The War on Weed is over, somewhat, in some ways, for some of us, in some of the country-so how do you grow Cannabis sativa without breaking the law?
Have you ever dreamed of growing completely legal cannabis, in a lush garden next to your house, without worrying about nosy neighbors, the local sheriff or even the DEA? Would you enjoy starting your day by walking barefoot through your own private, state-sanctioned medical-marijuana garden, calmly watering your 10-foot-tall Jack Herer plants while the morning sun glistens off the thick coat of resin covering the uppermost buds?
Naturally, you allow yourself to indulge in that kind of pleasant daydreaming every now and again, but its just the stuff of fantasy, right? The part in the movie where Tommy Chong wakes up from his hazy stupor and discovers that the local drug task force has just taken his prized plant hostage so they can secretly smoke it themselves, or some such. Only here's the thing: Cultivating legal pot Sensi Skunk Autoflowering is no longer a fantasy, a pipe dream or even a wonderful future inevitability still just out of reach.
In 14 states (and growing), medical marijuana already enjoys some level of official legal protection, and most pot pundits point to last Novembers presidential election as the biggest tipping point in Mary Jane's favor since voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996—a ballot initiative that made California the first state to protect medical-marijuana patients hanfanbau, growers and providers.
For 12 years following the passage of Prop. 215, as state after state boldly followed California's lead, the federal government steadfastly refused to recognize any law approving marijuana use of any kind. In fad, during both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, this discrepancy led to
prosecution of those fully in compliance with state law. For example, in Rasch v. Ashcroft, the federal government went all the way to the Supreme Court in order to affirm its right to arrest a woman suffering from fibromyalgia, endometriosis, scoliosis, asthma and an inoperable brain tumor, all because she grew her own marijuana, on her own property, and consumed it entirely herself—on the recommendation of her doctor, and in complete compliance with California state law.
With the election of Barack Obama, that policy changed. Asked on the campaign trail for his position, Obama called medical marijuana "entirely appropriate" and promised an end to DEA raids of medical-cannabis providers in states with laws protecting them. But just two days after Obama 's historic inauguration, the DEA raided a medical-marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe, CA. Two weeks later, the DEA raided another California dispensary, this time on the very day that Eric Holder, the new US attorney general, took office. In both instances, the raids appeared timed to embarrass the new administration into maintaining the status quo.
In response, the medical-marijuana community—highly organized after decades of struggle, oppression and resistance—made its voice heard in Washington. Following a public outcry, Holder—freshly minted as the "highest" law-enforcement officer in the land—reaffirmed the new administration's hands-off policy on medicinal pot. Asked if the post-inauguration medical-marijuana raids would continue, the attorney general of the United States said, "No. What the president said during the campaign ... is now American policy." On October 19th of last year, the administration followed up in writing, sending a memo to US Attorneys affirming that while marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and prosecution of black market marijuana would continue, the Justice Department "should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."
So there you have it: If your state allows you to grow, smoke or even distribute medical marijuana, the big bad Feds have vowed to respect those laws. But a few questions remain: How exactly do I follow state law? What about local ordinances? And what if the cops decide to bust me anyway?
All valid concerns. The chart on page 50 offers a broad overview of medical-marijuana laws state by state, including any limits on the amount of dried cannabis or living plants you can lawfully possess. More information, including local ordinances, can be found online at safeaccessnow.org, by contacting your state, county or municipal government directly, or by contacting a knowledgeable attorney in your area.
As you can imagine, though, in an area of the law this new and this controversial, there have been many skirmishes back and forth, not only between state governments and the Feds, but also between local and state governments. San Diego County actually sued the State of California in an attempt to block implementation of medical-marijuana laws. After losing in the lower courts, the politically conservative county
appealed to the US Supreme Court, which in May 2009 refused to hear the case—a major victory for medical-marijuana activists, since it effectively affirmed earlier decisions, thereby forcing San Diego County to implement a medical-marijuana ID program.
Unfortunately, not everyone seems to have gotten the memo, and the fight against medical marijuana rages on in certain areas—but with an important new twist. Now the powers that be must prove that you violated state or local law, instead of relying on the federal government as the law-enforcement option of last resort.
So while the current system's far from perfect, and vindictive law-enforcement officials in many regions still have it in for a medical-marijuana movement they've never truly accepted, those who doubt the scale and sweep of change should check out www.hightimes.com/12pounds/ and watch a video of Richard DaLeman, from Visalia, CA, rolling 12 pounds of previously confiscated medical marijuana out of the Tulare County Courthouse after officials determined it was improperly seized and must be returned to its rightful owner.
Anyway, lately, legalized medical marijuana has become something of an obsession in the media, with much of the coverage surprisingly positive, and most of the attention on California. The Golden State has captured the popular imagination for a variety of reasons: Its the nation's traditional "breadbasket" of ganja growing; the state government's massive budget shortfall has made the marijuana business an increasingly important (and recession-proof) sector of the economy; and, by a wide margin, California has the largest number of licensed medical-marijuana patients.
Perhaps most importantly, California's the state with the greatest number of medical-marijuana dispensaries, some of which have been up and running 10 years or longer, having completed a journey from civil disobedience against the federal government's all-out ban to openly selling medical cannabis as respected members of the local community.
Strongly opposed to the Vietnam War and an ardent environmentalist, Brown was dubbed "Governor Moonbeam" in the '70s for his liberal views. Today, he's looking like an early frontrunner to return to the governor's mansion in 2010. And while critics may argue that there's nothing wrong with making a profit on medical pot, the law (and perhaps basic morality) disagrees. Besides, true pot-profit seekers should be working full tilt for the complete legalization of recreational marijuana for adults. Until then, what's wrong with real ganja growers making "a living, not a killing," while the big-business bastards who fought against medical pot for years have to sit on the sidelines?
According to the guidelines, "nothing in Proposition 215 or the Medical Marijuana Program Ad authorizes collectives, cooperatives or individuals to profit from the sale or distribution of marijuana." Which means that while you can receive "reasonable compensation" (i.e., a salary) for your work as part of a nonprofit pot collective or cooperative—and the California Board of Equalization requires you to charge a tax on any sales—you still can't make a single cent of profit on sinsemilla.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, would-be pot profiteers! And while you're at it, give Jerry Brown's guidelines a careful read. Using precise legal language, Brown's 11-page document makes it clear that exactly three paths exist for those who wish to use, possess, cultivate, transport or distribute medical cannabis while still obeying the law. I recently journeyed to Northern California for a first-hand look at medical growers engaged in all three approaches.
Arriving in the glorious days just before harvest, Senior Cultivation Editor Danny Danko and I took a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the first NoCal medical-marijuana crop grown with the tacit approval of the federal government. What we discovered was a pot paradise, with longtime farmers bringing their cannabis out of its hiding spots in remote guerrilla patches and energy-intensive indoor growrooms, and returning the herb to its proper place in full sunshine, alongside every other eatable and/or medicinal plant in the garden.
The dream is real, my friends. According to the Attorney General of California, you can cultivate cannabis without becoming a criminal in one of the following three ways.
According to the guidelines, a primary caregiver is "a person who is designated by a qualified patient and has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health or safety of the patient." A qualified medical-marijuana patient can serve as his or her own primary caregiver, and also can serve as the primary caregiver to one or more other qualified patients.
As stated earlier, selling pot for profit is strictly forbidden, but "a primary caregiver who receives compensation for actual expenses, including reasonable compensation incurred for services provided, to enable [a patient] to use marijuana ... shall not, on the sole basis of that fad, be subject to prosecution."
"I'm just trying to ensure that my uncle has safe access to the best medicine possible, at the lowest cost, and it turns out that growing your own is the ideal way to make that happen," explains Josh, a medical-marijuana primary caregiver in Humboldt County, while leading Danny and I on a guided tour of his small but beautiful six-plant medical garden, located just steps from the front door of his modest home in the hills. 'With such a small number of plants to tend and no law-enforcement worries, I'm able to devote my total attention to cultivating the best strains at their highest potency, using the healthiest organic-growing methods."
Mixed in among vegetables, salad greens, fruit trees and companion plants designed to attract beneficial insects, Josh's Trainwreck plants represent not just legally grown marijuana, but also potentially life-saving medicine for his uncle, who uses cannabis to treat multiple sclerosis.
Although California law doesn't define "collectives" as such, the attorney general's guidelines describe them as nonprofit organizations "jointly owned and operated by the members of the group," which "merely facilitate the collaborative efforts of patient and caregiver members—including the allocation of costs and revenues."
A collective need not be a "statutory entity"—one officially recognized by the state—but the guidelines do suggest that a collective "might have to organize as some form of business to carry out its activities." The advantages of a collective include the ability to pool resources and expertise to produce the best supply of medicine, at the lowest cost, for a closed group of patients. A collective can grow its own or hire a grower to cultivate for its members, but either way, all harvested cannabis must be shared within the collective.
By working together, were able to ensure a steady supply of the highest-quality cannabis imaginable—truly medicinal-grade plant matter—at a fraction of the cost of the black market," says Sarah, a member of a longstanding collective in Trinity County, as she rolls up some of the amazing outdoor organic she recently harvested on behalf of her 15-member organization. "I'd hate to be out here trying to compete with some giant, corporate-controlled marijuana factory farm. To me, that's almost more frightening than the cops."
With so many patients to supply, Sarah has dedicated herself full-time to growing ganja, drawing a salary from the collective that allows her to live comfortably on some of the most beautiful land in the world. Needless to say, Sarah's a happy woman.
More strictly defined by the guidelines than a collective, a cooperative "must file articles of incorporation with the state and conduct its business for the mutual benefit of its members." Cooperatives are also required to register under the Corporations or Food and Agriculture Code.
Much like food co-ops, agricultural co-ops and other non-marijuanarelated businesses that adopt the model, a medical-cannabis co-op must be democratically controlled by its members and must also be nonprofit, with the earnings and savings of the business used for the general welfare of its members, or equitably distributed to its members." There's a lot more official paperwork involved than with a collective—a record-keeping burden that offers both advantages and disadvantages.
'We decided to form a cooperative because it seemed like the best way to keep on top of all our transactions, including expenses, dues, harvests and distribution, so that we can constantly ensure that were in compliance with the law," says Barry, a longtime grower in Lake County, as we navigate the epicly winding roads that conned two of his collective's four distinct gardens. "Just last year, we were following the exact same rules, but we were totally dependent of the approval of local law enforcement and the whims of the federal government. Now, its different—we just have to keep all of our files in order."
Barry smiles as we bring the car to a stop within view of a massive greenhouse overflowing with budding monster ganja trees. With "plant limits" restricting medical-marijuana patients and providers to only so many plants at a time, growers have every incentive to cultivate the biggest buds possible under the sun.
Meanwhile, Barry tells us about a recent visit from the local sheriff. Four officers arrived at this remote outpost on ATVs, sniffing around to make sure all the plants were legal and accounted for by the collective. Barry showed them the laminated doctors recommendations posted next to the garden, took them on a plant-by-plant inspection tour, and even offered up some homegrown cantaloupe.
"Man, three of those guys were super-nice," Barry recalls. The other one was kind of stand-offish, you know what I mean?"
Coming from a state with no laws to protect even the sickest patients with even the smallest amounts of cannabis, Danny and I listen to Barry s lament—that one of the four cops inspecting his massive pot plants wasn't "super-nice"—and it strikes us as kind of funny. Its like were visiting a different country ... one that treats its citizens with a lot more respect.