Could Marijuana Save California?

‘When I see that, it’s like looking at a shed full of cows. I see a whole lot of work,” says Jim Hill, opening the little gate into his humid greenhouse in which a forest of marijuana grows, and from which a pungent, heady scent exudes at gale force. Not work as in hard labour, emphasises Hill – though there is a bit of that – but expertise growing some of the most potent weed on the planet.

Nearby there are vineyards and horses graze the sun-stroked farmland, but this verdant hillside near the town of Potter Valley in northern California lies in an area called the Emerald Triangle: three counties bordered by mountains to the east and the Pacific to the west that connect the lyrical terrain north of San Francisco with the wilderness of the Oregon state line. This breathtakingly beautiful corner of earth is the marijuana capital of the western hemisphere thanks to three conspiring factors: its perfect climate; the pervading culture; and topography – this is a maze of mountain dirt roads, locked access gates, isolated villages, secluded slopes and wooded glades, far from prying eyes.

Jim Hill, however, is a respectable figure – neither old stoner nor criminal – and he is not afraid to show off his working practices. “You’re just going to have to smell of weed for the rest of the week,” he jokes as we clamber through his greenhouse. “Squeeze this,” he enthuses, “take a sniff, feel the nice, rich oily texture…”

Ninety-eight per cent of growers would not think this sight possible in late April, he says, indicating the succulent, ripe buds oozing heavy on the branch. “You’re looking at icebergs in July.” Hill has worked out what to plant when: he talks about daylight hours at this latitude, “plant efficiency” and above all cross-pollination. And no wonder: his other business and passion is as a breeder of greyhounds. He shows me a video of one of his dogs streaking from penultimate place in a big race in Phoenix to win.

“Now, we develop and cross-breed different strands of marijuana,” he beams. He talks about indica and sativa plants, about kush and his own speciality, scarecrow. “Just look at those purple leaves,” he says. “You should see the messages of gratitude I get from my patients for this.”

Not every law enforcement officer here in Mendocino County would agree – for the law here is labyrinthine – but Hill is operating legally. In 1996, following the comfortable success of a referendum on what was called Proposition 215, California passed its Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients with a doctor’s “recommendation” (it is not a prescription) to cultivate and possess marijuana for personal use.

The act was subsequently expanded to help create a network of collectivised dispensaries. At first a handful appeared, now there are thousands, some small and dingy, others de luxe. In the city of Oakland, there is an entire neighbourhood called “Oaksterdam”, which boasts a college for the study of cannabis growing as well as a range of dispensaries (one, called Blue Sky, offers arguably the world’s biggest selection of different strains).

Jim Hill started growing marijuana because of its medicinal properties – his wife, Trelanie, suffered from a serotonin imbalance and he believed it could help her. Now his crop is destined for dispensaries in San Diego and Los Angeles. “It was the attitude of the government, hassling me, that turned me into an advocate.”

Even here, cannabis cannot be grown for profit or sold, so what keeps Hill’s greenhouse legal is that the marijuana itself is owned “not by me but the collective” – the First Choice Collective, it is called. Its 1,200 members will have been “recommended” marijuana by a doctor. To be legal, subsequent transactions take place within a closed loop. “All I sell,” says Hill, “are my services.” According to the law, the collective and its members “remunerate” Hill – he is not paid commercially. But he makes a tidy living.

If only the same could be said of the Californian economy. It may be the eighth largest in the world, but the state government has issued IOUs and unemployment is at its highest for 70 years. In his final budget in January, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed what he called “draconian” spending cuts aimed at fixing a $19.9bn (£13bn) budget deficit. He has said previously he would welcome a public debate on proposals to legalise and tax marijuana to help plug that hole.

Read full story here.

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  • All material copyright of The Cannabis Post 2010 unless otherwise stated

    Editor: Joseph Klare (The Pothead Pundit)
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