Marijuana’s Going Legal

Hard to believe, but America’s long prohibition against marijuana may be coming to an end, at least in places like Colorado and Washington State, both of which voted this week to legalize pot.  And that’s for recreation, not for any medical purpose, real or phony.  In 16 other states and D.C. marijuana is legal with a doctor’s prescription.


I wasn’t surprised by this week’s results, because I’d recently read Supercharged – How Outlaws, Hippies and Scientists Reinvented Marijuana  by Jim Rendon, where I learned that public support for legalization jumped from 31% in 2000 to  50% in 2011. Unlike the “Legends of marijuana journalism” that I blogged about last week, this author  is a traditional journalist not part of the pot scene, so he immersed himself in the breeding, growing and medical dispensary world and takes us along for the ride.  Here are some of the highlights for me as a gardener…and former hippie.

What’s New in Marijuana Breeding and Using

I was amazed to read that there are roughly 2,000 strains of cannabis and that the plant is easy to pollinate and to breed and that now it’s possible to choose pot according to its particular chemical make-up.  Want it for medical purposes only, no high desired?  No problem – just buy pot that’s high in CBDs (cannabidiol) and low in the high-producing THC.  Pure CBDs are also available in a spray that patients apply under their tongue, and there’s no high experienced at all.  Or alternatively, you can choose the extra-high varieties that are high THC/low CBD.  And more choices abound for those seeking the high – either Indica- type marijuana for a more physical high that won’t keep you up at night, or the Sativa type for a more mental high, “good for partying.”

And the rumor that today’s pot is much stronger is mostly true.  It CAN have five times the THC as typical pot grown in the ’70s.  And incredibly,  while typical black market marijuana contains 1 to 8 percent THC, dispensary marijuana is usually a whopping 20 percent THC!

The spray form of marijuana as medicine was developed by GW Pharmaceuticals  in UK and reflects a new professionalism in MJ breeding and growing.  Organic gardeners will be pleased to know they use no pesticides, just beneficial insects.  Not everyone’s happy about GW and its practices, however; some growers told Rendon they feared that GW would become the “Monsanto of cannabis.”

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. of A, the illegality of marijuana is standing in the way of professional breeding.  Production is totally unregulated.  Breeders can’t claim legal rights to plant strains they develop.  Rather than breeding with large samples, what’s done is “quick-turnaround” breeding with small numbers of plants, which doesn’t produce the best results.  And this:  “Untold numbers of genetic lines have been destroyed by the police in raids.”

What’s new in Growing

I’ve always wondered Northern California is such a hot spot for marijuana production; is it the climate?  Seems it’s more to do with the migration of pot-smokers from places like Haight Ashbury.  Today Humboldt County still has a large number of growers, but pot-growing is becoming less and less regional.  Now it’s grown just about everywhere.

One growing technique I’d love to see in person is the growing of pot in trees, the better to avoid detection by cops on the ground and in planes.  It’s achieved by hauling 10-galllon pots up 40 feet into trees and tying them to the trunk with bailing wire.  The trees are pruned to provide just enough camouflage while causing as little shading of the MJ as possible.

During the ’80s and ’90s most American pot-growing was done indoors, away from police spying, through the use of hydroponics.  With legalization, pot-growing is moving back outdoors because the best marijuana is grown organically, in the ground.  (As hydroponics expert Tom Alexander told me, ” Hydroponics are like jug wine.”)  Another factor in the movement outdoors is the tremendous amount of electricity used in indoor production – estimated to be 3 percent of California’s total electricity usage.

You can learn to grow pot at the wonderfully named Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California. (Get it?  Amsterdam in Oakland.)  Or by watching any number of videos on Youtube, like this one by pot-growing guru Jorge Cervantes.

The Wild, Weird World of Legal Pot

Small growers express fears of being driven out of business by “Big Pot” and that squeeze is noticeable at the point of sale.  Harborside Health Center, the most professional, upscale pot dispensary in California, is pointed to as a model for the industry, but small growers can’t compete for dispensary business.  Many say they’ll just continue to sell recreationally – meaning illegally – for now at least.

California’s total marijuana crop, for both medical and recreational markets, is estimated to be worth $14 billion annually.  No wonder states are eager to tax the stuff.

One seasoned grower predicts this for Northern California: “Humbolt and Mendocino could become the Napa Vally for cannabis, with boutique tasting rooms, farm tours, even zip lines above the fields.”  And it gets better as he continues describing the scene:  “We want the baby boomer who smoked Humboldt weed in the 1970s and 1980s.  Now he’s retired, got some arthritis.  He spends all of his paycheck at Whole Foods buying organic food and a nice bottle of wine.  That is the market we want.”  Yep, talking about my peeps.

Win Supercharged

I found Supercharged to be a definitive overview of an important and fascinating plant undergoing a politically charged transition, and a great read.  To win a copy just leave a comment telling us why you’re interested.  Ascribing your interest to “a friend” is, of course, an option.  Deadline is Friday, November 16 at midnight EST.