this nation’s youth, the markets seemed to fluctuate less slowly and you could count on the price of Tea staying reasonably constant. This allowed the dope trade to flourish with a common language and understanding of what was acceptable.
Now, we’ve entered the manufactured times of the Black Market meets… what?Â
In Northern California, where supposedly the best outdoor bud in the United States is grown, the price of a pound has dropped so dramatically, the locals are in a panic. I’ve just returned after spending the better part of last week driving all over Humboldt and Mendocino Counties talking to growers to see what’s up. It’s crazy.
The great journalist, Kym Kemp, wrote in her blog (Redheaded Blackbelt.com
) about how traditional partnerships and local customs have been undermined by harsh economic times. In the old days, a grower grew and someone they knew would take their crop to market for them, get the grower their asking price, and return with the cash balance for the grower’s hard work. Now, many of these traditional go-betweens, once with cash in hand, do not return with the grower’s money as agreed. To the tune of $10,000, people are changing their lives and not returning home.
Just a couple of years ago, Mendocino County tried to do something about the local pot trade. The Mendocino Sheriff’s Department started the 9.31 program that allowed growers who paid a couple grand for permits to grow pot, to legally grow marijuana under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s aegis.
This ground-breaking idea took the usually reticent farmer out of the shadows and into a fairer playing field. The program offered police protection for the legal growers. If a nefarious type was to enter a grower house that was in the program for the purpose of ripping the farmer off, the citizen of that county could call the cops on the intruder. Let the law deal with crooks and the bad guys. This took away some of the grey area from the Black Market, establishing a more refined way of doing business.Â
Well that’s all gone. The Feds came in heavy at the end of last year, flexing their muscles, showing who’s boss, and reminding the growers, that no matter what they think,Â the Feds are in charge.
“We are the Law of the Land.”
And that message was heard loud and clear. Of course the message that the locals heard was, “You dirty little growers, take your faith and trust that you erroneously put into the system, and sell your weed anyway you can.” And most importantly, “Remember, we’re watching you.”
Starting north of Santa Rosa, California starts getting good if you ask me. The hills grow larger, like a massive carpet strewn out with golden hue that drifts off to the matte blue of the Pacific. Gigantic trees that seem to get taller and land that gets lumpier as you drive north.
Once past Meth-Central, otherwise known as Santa Rosa, hawks and eagles guide your tour. Small, historic towns become farther and farther apart. It can take you an hour and half to drive 26 miles as your stomach gets to feel every turn and curve of the canyon crawls. The whole world becomes visible through the fish-eye lens of the windshield, like a beautiful arboretum of your own device. The elevation rises, concrete turns into dirt, roads bend like rope left out in the wind, and soon you’re alone in the wilderness.Â
I could argue that the real reason the glaciers carved up California the way it did was to create one of the best hiding places in the world. Redwoods, Sequoias, Firs, and the holy Maderas trees cloak the deep forest to cover the wanderers of the hills.
An unforgiving sun blows like a furnace during the day, then drops to 50 degrees or less at night, during the summer months; Northern California was made to grow pot. In the reasonable parallel universes like the Napa Valley or parts of France, where all the essential factors for extraordinary success in grape growing exist, the North end of California should be cordoned off as America’s premier cultivation destination. That would happen if we had any honesty of who we are.Â
Instead, this is what I experienced last week.
Leaving Willits, five to six black Humvees in a tight convoy motored along at a clip rate like hired guns being dispatched to a gunfight. Rumors of military-like actions and raids along the coast and to some of the hippie enclaves are being whispered about. Army helicopters and planes flew over Sky Rock and other areas I travelled. The heat was on. Locals complained of constant surveillance and undue civil harassment.Â
It is beginning to feel like the old days when there weren’t any laws to protect the growers. Locals are feeling the pressures of paranoia. These days, and I mean in the last month or so, if you’re driving a truck in Northern California, especially with a small trailer in tow, you’re suspected of doing something against the State.Â
The fear level is now off the charts. Here’s why…
An unstable market—that your local law enforcement and government supports—is creating opportunities for the Greedheads to come in and swoop. Let’s go to the extremes. The real Gateway Drugs in terms of Marijuana are I-80 and I-70 and the like. These transcontinental Interstates, which run from San Francisco to Teaneck New Jersey and from Utah to Maryland, are a popular path for getting weed to the East Coast, among other routes and devices.Â
The tales of dope-runners trying to make it through Kansas or Iowa with a weighted down vehicle, without being stopped by cops in vans that can x-ray passing cars, or lasers that monitor car wheel height, are becoming legendary and sad. I’ve heard that Homeland Security has nothing over the Midwestern Interstate cops when it comes to suspending the Bill of Rights in favor of an illegal stop.Â
The War is on. So the price of weed goes up—but only on the East Coast.
Here in Northern California, even in moments of dryness, unavailability, and multiple busts, the price of marijuana continues to drop, locally. If you want to make OK money, take it to Los Angeles. If you want big money, get it out East somehow.Â
The only constant in Northern California dope market are the dispensaries. They seem to come to an agreed-upon price that they’ll pay for a pound. At the many great dispensaries in town, a eighth of good shit goes for $50 to $60. The price hasn’t come down for the smaller amounts in the same way it has for a pound. Â Â
Before medical marijuana, bud was going for crazy prices. If you didn’t know someone and you wanted something “boutique”? That bud was going for $25-35 bucks a gram. I shit you not. After medical marijuana, it stabilized around the current market price, but that’s it.
After 1996, you could get anywhere from $2,200 to $3,500 locally for a pound of weed, if not more. It might cost you 60 to 80 grand to grow 100 plants.
Last week I heard of a nationally known hero of the cannabis movement who has taken a job with one of the more major pot houses in the East Bay as a buyer for their outdoor grown marijuana. This person, who was prosecuted by the Feds months ago, is now going to the local farmer in the Emerald Triangle as an emissary of the dispensary, stating to the grower that he (the dispensary) doesn’t pay more than a grand to 1.200 bucks now for a lb.
“Take it or Leave it.”
People are hurting for money up in those hills. They need gas money for their trucks and generators, not to mention food. Some are getting desperate, like Kym Kemp described in her column—ripping off friends and relatives for what seems like a small sum at the time.
Carpetbaggers dressed in rodeo clothes call on established growers, master growers, offering them a mere pittance of what they’re were getting previously. People call the growers of the Emerald Triangle greedy and only promoting interests that profit them directly. There are some of those, but not many that we know.
The cops have smashed the possible network for legal trade. By their naÃ¯ve attempts to control the dope trade, they’ve completely thrown off the dictates of supply and demand.Â
Here’s the sad fact of marijuana. The demand is never going to subside. Because we’re being lied to about the use and applications of marijuana, we can’t get a positive beat on where we are in relationship to the market. We have to pretend like we don’t know what’s going on.
Here’s the real deal. Growers are doubling and tripling their crops. The price has dropped so drastically, that if a grower wants to survive and make it to that rainbow on the other side—the one that is stocked with gifts and cash for the able bodies who survive the Federal gauntlet—he has to evolve with the times. You can be either smart or play dumb and try to get by.Â
Local cops and the Feds have taken away the legal incentive to go legit. The dispensaries, more or less, dictate the prices in Northern California. They set the standard of what the market will bear and the suppliers can’t produce at that rate.
Let’sÂ see; you can sell your crop here at loss and do the right thing, or be tempted to bring your crop to some locale outside of Northern California that craves the kind bud, make four to five times as much, but suffer the risk of going to jail for interstate trafficking. The growers are breaking the rules when they look for a profitable rate for their commodity; the economics that every other market follows are thrown out.
It is so crazy to think how close we came to a point of homeostasis, that for a split-second it looked like the marijuana market had some fluidity and strength, just like the price of tea and tomatoes can experience. In 2010, the market took a breather; stabilized, we were able to chill and we experienced incredible growth in the quality and consistency of marijuana market.
Now lives are in the balance. Rip-offs, guns, and betrayal are simmering to the top. Desperation breeds paranoiac thoughts and actions by otherwise civilized folks who once hungry and afraid become nervous and disillusioned. That’s when bad shit happens.
We don’t give much respect to the farmers who grow our weed. Most people don’t care where their weed comes from as long as it is there when they need it. Many of my friends who are older fear that if they are too vocal or came out for their beliefs, their jobs or children will be removed.
It just becomes a matter of I want what I want when I want it.Â
The problem with that is while the police and Feds escalate their war on marijuana, not heroin, cocaine or meth, butÂ marijuana, the prices are going to fluctuate and any resemblance to normality is going to be snuffed out like a joint in the rain.Â
There is a war on marijuana. Local economies that depend on pot for their livelihoods, but won’t admit it, are at the mercy of the whims of outside forces, that have nothing to do with the price of weed.Â
I really thought the days of being profiled as a long-haired pot smoker were over. In the Seventies, big tough guys like me wouldn’t think of smoking a jay without rolled-up towels lining the bottom of the door so we didn’t have to worry about escaping smoke and the possibility of a neighbor turning us in to the cops.
It isÂ crazyÂ to think under the time of Nixon, the pot markets were more stable. In those days if you were busted, you wereÂ busted. Unless you were a senator’s son, you’re doing time or paying big money. It was pretty black and white.Â
Maybe having one common enemy focuses a market instead of fearing attacks from inside and out.
Greed is the only culprit on our side in the weed wars. People ask, “Who are we?” We are many people that make up a diverse movement. You cannot stop the vulture capitalists or the ones with dollar signs in their eyes as they see a new industry to exploit.
Besides, for all that, there are the “Moms and Pops” of the cultivation scene that grow just enough to feed the kids and pay taxes. These are the so-called small fish to fry. These are the people that traditionally labored, learned, and most importantly, bring the best bud to market.
Now, the local cops and the Feds have overturned the pot cart.Â The Moms and Pops are next.
Fear and suspicion is back. You can now raid a grower or a house where you suspect there is weed and the home ownerÂ doesn’t have any rights. They can’t call the police.
They have a thing called “Mountain Justice.” When bad people do bad things to good people during a time of invisible remembrance, when you can push someone around because the perception is they are less than you, this is when you call on the vigilantes to do the right thing.
If the cops and the market won’t protect a business person and the demand is there for your product, are you going to quit?
Desire, like water, finds a way.
|Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco|
Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found atÂ jackrikess.com.
Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.
His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.
He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.
Â Â Â