Marijuana smuggling won't end with legalization. In fact, this may just be the beginning.
Known just as much for his music as his avid use of marijuana, Bob Marley had long been an advocate for the use of this natural drug. While Marley mainly “smoked the pots” due to his strict practice of the Rastafarian religion, where the use of “ganga” is a holy sacrament, others use the drug for a variety of reasons. Its soothing effects are enough to justify its use by some, while many have turned to marijuana for its medicinal benefits. For those willing to take the risk, marijuana cultivation and distribution is HIGHLY profitable, and there are a lucky few who have made it out alive of the trade to tell their stories of the old days. Today these tales of the early days of marijuana dealing, smoking, and promoting, seem as old as the american wester. But the resurgence of these near forgotten tales of fact based fiction give tremendous insight into what lies ahead of us. A look back gives us a glimpse into a future where the cut throat dealers are big companies, and the heroes, the small independents who do it for the glory.
Based on a True Story
The leggy blonde in the backseat giggles as our car makes its way through the northern coastal mountains of California's marijuana-rich Emerald Triangle- encompassing Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties. Behind the wheel of the tricked-out Buick is Marengo, one of the last of the great American dope-dealing outlaws. Overhead, a CAMP (California Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) helicopter roars by. Marengo eyes the rearview mirror, leans back a bit and passes a pungent joint to his Swedish mol.
“Our journalist friend wants to know what our closest brush with getting busted was, Britt," says Marengo over the squawk of his CB, illegally tuned in to the CAMP Channel.
Britt blows on her freshly painted nails. “That's easy," she purs. “Remember the time we ran into that sheriff in the redwood forest?"
Marengo rubs his unshaven stubble and Smiles. The flash of his luminescent teeth reminds me of Jack Nicholson's sinister Smile. An American who takes his nickname from Napoleon's white stallion at the battle of Waterloo, Marengo comes across as that same sort of roughhousing bon vivant with his fiendish, seductive appeal.
"Oh yeah," he laughs. "That sheriff!”
They proceed to tell me about a dope run they made one Thanksgiving. The pair had been careening down Highway 101 through majestic, virgin timberland on their way to Los Angeles, with over forty pounds of the finest pot grown in America stuffed into the trunk of their car. Happy to be headed home, horny Britt was sucking Marengo's cock in celebration when all hell broke loose.
"It was raining buckets and I was speeding so fast that we were just touching the road in spots," recalls Marengo. "She's giving me head and I'm about to come, when suddenly we hit a massive puddle and start hydroplaning across the road. We skidded off the highway into a ditch. There was come all over the Windshield, and Britt hit the back of her head against the Steering wheel."
“I could've bitten your dick off," Britt laughs as she lights up another joint.
Although the car was stuck in a culvert in the pouring rain, Marengo sprang into action: "I tied a winch cable to the bumper and wrapped it around a redwood. We began to drag the car up the side of the ditch when I saw a sheriff's vehicle pull up on the road above us." Marengo, taking a big hit on the joint, smiles when he comes to this part of the story. "Britt knew just what to do and came out of the car without a raincoat. Her nipples were stiff like thumbs and she flirted with this dumb cop in the rain."
Soon enough, the oblivious sheriff attached his winch to the car and eventually the trio succeeded in pulling the pot-laden vehicle onto the highway. Then–with an eyeful of tit, no doubt—the officer invited the couple back to his cabin to enjoy a holiday feast and wait out the storm.
"The squall was bad,” muses Britt as she pulls out a pair of binoculars and checks the route behind us. "At first we were scared to follow this geek home, but we figured it would look suspicious to split."
They ended up at the sheriff's rustic layout and met his wife and eighteen-year old daughter. Sitting down to a home-cooked turkey dinner with the friendly family, Britt noticed the saucer-eyed looks the teenager was giving Marengo. "She couldn't keep her eyes off him," says Britt. "Definitely needed it. I knew the only way we could all play together was to take the sheriff and his wife out of the picture."
"Britt had the mother totally charmed," Marengo continues. "And with Pops slugging down brews and looking at her boobs all night, it was a breeze," guffaws the dealer. Britt had brought in from the car a fresh batch of her beguiling marijuana brownies and offered them up as thanks for the family's hospitality. Soon enough, the Sheriff and his Wife Were stoned and snoring in front of the television set, leaving the randy, wide-awake daughter alone with them at last.
"Marengo went out back to the cabin's Jacuzzi and smoked a joint with her while I cleaned up," says Britt. "When the dishes were done, I went and hopped in the whirlpool and we both made love with her. She was very young and also very sweet. That night together was heaven." The next morning the sheriff and his wife woke up with hangovers unlike any they'd ever known, their guests long since gone.
Marengo pulls the Buick off the road. A barely discernible dirt path, covered with branches, is our entrance to a hidden marijuana ranch high in the Coast mountain range. We push the brush aside and the car pulls in. After replacing the camouflage, we corkscrew even higher, through a maze of pine and fir trees. The Buick is equipped with special shocks designed to hydraulically lift the car over rough spots.
As he negotiates this beastly road, Marengo informs me that we're headed for the hidden ranch of one of his associates, a major grower and one of those responsible for cultivating the Golden State's largest cash crop. It's estimated that California's annual marijuana haul is worth three billion dollars. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws reported that a recent, nationwide harvest produced a record 18.6-billion-dollar haul, challenging corn as the nation's most valuable crop. Seventy-five percent of that dope was the expensive, potent sinsemilla (without seeds) that California growers specialize in.
It's meant a comfortable living for Marengo, who, after three decades in the business, estimates his annual profit at somewhere between one hundred thousand and four hundred thousand dollars. As more research is done on marijuana proving the limited long-term effects, profits are through the roof. If Marengo would have stuck it out a few more years, he could’ve walked away with enough money to buy an island and smoke bud ‘til the day he died. The marijuana industry will continue to grow as expected, and those smart enough to realize it will someday be federally legalized should make some moves out west. (In case you’re bad at taking hints, here’s my advice: MOVE TO CALIFORNIA AND GET IN ON THE ACTION). Anyways, back to Marengo.
"She likes rocks,” he says with a shrug and a nod to Britt's jewelry. "I figure Britt wears enough ice to bail me out for a lifetime." Britt titters and playfully musses Marengo's thinning hair.
A Slick Operation
We drive up to a large A-frame cabin nestled in the hills above the Pacific Coast. Trained German shepherds surround the Buick as we get out. Luckily, they know Marengo and Britt and we are spared a severe mauling. Pat, an established grower and broker, walks out to meet us, hugging his old compadre Marengo.
"So this is the journalist," he smiles as he shakes my hand. "Wanna know about our operation?" He winks as he leads me to the production shed. There, half a dozen "green-collar" workers strip seven-foot pot plants of their valuable buds. The one hundred-degree heat in the shed is unbearable, but also quite necessary. "The warmth helps dry out the dope," Pat explains, "keeping it mold-free during shipment and distribution.”
The operation is slick. The grass is carefully weighed and packed in one-kilo bundles, then sealed in air-tight plastic bags. In another corner of the operation, money is counted by machine. As everything falls into place, Pat and Marengo amuse themselves by telling me of the ineffective methods the police have tried in the ongoing effort to bust their business.
"These high-school dropouts fly over us, trying to spot our fields. And they know it doesn't get the job done,” Pat says with a laugh. Indeed, many of the helicopter flybys usually just involve photographing the land, hoping that the computer scanners aboard the choppers will detect the uniquely colored vegetation. If a surveillance team spots what they think is a marijuana patch, the area's coordinates are fed into the CAMP computer. Within hours, if all goes correctly, a team of Drug Enforcement Agency officials sweep in to cut, bundle and burn the illegal crop.
The high-tech war against weed has forced growers to seek new ways to cultivate and conceal their product. To confound the helicopters' on-board color sensors, growers have taken to spraying their plants with a dust of ground, dead bees, which alters the tint of the illicit herb without affecting its potency. Some have also been known to dig huge trenches in which they bury ship-size containers filled with an artificial "soil” of redwood sawdust and mulch nutrients. These containers, accessed by tunnels, serve as subterranean farms, with generators providing light and irrigation. It's the ideal growing environment for America's strongest reefer.
Into the Woods
I follow Marengo and Pat into a beautiful meadow dotted with oak trees. "You're standing where just about an hour ago was about ten grand worth of pot," grins Pat. Marengo laughs as I look around in vain for the stash. Then Pat points up into the majestic black oak looming overhead. Suspended above are dozens of mature marijuana bushes growing in containers connected to the tree's limbs by ropes and pulleys. The plants, lowered daily so they can reap the rewards of direct sunlight, are hoisted up into the cover of the branches when helicopters are heard approaching. At night the plants are protected from hungry deer and raccoon by being suspended high off the ground. Thieves are discouraged from ripping off the plants by a plethora of safeguards that vary from grower to grower pungi sticks, trip wires, booby traps and, in one reported case, Siberian tigers.
We return to the car as the workers finish stuffing the trunk with dope. Britt has undergone a miraculous transformation.
"She calls it her Nancy Reagan look," remarks Marengo, commenting on his woman's conservative getup. "Fuckin'eh!" he cackles, as he changes into a cheap polyester suit. Pat affixes DARE-Dare to Keep Kids Off Drugs—bumper stickers to the Buick. The joints in the ashtray are removed and a bible and other assorted religious material are scattered on the dashboard. Marengo and Britt now look like a couple of born-again pinheads spreading the word of the Lord up and down the California coast. It's the perfect cover.
As we make our way back to the highway, another CAMP helicopter hovers overhead in search of secret pastures. I can't help but wonder how the stiffer new laws proposed by President Bush and drug czar William Bennett will affect California's bud business. The administration recently suggested civil fines of up to ten thousand dollars for simple possession of small amounts of pot, in addition to numerous new laws that empower authorities to seize cars, houses and personal possessions belonging to those involved in the drug trade. Surely, the dealers must be worried.
"Words, words, words,” says Marengo, quoting Hamlet as he adjusts his Do You Know Jesus? lapel button. "These Bush league attempts to stop folks from enjoying herb are ludicrous. Just because Bill Bennett has a fixation with dope doesn't mean that we're all bad guys like the cokers and will just fade away. Sure, have no problem with the government crushing the coke lords. But to put us in the same category as those Uzi-toting meatheads in crack land is fucking absurd and they know it."
Trouble. Up ahead, an impromptu roadblock manned by lawmen and dogs. The color drains from my face as speculate about the number of years I could spend behind bars for trying to get this story.
"Don't Sweat it, Sweetie," Britt assures me as a local cop strolls up to the car. The young Officers broad-brimmed hat looks too big for his head.
"Nice day for something, eh, Marengo?" the cop says leaning on the car door.
"Couldn't be nicer,” answers the desperado with a sly wink and a handshake filled with hundred-dollar bills. The cop comments on Britt's comely appearance and waves us on while his partner reins in the leash of an overeager, drug-sniffing pooch. I'm still sweating bullets.
"Don't get so worked up, Mike," Marengo intones softly as the roadblock fades into the distance behind us. “He used to be one of us and wouldn't dream of screwing up the local economy by busting anyone of the old group. It's the newcomers that he'll nab. That way he looks good, we're all safer and everybody gets rich.” Britt adjusts a strand of pearls around her long neck as if to illustrate the point.
The Journey Ahead
The long, strange journey delivering the goods to eager customers has just begun. Marengo and Britt have nearly eight hundred miles to travel before L.A.'s potheads taste the new season's bounty. Not only do they regularly carry a lot of dope, they have a few tricks up their sleeves too. One of them involves their method for getting unsuspecting travelers to tote their contraband for them.
"We can pack about twenty pounds of sense (sinsemilla) into a metal trunk equipped with industrial magnets. When we see a pair of old farts with L.A. plates Stumble into a restaurant, We'll attach the trunk to the top or side of their R.V. or trailer. They carry the load and we just follow them home.
"Once,” he elaborates, "I pulled a trunk off this couple's Winnebago after they'd parked at their home in Malibu. They sure were fucking surprised when explained that our luggage had miraculously fallen off our car and stuck to their aluminum box!"
This day, our smuggling trip is routine and free of any such gimmicks.
In L.A., Marengo stores his bounty in old, fully armed clunkers not registered in his name but parked close to his home. Beepers, phone and room debugging devices and a galaxy of secret storage places are all part of Marengo's attempt to keep the law from invading his carefully constructed security envelope.
His customers range from junior-college dropouts to powerful entertainment industry figures to lawyers. He reputedly unloads the best bud in L.A., With a reliability that provides him with loyal customers and that impressive cash flow. His lifestyle is opulent, if necessarily discreet.
"The lady and I still get our share of fun but it isn't the same,” he laments as the Buick cruises past the postcard panoramas of northern California, “This crack thing, all these designer drugs, are destroying the biz. Not to mention the intravenous drug users spreading AIDS."
We pull into a public beach parking lot and prepare to part ways. Britt paints her pouty Scandinavian lips an intoxicating red, while Marengo continues to muse Over his imminent demise.
“I knew it was all over when Britt and I were at this party of a famous Hollywood producer a few years ago. This cocaine kingpin jerk off had these 'strawberries' (girls who swap sex for drugs) banging his best friends for lines," he says with disdain. "It made me sick. All these flowers being raped by their drug habits. My message is simple: stay with the natural high and tell the coke kings to go eat shit."
It's an attitude that pretty much sums up Marengo and Britt, a couple of outlaws proud of the fact that their crime is all-American and free of foreign subterfuge. They faithfully buy American, sell American and reinvest in their country. No gangs, no guns, no gruesome drive-by slayings.
Whatever the morality of his illicit trade, Marengo's type—the renegade, the independent—is nearing extinction. Marengo himself plans to pack it up and see the world within the next year—hopefully, he says, before the last virgin jungles are cut down because of the enormous demand for cheap paper products.
"Hemp could save millions of acres of forest a year," is one of his pet arguments. That, and his argument that the legalization and taxation of marijuana could help wipe out the plague of hard drugs that is gnawing away at the heart and soul of the nation. In terms of pure agricultural sales, he says, the United States is missing out on over fifteen billion dollars a year in taxes. The plant is grown everywhere Old Glory is flown, from the sugarcane fields of Hawaii to the cornfields of the midwest, from the rich river bottoms of the south to the indoor, hydroponic "plantations” of California, Oregon and Washington.
Marengo has probably had a few consoling chuckles at the list of those who, share this belief. Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, economist Milton Friedman and political commentator William F. Buckley have all come out in favor of legalizing, taxing and having the government dispense certain drugs. Even U.S. district court judge Robert W. Sweet suggested in a recent speech that the result "would be the elimination of the profit motive, the gangs, the drug dealers."
The Modern Debate Over Legalization
The issue of legalization is not new within American society. Many, ranging from high-level politicians to every-day weed smokers, have voiced their opinions regarding the federal legalization of marijuana. As of 2016 however, those in favor have gathered significant traction towards their movement, as states such as California and Florida will hold a vote for legalization within the coming year.
This is due to a plethora of reasons, however mainly the large tax revenues generated from legalization that would go towards education and infrastructure ($120 million alone in Colorado in November 2015), the positive impact it would have on the drug war with Mexican cartels, and the new scientific evidence that has surfaced, proving the medical benefits of both THC and CBD, chemicals found within the drug.
As of the early 21st century, there were twenty-five states, including the District of Columbia, that have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Still, however, marijuana is classified by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, one with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Despite its illegal classification, marijuana consumption will continue to increase in the future, and a few states’ inability to adapt to a modern world will not stop weed lovers from getting their dose of ganja.