Joseph, 51 years old
Married, three kids
Long-Term Grower and Activist
This interview took place the day following the passing of Senate Bill 643, and Assembly Bills 266 and 243, new legislation that established a legal framework and regulatory system for medical marijuana. He cried at the end of the interview.
“I’m not saying cannabis prohibition is special, unique, or the worst, or even in the top ten immoral fucking things our government has done. It’s not. It’s just the one thing I thought maybe we could change. And we did. It’s a symbol. If anybody tries to tell you that you can’t change anything and that participating in politics doesn’t matter, I point to this and say you’re wrong.”
You were saying that when you first started growing you had the vision that marijuana should be legal?
Yes, and I want to add to that that I don’t think people are entitled to do this, and also march down main street and proclaim ‘this is what I do.’ When I made the choice to do this– when I first started farming it was a tiny little plant in my backyard when I was a teenager, in the Midwest, Conservative Midwest, in the 80s — it was for me. It was simply because there was no access to the quality marijuana I saw in magazines. So I grew it for myself.
When I came to California it was a conscious choice. I wanted to get involved with a group called the Cannabis Action Network (CAN), and they were representing my generation in a way that older activist groups like NORML weren’t. I felt like they were working to raise awareness and making a set of arguments that made more sense to my generation.
What were the arguments this new group was making?
I would say with NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) they kind of said ‘weed should be legal because it’s natural kind of a thing.’ But [the CAN] was armed with comparative statistics to alcohol and impact statistics from incarceration. And they were making the argument about the actual impacts and benefits of law. They were making the argument for that era, in a way that was going to make the most sense.
So you come to California in the 1990s, and when did you start growing pot for a living?
In ‘95 I settled here in California, and I started working as a laborer for older hippie growers on the coast. I came out, and that (growing) wasn’t the goal. The goal was to go to protests and these types of things. And I travelled around and went to protests and political events… and I got the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. I was young and I was like – ‘I wanna make this [marijuana legalization] happen now.’ And so I was looking for a more front lines way to get involved. And that’s when I started becoming attracted to the idea of working in the industry and thinking of it as an industry.
What was the reality of the industry then? Because it was much more dangerous.
I’ve never been in a combat zone. But, I can’t imagine that I’ll ever have a closer headspace than working then. You would hear helicopters and you would go diving into the bushes. You never knew when the day would come when they (law enforcement) would drop down.
“I’ve never been in a combat zone. But, I can’t imagine that I’ll ever have a closer headspace than working then. You would hear helicopters and you would go diving into the bushes. You never knew when the day would come when they (law enforcement) would drop down.”
And during that time they were perceived as drug dealers in the conventional sense of the term, so there was a bigger risk of getting injured or shot?
Right, so there’s a lot of stories about how gung ho these guys are, and how many of these things go bad, and people get mistreated. I would say up until the medical law passed, and for the first three or four years after that. It almost immediately began transitioning away from what it was. But yeah, I spent two seasons working there before the law passed, before prop 215 passed. And it was helicopters and military convoys and lots of busts and lots of paranoia… it was the Wild West, you know.
So, after prop 215, things shifted. What did that look like?
[…] At first when the law passed, the general mood of people in the industry was disbelief. People thought… I remember people saying, ‘well I’m not going to go get one of those licenses because they’re just going to put you on a list and then when it gets repealed next year we’re all going to be rounded up.’ At the time they still […] you can say that it’s random but… I would describe the Sheriff’s as many things but stupid is not one of them. Those people knew exactly what was going on […] and when the most outspoken people get busted it doesn’t look random.
How has it changed for you since then?
[The industry has changed]. Outdoor weed would sell at wholesale, and by wholesale I mean 10 or more pounds at a time, north of 4000 a pound, and less than 10 it would cost around 4800 a pound… and the risks involved were really high. I would say that on average people grow more now than they did before because the risks were so much higher. The mom and pop grower back then grew less pounds than their counterpart in today’s business, but they made more money because they were getting four times as much for their product.
So you can grow your plants in the full sun now, which wasn’t the popular thing to do. They were hidden in trees, and places they wouldn’t be seen by helicopters. So all I can say is the per pound rate has gone down, but I see the overall prosperity of the industry as having gone up. Because your rate of success is higher.
How else has it changed?
The first wave was the hippies who travelled all over the world and brought back genetics that made Northern California the marijuana epicenter of the world. And the back to land movement, they were the first wave. Those people lived a rugged existence. Those people lived an existence that makes The Pines look like the Ritz… (growing on) a lot of land with no water on it, or land that had horrible access, if access at all… and where do I fit in? I am the last wave of people that were willing to get into the industry when it was still illegal. Because people who came after that look at it very differently than I do.
How do they look at it?
As an entitlement. Where medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana, are a foregone conclusion. Not something that people spent 50 years fighting for, that people to this day are still in jail for. For me, I am still connected to the political protest past, and so I know people have literally had their skulls cracked in for your right to not get arrested for possessing weed. And then I see people act as if its some sort of entitled right to be able to grow and sell, and this and that.
What are your thoughts on the most recent legislation (the passing of medical marijuana regulatory bills) that’s happened?
I think its really, really important legislation. I think it’s the smartest thing California has done on this issue in 18 years. I think it will create another transitional phase […] even though these transitions can be turbulent and hard for a lot of people; it’s the next step for the legalization of marijuana. I feel privileged to be here at this time, there are plenty of folks from that first wave that I talked about that died and never saw this. But there always has to be someone will to start the movement. The reason I was so drawn to this movement in the first place was because I saw marijuana as a moral issue. I saw it as something our government was clearly wrong about. And I seriously wondered if our system worked. If the power really resides with ‘we the people.’ And the truth is it does. We’re just too lazy to change shit. I really feel that way about it. I feel like there are people that lay their life down and aren’t thought about any more. There are people in prison right now for possessing amounts of marijuana that are no longer illegal.
I’m not saying cannabis prohibition is special, unique, or the worst, or even in the top ten immoral fucking things our government has done. It’s not. It’s just the one thing I thought maybe we could change. And we did. It’s a symbol. If anybody tries to tell you that you can’t change anything and that participating in politics doesn’t matter, I point to this and say you’re wrong. My kids aren’t going to have to grow up in the same world I grew up in where a simple choice like that can brand you for life as a degenerate.