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Newsgroups: talk.politics.drugs,alt.hemp,alt.drugs.pot
Subject: NYTimes Article (LONG)
Message-ID: <>
From: (Red Green)
Date: 22 Feb 95 11:02:30 CST

There are many typos, beg forgiveness.  Sorry you can't see the pictures :)

New York Times Magazine
February 19, 1995

AMERICA'S NO.I cash crop.

THE STATE of the art in horticulture.

A CRIME punishable by life behind bars.


hundred American gardeners gathered over a holiday weekend not long ago to
compare horticultural notes, swap seeds, debate the merits of various new
hybrids and gadgets and, true to their
 kind, indulge in a bit of boasting about their gardens back home.
Gardeners talking the back-fence talk of gardeners everywhere, except that
these gardeners hap- pened to be criminals.  Sunday afternoon's panel
discussion had just adjourned, and gardeners were milling in small knots
among the potted marijuana plants that dotted the room like ficus trees in
a hotel lobby. Brian R, a grower in his 20's who is originally from
Washington and
 now lives in the Netherlands, was showing off a bud from his garden,
pointing out its exceptional "calyx to leaf ratio." With his oversize
glasses, basement complexion and a taste for the kind of button- down
short-sleeve shirt that usually keeps company
 with a plastic pocket protector, Brian looked more like a computer
programmer than a gardener. But then, the most sophisticated marijuana
gardening today takes place indoors, where technological prowess counts
for as much as horticultural skill. 
 Brian noted proudly that his bud had been produced under a 600- watt
light sodium light in 60 days, a fact that clearly impressed a beefy older
gardener from Florida.  "Would you just look at that bud structure,"  the
fellow said, drawing me closer.  The
 bud looked like a lump of hairy, desiccated animal scat.  "See how tight
it is?  all those crystals? That's one very pretty little bud."  The
gardener from Florida passed it under his nostrils, appraising it like a
cork.  "I'd say this man clearly knows what he's doing." Brian smiled
broadly and offered his new friend a taste. Now trading impressions
gleaned from a joint the size of a small cigar, the two gardeners fell
headlong into an arcane discussion of light levels and cellular cloning,
proper curing technique and the relative merit of Cannabis sativa and
Cannabis indica.  I think of myself as fairly knowledgeable gardener, but
I was lost.  The occasion was the Cannabis Cup, a convention, harvest
festival and industry trade show sponsored by High Times magazine and held
each year over Thanksgiving weekend in Amsterdam,
 where the cultivation and possession of small amounts of marijuana, while
technically illegal are tolerated. On the first floor of the Pax Party
House, a catering hall and meeting center in a residential section of the
city, panels convened each aft ernoon to discuss the latest trends in
marijuana horticulture and review developments in the hemp fiber industry. 
Upstairs in the exposition hall, hundreds of conventiongoers strolled past
booths displaying high-tech gardening equipment, marijuana seed catalogues
and wholesale lines of hemp clothing & hemp foods and hemp cosmetics.
Multiply the number of booths, pu mp in large quantities of marijuana
smoke and the scene might have been the Jacob Javits Center, thronged with
pushy exhibitors rehearsing their pitches, handing out samples, writing up
orders. Things got very mellow in the evenings, however, when the
 delegates assembled in the main hall for comparison tastings of new
hybrid strains, ultimately casting their votes for the world's best
marijuana. Seeds of the winning cultivators would be smuggled home with
the gardeners, to be planted as part of n ext season's crop.  I had come
to Amsterdam to meet some of these gardeners and learn how, in little more
than a decade, marijuana growing in America had evolved from a hobby of
aging hippies into a burgeoning high-tech industry with earnings that are
estimated at $32 b illion a year. That makes it easily the nation's
biggest cash crop. Unlike corn ($14 billion) or soybeans ($11 billion),
however, modern marijuana farming depends less on soil and sunlight than
technology, allowing it to thrive not only in the fields of the farm belt
but in downtown apartments and lofts, in suburban basements and attics,
even in closets.  Fewer than 20 years ago, virtually all the marijuana
consumed in America was imported. "Home grown"  was a term of
opprobrium—"something you only smoked in an emergency," as one grower old
enough to remember put it. Today, thanks in no small part to t he efforts
of the people assembled in this hall—as well as to the Federal war on
drugs, which gave the domestic industry a leg up by protecting it from
foreign imports and providing a spur to innovation— American marijuana
cultivation has developed t o the point where the potency, quality and
consistency of the domestic product are considered as good as, if not
better than, any in the world In an era of global competition, the rise of
a made-in America marijuana industry is one of the more striking—if
perhaps least welcome—economic success stories of the 1980's and 90's.
Domestic growers now dominate the high end of a market consisting of at
least 12 million occasional users;  on Wall Street, in Hollywood, on
colleges campuses, consumers pay $300 to $500 an ounce for the
re-engineered home-grown product, and even more for the "connoisseur"'
varieties grown by the kind of small sophi sticated growers on hand for
the Cannabis Cup. Peering through the haze at the conventioneers milling
in the Pax Party House, Brian R declared in a tone of deep reverence,
"There are a lot of true pioneers in this room." 


A bit of historical perspective, by way of a confession: Not only did your
correspondent once inhale but, like a great many other gardeners (and
nongardeners) of my generation, I also once grew.  It was more than a
decade ago, and in a very different time. Only a few years before, in
1977, President Carter had endorsed decriminalization of marijuana and
even the Drug Enforcement Administration was entertaining the idea; 10
states, including New York, had already taken that step, though
mine—Connect icut—was not one of them.  My own experience growing pot was
a fiasco. In my backyard, I'd planted a couple of seedlings sprouted from
some "Maui Zowie" given to me by my sister's boyfriend. Within months, my
avid weeds had ballooned to the size of small trees, rendering them
uncomfortably conspicuous. The plants continued to grow at an alarming
rate right into fall, though for some reason they refused to flower. This
didn't greatly trouble me, however, since in those days people still
smoked marijuana leaves. (When I men tioned this quaint practice to Brian,
he roared with laughter. Nowadays, only sinsemilla—the seedless bud of a
female plant—is considered worth smoking; all the rest, called "shake," is
usually thrown out.) My days as a marijuana farmer ended abruptly one
October morning, when a fellow delivering a cord of firewood happened to
let drop that he was the police chief of a neighboring town—this while
standing in my driveway, a single well-aimed glance awa y from my 12-foot
marijuana plants I managed just barely to steer him off the property
before the spotted them. Immediately thereafter, I harvested my first and
last crop: a couple of pounds of leaves that I literally could not give
away.  What had been a mildly humorous close call in 1980 (for all my
paranoia, I risked little more than a fine and some embarrassment) would
be distinctly unamusing in 1995. Today, the penalty for the cultivation of
a kilo—2.2 pounds—or more of marijuana in the state of Connecticut is a
five year mandatory minimum sentence. Like most states Connecticut rewrote
its drug laws during the late 1980's to impose heavy new penalties for
marijuana crimes, but Connecticut's are by no means the harshest: in Ok
lahoma, cultivating any amount of marijuana can result in a life sentence.
A jail time is not the only penalty I would face were the police chief to
find a couple of pot plants on my property today. Regardless of whether or
not I was ultimately convic ted of any crime, his department could seize
my house and land and use the proceeds in any way it saw fit: a new
cruiser, a pay raise whatever.  This is America in the time of the drug
war. A relatively little-known aspect of that war is that many Federal and
state laws have been rewritten to erase the distinction between marijuana
and hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, on the Regan-era theo ry that the
best approach to the drug problem is "zero tolerance." Today, the Federal
penalties for possession of a hundred marijuana plant and a hundred grams
of heroin are identical: a mandatory 5- to 40-year sentence, without
chance of parole.  An American convicted of murder can expect too spend ,
on average, less than nine years behind bars.  Many Americans, perhaps
recalling the legal and cultural climate of the 70's, wrongly assume that
marijuana has not been an important front in the drug war. Yet under the
crime bill passed last summer, the cultivation of 60,000 marijuana plants
is an
 offense punishable by death. Nowadays, marijuana is seldom grown on that
scale; pot farming is by and large a cottage industry in which a thousand
plants would be considered a big grow Even so, there are more than 30
people in the country serving li fe sentences for the crime of growing
marijuana.  With so much more at stake, the techniques of growing
marijuana, as well as the genetics marijuana plant itself, have been
revolutionized in the last 10 to 15 years—as one glance at the potted
marijuana plants on display in the convention hall made p lain. Apart from
the familiar leaf pattern these plants looked nothing like the plants I
had grown. They looked more like marijuana bonsai larger than a patio
tomato plant and yet fully mature, their stems bending under the weight of
buds thick as fis ts.  While I was examining these specimens, wonder how
the feat of miniaturization had been achieved, Brian drifted over to chat.
He explained that plants such as these were in all likelihood of a modern
hybrid strain that had been grown indoors in a completely artificial
environment.  By manipulating the amount and intensity of the light the
plant received, the carbon dioxide content of the air it breathed and the
nutrients supplied to its roots, a skillful gardener can foreshorten the
life cycle of a marijuana plant to the point where it will produce a heavy
crop of flowers in less than two months on a plant no bigger than a table
lamp.  Several dozen such plants can be grown in a square yard Brian told
me. His own current garden in Holland contained 100 plants in an area
slightly more than six feet square—smaller than a pool table. This sort of
dens ely planted indoor tabletop garden is known among growers as the "Sea
of Green" and it represents more or less the state of the art in marijuana
horticulture. I asked Brian if I could pay a visit to his garden. He put
me off—growing commercially is danger ous even here. But I could see he
was tempted; most gardeners are showoffs at heart. "Let me talk to my
roommate."TO THE SEA OF GREENWithout a doubt, one of the pioneers in
Brian's The secret garden: A densely planted "Sea of Green" flourishes in
an a nonymous apartment industry is Wernard, the proprietor of a leading
marijuana garden center in Amsterdam. Now a professorial looking fellow in
his 40's, Wernard was present at the creation of the Sea of Green, working
with expatriate American growers (and their seeds)to perfect the indoor
cultivation of marijuana. On Saturday afternoon, he offered a packed hall
of gardeners — a surprisingly eclectic group that included, besides the
expected array of aging and aspiring hippies, several middle-aged farmers,
 grad students and even a few sportjacketed retirees—an informative slide
lecture on its history and development. What is perhaps most striking
about the recent history of marijuana horticulture is that almost every
one of the advances Wernard covered is a direct result of the opening of
anew front in the United States drug war. Indeed, there probably would not
be a significant domestic marijuana industry today if not for a
large-scale program of unintentional Federal support. Until the mid 70's,
most of
 the marijuana consumed in this country was imported from Mexico. In 1975,
United States authorities began working with the Mexican Government to
spray Mexican marijuana fields with the herbicide paraquat, a widely
publicized eradication program that igni ted concerns about the safety of
imported marijuana. At about the same time, the Coast Guard and the United
States Border Patrol stepped up drug interdiction efforts along the
nation's southern rim. Many observers believe that this crackdown
encouraged sm ugglers to turn their attention from cannabis to cocaine,
which is both more lucrative and easier to conceal. Meanwhile, with
foreign supplies contracting and the Mexican product under a cloud, a
large market for domestically grown marijuana soon opened u p and a new
industry, based principally in California and Hawaii, quickly emerged to
supply it. At the beginning, American growers were familiar with only one
kind of marijuana: Cannabis sativa, an equatorial stain that can't
withstand frost and won't re liably flower north of the 30th parallel.
Eager to expand the range of domestic production, growers began searching
for a variety that might flourish and flower farther north, and by the
second half of the decade, it had been found: Cannabis indica, a sto ut,
frost tolerant species that had been cultivated for centuries in
Afghanistan by hashish producers. Cannabis indica looks quite unlike the
familiar marijuana plant: it rarely grows taller than 4 or 5 feet (as
compared to 15 feet for some sativas) and its deep bluish green leaves are
rounded, rather than pointed. But the great advantage of Cannabis indica
was that it allowed growers in all 50 states to cultivate sinsemilla for
the first time. Initially, indicas were grown as purebreds. But
enterprisin g growers soon discovered that by crossing the new variety
with Cannabis was possible to produce hybrids that comb most desirable
traits of both plants while down their worst. The smoother taste an often
heard described as the "clear, bell like of a sativ a, for example, could
be combined with the hardiness, small stature and higher potency indica.
In a flurry of breeding work performed around 1980, most of it by amateurs
working on the West Coast, the modern American marijuana plant—Cannabis
sativa x indi ca—was born.Beginning in 1982, the D.E.A. Iaunched an
ambitious campaign to eradicate American marijuana farms. Yet despite
vigorous enforcement throughout the 1980's, the share of the United States
market that was homegrown actually doubled percent in 1 984 to 25 percent
in 1989, according D.E.A.'s own estimates. (The figure may be as high as
50 percent today.) At the same time policies unintentionally encouraged
growers to delvelop a more potent product. "Law enforcment makes
large-scale production diff icult,"Mark A. R. Kleiman, a drug policy
analysts worksed in the Reagan Justice Department So growers had to figure
out a way to make with a smaller but better quality crop." In time the
marijuana industry came to resemble a reverse of the automobile indu stry:
domestic growers the upscale segment of the market with their steadily
improving boutique product while the street trade was left to cheap
foreign imports.The Reagan Administration's war on drugs had another
unintended effect on the marijuana indust ry: "The Government pushed
growers indoors says Allen St. Pierre, assistant national Director of
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Before programs
like CA, Campaign Against Marijuana Planting targeted outdoor growers in
California f rom 82 to 85 1985—"you almost never heard about indoor grass
move indoors sparked an intensive Fresearch and development, including
breeding for potency, size and early harvest and a raft of technological
advances aimed at speeding photosynthesis by manip ulating the growing
environment. Gardeners also learned how to clone female plants, thereby
removing the unpredictablity inherent in growing from seed. All these
developments coalesced around 1987 in the growing regimen known as the Sea
of Green, in which
 dozens of tightly packed and genetically identical female plants are
grown in tight quarters under carefully regulated artificial conditions.
rend of his lecture, Wernard flashed slides of several such gardens he'd
tended: green seas of happy looking dwa rf plants holding aloft enormous
buds that elicited actual oohs and ahs from the gardeners in the
audience.As Wernard was quick to acknowledge, authorship for the Sea of
Green belongs to no one horticulturist but rather to hundreds of gardeners
working in dependently in the States and Netherlands and then sharing what
they'd often in the columns of High Times and Sinsemilla Tips, a defunct
quarterly that many growers refer to as "the bible." By 1989, their
collective efforts had yielded exponential increas es in the potency of
American marijuana and earned the grudging respect of at least one D.E.A.
agent, W.Michael Aldridge, who told a reporter on the eve of yet another
crackdown (this time on indoor growers): "I hate to sound laudatory, but
the work they' ve done on this plant is incredible.
Located in the red-light district directly across the street from a police
station, the Greenhouse Effect is one of the 400 coffee shops in the
Netherlands that serve marijuana. The place is littl e more than a dimly
lighted corridor decorated in the Santa Fe style, with a cozy bar in the
back. Inanition to fruit drinks and snacks and an alarming looking
psychoactive pastry called "space cake," its menu offers a dozen different
kinds of arijuana a nd hashish, sold either by the gram or the joint. The
Greenhouse Effect is one of a handful of Amsterdam coffee shops that carry
Brian's product, and one afternoon he agreed to meet me here to talk about
his career. Brian showed up for our appointment a half anhour late (few
of the people interviewed for this article were ever on time), carrying
the plastic shopping bag that serves as his briefcase. While we sat at a
cafe table sipping soft drinks, a selection of his buds laid out between
us in Tupperwa re containers, Brian retraced the path that had brought him
to Amsterdam from an upper middleclass childhood in a suburb of
Washington.The oldest son of two doctors, Brian was a member of his high
school's math and computer club when he began growing mar ijuana in 1986,
though it was a friend in the drama club who got him started.  The friend
had been complaining about the price of marijuana, something Brian had
never seen before, much less smoked. "I said:'Wait.  This is a plant,
right?' He says: 'Yeah, but it won't grow here. I've tried.' " Brian was
already a gardener—he raised tomatoes in his parents' backyard—and growing
marijuana seemed like aninteresting challenge. "It was something to get me
out of the computer club, put me on a slightly different
 level." He tracked down a growing manual at an adult bookstore in D.C.
and soon figured out that his friend had probably been trying to grow an
equatorial sativa, when only an indica could be expected to flower in
Maryland."Now I was on a mission. I want ed to get the right seeds."His
mission took him to a performance by the Grateful Dead, whose concerts
served in the 1980's as informal trading posts for the new indica hybrids
being developed on the West Coast. Brian located the seeds he wanted, but
he f oundthe sight of so many Dead Heads strung out on drugs deeply
unpleasant. "It left me with a bad taste about the whole experiment."
Disgusted at the scene, he made a point of changing the names of the seeds
he bought ("hippie dippy names like 'PurpleFlow er Power'") to the more
scientific system of letters and numbers he uses today: ST3, PB#3, BSkunk
x NL5. Brian's first crop of seed died after his little brother, worried
the police would put his parents in jail, poured a bottle of Brut
aftershave over t hem. Deciding he'd better move the operation out of his
house, Brian recruited a couple of kids from his Hebrew school class("I
thought I could trust them a little more than the kids in my high school")
and together they planted a string of backyard garde ns. In October, they
harvested their first crop, manicuring the buds according to the
instructions in the book and hanging therm to dry in one of the partner's
attics.Many indicas exude a powerful, skunky smell and the parents quickly
discovered the marij uana."They told us to get it out of the house,"
Briansaid. "So we moved the grass out to the shed with the lawn mower,
which was good enough for them.It was like saying you were kosher even
though you had Chinese food in a refrigerator out in the garage." Since
Brian still had no interest in smoking marijuana ("I was the farthest
thing from drugs ever"), he sold his share of the harvest, clearingseveral
thousand dollars. "More money than I'dever seen in my life. I felt very
elated and slightly guilty at th e same time." Elated because his product
was so popular it soon made a local name for itself and guilty because he
knew some of it was finding its ways into the hands of young kids. "This
was heavyduty pot and it caused some serious problems—at least one
accident that I knew about. ButI didn't know how responsible I was,
because at the time I still hadn't smoked the stuff."As we talked, a
modest parade of customers made its way to the bar to purchase
marijuana,some for takeout, others to smoke in. Even n ow,years after
becoming a smoker, Brian is careful not to romanticize the drug. "Smoking
anything isn'tgood for you," he says, "and smoking marijuana makes you
stupid." Certainly the convention floor at the Cannabis Cup provided
several cases in point, in cluding one badly wasted fellow who introduced
himself to me on five separate occasions, always with the same line: "I'm
a smoker 32 years, living proof this weed doesn't damage you."But Brian's
disdain for drugs yielded before his fascination with the i ntricacies of
growing and then breeding marijuana, something he soon discoveredhe had a
talent for. Investing $1,000 of the proceeds from their first crop in a
mail order hydroponic growing system, Brian and his partners set out 100
plants in an unused sa una in one of their homes. Brian soon noticed that
one of the plants was very unusual: it had dark purple stamens and a smell
that overpowered the garden. He kept scrupulous records on each plant
(storing in his notes on a Maciintosh computer equipped wit h encryption
program)and noted that the purple one was also one of the flower and
heaviest also turned out to the most potent.Brian brought his "Potomac
Indica" with him to college, where the reponse of his classmates convinced
him that what "I had was ve ry special." Now workingindepently, he rented
a house off campus and equiped it with a sophisticated growing
system.Through a process of trial and error, Brian learned how to clone
his Potomac Indica and more or less stumbled on the Sea of Green method fo
r growing it. Through selective breeding, Brian developed several new
strains, including one that he claims tested at 14 percent THC; THC, or
delta9 cannabinol, is the principal psychoactive compound in marijuana.
According to the DEA theTHC content of ma rijuana during the 70's was
between 0.5 and 2 percent; the average indoord grown sinsemilla today is
between 8 and 10 percent. Brian's new strain was as potent as anything on
the market. By his junior year, Brian had a thriving business but t his
grades were suffering. He was now also a smoker. "I said, 'O.K., you can
do well in school or you can do well with the growing.'I made the wrong
decision, I think."Brian dropped out of college in 1989 and turned
professional. He opted for a highly decentralize d operation, setting up a
series of gardens in rented houses and apartments throughout the
Washington area. Potomac Indica soon acquired a reputation. Brian
reinvested his profits in the business eventually building what amounted
to a growing franchise in
 towns up and the Eastern Seaboard. In each region, Brian would select a
local partner, set him up with equipment and clones, instruct him in the
intricacies of the Sea of Green and then make regular on site
consultations in return for a percentage of the
 profits.  Brian says he put 250,000 miles on a new car visiting grow
rooms—exactly how many, he wouldn't say—spread out over a 1,200 mile
stretch of interstate 95."I did well with the growing," Brian offered as
he delicately minced a bud of his BSkwith a pair of nail scissors and
rolled a filtered joint,"The quality of my life has been one of extreme
paranoia, however. On the third afternoon of the
conventers gathered in the main hall for a panel covering some of the
finer points
 of the Sea of Green. Picture a university lecture hall by Cheech and
Chong. Although the panelists Wernard and two other growers-started out as
somber and technical as botany professors over their presentions they
rolled and lit up a succession of huge joints and these eventually took
their toll. By the end of the session, a cloud of marijuana smoke had
spread out over the room, forcing me at one point to slide down off my
chair in search of a vein of co ol, non psychoactive air. For audiovisual
aids, there were slides and potted cannabis plants on-stage that the
lecturers occasionally referred to with a pointer. It was all a little
surreal, never more so than when Wernard mentioned his company's policy o
f requiring all employees to be marijuana smokers. It fell to an American
in the back of the room to asked the inevitable question: "Do you make
them take urine tests? "The topic before the group was "Bio Versus
Hydro." According to Steven Hager, the edi tor of High Times, "a great
schism" has opened between the increasing number of indoor gardeners who
grow in soil, often organically, and those who stand by chemical based
hydroponic methods. Wernard made a strong case for the superior quality of
biogrown marijuana; he claimed that hydroponic marijuana had a harsher,
more chemical taste. Arjan, the owner of a popular coffeeshop, pointed out
that hydroyields were far greater. Evenso, he acknowledged that in a taste
test he had conducted among his patrons, bio had enjoyed a slight edge: of
810 smokers, 83.14 percent expressed a preference for bio, compared to
81.4 percent for hydro. No one seemed to notice that the percentages added
up to a lot more than 100;evidently the respondents felt very positively
ab out both samples in the test. I was surprised that, in the course of a
two-hour panel discussion on marijuana growing, the subject of potency
received relatively little attention. "People may not see much stronger
grass at this point," Brian later sugges ted. "So growers are
concentrating on other qualities—taste, variety, esthetics. "Many of the
conventioneers I talked to could discuss the distinctive qualities of
various marijuanas with the passion and inventiveness of wine
connoisseurs. Even the unsmok ed buds were closely examined and intently
sniffed—this one admired for its rust colored stamens, that one for the
"notes" of citrus or nutmeg in its bouquet. During the convention, Imet a
burly Manhattan dealer and law student who was eloquent on the su bject of
marijuana taste. When I asked his impressions of a new variety that had
won a Cannabis Cupaward, he praised its pronounced "Afghani" taste.
"Afghani is a big heavy smoky taste, really rich," he elaborated. "But it
has what I think of as a 'pinpoi nt effect.' Swirling around inside that
big taste is something else—something sharper and thinner. The best way I
can describe it is by analogy. You're familiar with Ben & Jerry's
chocolate swirl? Well, it's got this great big overpowering chocolate
taste , but then within that taste, you get the counterpoint of those fine
swirls of fudge. That's the pinpoint effect.  "He described the mental
effects of the winning variety with almost as much exactitude.  It
produced a "rapid, enveloping high," he said, y et it had all the clarity
of a fine sativa. Connoisseurs will often characterize a particular
variety by situating it on aspectrum of marijuana highs ranging from the
distinctly physical, narcotic effects of the archetypal indica to the
comparatively stim ulating, cerebral effects of a sativa.  By manipulating
the pro portionof sativa genes to indica genes, breeders can design
strains with precisely the effects they seek. Brian distinguishes between
"blue collar" and"white collar" marijuanas. Customers who
 do physical work for a living "want to put their feet up at the end of
theday and smoke a big, heavyi ndica," he told me an urban professional
might prefer something more "uppy." Connoisseurship of this order tends
to complicate one's view of marijuana as a drug, especially when you think
about the sort of bootleg product Prohibition is remembered for—just about
anything with alcohol in it,some of it poisonous enoughto blind or kill. 
Interestingly, most of the pot smokers I met expressed distaste for p ills
and white powder drugsand disdain for their users.  Marijuana
connoisseurship suggests that, at least in this particular corner of the
"drugculture," the accent is as much on the culture as it is on the drug. 
THE INDOOR DRUG WARFew recent trends
 in the marijuana industry can be fully understood without reference to an
event known among growers as "Black Thursday": Oct. 26, 1989.  That was
the day the Bush Administration officially began Green Merchant, the first
organized offensive in the drug w ar to take direct aim at indoor maniuana
growers—and not only growers but also the legitimate companies that
supplied their equipment and the publications that supplied much of their
know how.  Along with a new Federal law that for the first time imposed
mandatory sentences based on the number, rather than weight, of plants
seized (5 years for 100 plants, 10years for 1,000), Green Merchant
radically altered the rules by which indoor growers operate. Six years
later, the industry is still adapting to the n ew environment.  A D.E.A.
agent named Jim Seward conceived Green Merchant in 1987 while thumbing
through a copy of High Times. As he told areporter in 1989, the magazine
"just seemed to be a middleman in a dope deal. "By that time, the indoor
marijuana i ndustry was so large and well established, and so easy to
enter thanks to the mail order equipment stores and seed companies
advertising in High Times and Sinsemilla Tips, that the Administration
felt compelled to act.  In the last week of October 1989, t he D.E.A.
raided hundreds of indoor growers and dozens of retail garden supply
stores in 46 states, seizing equipment and customer lists. Virtually all
the stores targeted by Green Merchant had advertised in High Tirnesor
Sinsemilla Tips, and the raids sc ared off enough advertisers to push
Sinsemilla Tips out of business.  Using customer records seized from the
grow stores, as well as 21,000 additional leads that the D.E.A. says it
obtained from the United Parcel Service, law enforcement agencies underto
ok investigations of thousands of indoor growers, who soon discovered they
weren't as safe in their homes as they'd assumed. Now merely ordering
garden supplies from the wrong company could bring drug agents to your
door, as scores of African violet and o rchid fanciers have been
astonished to discover.  With the names and addresses of tens of
thousands of suspects now in hand, law enforcement agencies developed a
large appetite for indoor marijuana busts. "Marijuana growers are easy
targets," Allen St. P ierre of Norrnl says. As criminals,many of them are
docile and amateurish, leaving behind a trail of U.P.S. records and credit
card receipts as they setup their gardens; once established, a marijuana
garden is much easier to find than anywhite powder drug
 operation and arresting officers are farless likely to encounter
resistance. Another powerful incentive is the asset forfeiture rules,
which were liberalized during the drug war to allow agencies to keep the
proceeds of whatever they seize. Since the cri me of growing marijuana is
by its very nature tied to a particular place—a house and a plotof
land—seizing the assets of pot growers is particularly easy. All these
factors help explain why, according to Norrnl, there were more arrests in
1994 for crimes involving marijuana than for allother illicit drugs
combined.  I was curious to know how the D.E.A. explained its priorities,
but the agency did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
However, in a recent internal report, entitled "California
 Cannabis Cultivation: Marijuana in the 90's," the agency defended Green
Merchant, and its war on marijuana generally, as anecessary response to "a
rapidly escalating problem."  The report claimed that mari1uana was a
"gateway drug" leading to the use of more serious drugs; that THC posed
"potential health hazards," which the increasing "quality andquantity" of
domestic marijuana were making even worse, and that chemical runoffs from
marijuana farrns posed a threat to the environment. "There is good scien
tific reason," the report concluded, for "grouping marijuana with other
very serious and harrnful drugs."Whatever the rationale, the war against
mariJuana is expensive—as much as $1.7 billion in criminal justice costs
each year, by one estirnate.  And th at fact, sooner than any shift in the
ideological climate,is what could prove its undoing. In an era of
shrinking government budgets, lockingup nonviolent drug offenders becomes
harder to rationalize.  Last month, Gov. George P Pataki of New York,
lookin g to slash government spending,proposed relaxing the state's
mandatory minirnum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, some of whom
may even be released If they aren't already, marijuana growers should
probably be voting Republican, since Republicans a lone have the financial
incentive, and the political cover, toreassess the costs and benefitsof
the drug war they started.  Like D.E.A. campaigns before it, Green
Merchant failed to close down the marijuana industry, but it has altered
the way it operate s. One response to the post Green Merchant environment
was Brian's: to decentralize operations, keeping each grow room as small
as possible—ideally, fewer than 100 plants. As Brian reasoned, even if one
garden were raided, others would continue to generat e cash for a defense.
In the wake of Green Merchant, growers also began paying attention to such
mundane things as "effluents" — especially odors and heat — and kilowatt
hours, since judges will now issue warrants to search houses emitting
unusual amounts
 of heat or consuming large amounts of electricity.  By 1991, Brian felt
he "was sitting on top of a very large time bomb." Friends had also begun
to tell him he was wasting his life. But what Brian most wanted was to be
legitimate, not to give up growin g and breeding marijuana. So he sold his
gardens,told his parents about his secret life ("I was excommunicated")
and moved to Amsterdam. Here, he joined a community of emigre Americans
that revolves around the culture of marijuana in much the same way ear
lier communities of emigres in Europe sprang up around avant garde
literature or painting while awaiting acceptance at home.  At least that's
how some of them choose to see it. Marijuana growers are almost touching
in their faith thatAmerica will soon com e to its senses and legalize
their trade. Prohibition, so quickly recognized as folly, is their great
sustaining myth.INTO THECYBERGARDENOn my last day in Amsterdam, Brian
took me on a tour of his expatriate world. The community's epicenter—its
La Cou pole—is the C.I.A.: Cannabis in Amsterdam, a combination shop,
gathering place and hemp store locatedin a large second story loft a short
walk from Central Station. The afternoon Brian and I dropped by was the
last dayof the Cannabis Cup and Americans wer e lining up to buy seeds to
take home.  (Tiny and odorless, marijuana seeds are not difficult to
smuggle.) With their glossy, fourcolor photographs and extravagant
promises, the catalogues they consulted might have been published by
Burpee. I asked Adam Dunn,one of the two Americans who run the C.I.A.,
what had been his big sellers that week.  Hindu Kush had sold out, he
said, and AK 47 was moving briskly, even at $30 a seed.  (The 47 refers to
the number of days till harvest.) Everybody was also asking
 for avariety called Bubble Gum, which smells more like Bazooka than
marijuana, making it one of the safest—that is, least detectable—indoor
varieties to grow. Next, Brian suggested we stop by Positronics,Wernard's
garden center, where Brian occasionally
 shops.  Positronics is a sleek, sprawling showroom and factory, offering
the indoor grower everything from specially blended and aged organic soil
mixes to state of theart carbon dioxide systems and a selection of
clones—robust four inchtall marijuana pl ants sold inpeat pots for $3 to
$6 apiece.  Wernard escorted us through a warren of white tiled rooms
where employees working in a smal lassembly line cut, trimmed and rooted
clones, producing several thousand each week. Watching the gardeners at
work in
 their windowless cubicles, deftly transforming one plant into a dozen
over and over again, I understood why the Netherlands had become such an
important model for indoor marijuana growers. Horticulture in Holland has
always been a matter of artifice, of forcing nature in every sense. 
Almost all of Holland's farmland is manmade, reclaimed from the North Sea
(the recent flood not withstanding) by dint of effort and technology.
Cursed with little sunlightand even less space, the Dutch have also had to
mast er the art of indoor growing—of, essentially, combining large
quantities of electricity and chemical fertilizer with the best plant
genetics available to create gorgeous flowers, picture perfect tomatoes
and, now, some of the world's most refined marijuan a plants.Sipping tea
in Positronics' gleaming showroom,Wernard and Brian fell to talking about
the future oftheir industry. Both agreed that the Sea of Green was here to
stay, though there was still room for improvement, particularly in the
areas of safe ty (with more sophisticated effluent controls) and yield.
Wernard claimed that yields of 800 grams per square meter, already
attainable by top growers using carbon dioxide,will soon be routine and
that advances in genetics could add another 150 grams to t hat—almost a
kilo of sinsemilla every two months in a space no bigger than a phone
booth.  Perhaps the most important advances in marijuana cultivation
involve computerization, which promises to revolutionize growing and
vastly complicate the work of la w enforcement agencies. Over dinner,
Brian limned his vision of the ultimate post Green Merchant grow room: the
cybergarden. Sensors will monitor the five important environmental factors
(light, water, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and temperature) and feed
the information to a personal computer. Using solenoid switches, a
so-called "smart interface" and a bit of customized programming, the
computer can track and automatically adjust all these variables, either
according to a preset program or to instru ctions typed in by the
gardener. Add a modem and a remote access program,and the grower can tend
his garden from anywhere in the world.I was skeptical; it sounded a lot
like the kind of rococo fantasies that pot smokers have always liked to
spin—in this one, the 60's drug culture joins forces with the 90's hacker
culture to outwit a common enemy. But Brian referred me to a recent series
of articles on computer gardening in High Times and The Growing Edge, a
magazine for legal high-tech growers (published
 by the former publisher of Sinsemilla Tips), that described similar
setups. He also told me about a company in New Hampshire where, I later
confirmed, one could purchase both the hardware and software needed to
setup exactly the kind of cybergarden Brian
 had outlined.Brian also talked about incorporating security features in
his garden: a motion detector and a "Mayday" program that would dial his
beeper number in the event of a security breach, bringing the news never
to return. But wouldn't the police be able to trace the gardener through
information on the computer? Not if the data stream were sent through a
remailer first, Brian explained. Remailers are anonymous mail drops that
computer hackers have set up on the Internet, untraceable Email addresse s
where one can send or receive encrypted data. An article in the October
High Times offered plans for a similar security system, adding one
diabolical twist. By incorporating a computer virus like Viper or Deicide
in the system, the computer could be pro grammed essentially to
selfdestruct as soon as it detected a security breach and alerted the
gardener,rendering it worthless as evidence.High Times describes
cybergardening as "an exciting technology that has raced far ahead of
ethics, law enforcement an d government and corporate control."Indeed. The
technology will make it possible for a grower like Brian to tend his
franchise gardens from the safety of a computer in Amsterdam;
theoretically at least, he would need to visit the grow room only to plant
a nd to harvest. In the future, the D.E.A. may find the gardens but not
the gardeners.A GARDEN TOUROn my last night in Amsterdam, Brian
finally consented to let me visit his garden. Evidently the gardener's
reflexive exhibitionism had triumphed over the
 outlaw's professional discretion. I remembered something Allen St. Pierre
of Norml had told me: that the most common way for a grower to get caught
is by boasting about his garden. He had shown me snapshots of prize plants
that gardeners had mailed to No rml,sometimes in envelopes marked with
return addresses.The garden was in a workingclass village half an hour
north of Amsterdam. On the train, seated next to his plastic shopping bag,
Brian explained that one of the reasons he chose to grow in this part
icular town is that it is home to a candy factory, a bakery and a chemical
plant; together, they produce a cacophony of odors that overwhelms the
smell emanating from his garden—important since the Dutch police sometimes
raid marijuana gardens.Brian also
 talked excitedly about his plans for the future, which include a
legitimate seed company that will specialize in strains of medical
marijuana geared toward specific ailments. "The same strain that helps
glaucoma patients might not be the best one for pol ar disorders,and vice
versa," he said. The week before, Brian had told his parents of his
business plans, and their reaction had been positive. "After five years,
I'm finally getting recognition from my family," he had told me
earlier.Evidently, the two d octors and their son the marijuanagrower had
reconciled. "I'm going to be helping people."From the station, we walked
through a tightly packed development of tiny cookie cutter houses pressed
up against the street. The Dutch shun curtains,and each gleami ng picture
window presented a diorama of Dutch life, illuminated by the glow of a
television screen. We came to a modest, gambrel roofed house and Brian
showed me upstairs. At the end of a dark,narrow and hopelessly cluttered
corridor, he opened a tightly
 sealed door. I was hit full in the face by a blast of searing white light
and an overpowering stench: sweaty,vegetal, sulfurous, sickening.After my
eyes adjusted to the light, I stepped into a windowless room not much
bigger than d a closet, crammed wit h electrical equipment, snaked with
cables and plastic tubing and completely sealed off from the outside
world. More than half the room was taken up by Brian's Sea of Green. The
sixfoot table was invisible beneath a jungle of dark, serrated leaves
oscilla ting gently in an artificial breeze. There were a hundred clones,
each scarcely a foot tall but already sending forth a thick finger of
hairy calyxes. A network of plastic pipes supplied the plants with water,
a tank of carbon dioxide sweetened their air , a ceramic heater warmed
their roots at night and four 600 watt sodium lamps bathed them in a blaze
of light for 12 hours of every day. During the other 12, they were sealed
inperfect darkness. The briefest lapse of light, Brian noted gravely,
could ruin
 the whole crop.There was nothing of beauty here in this cramped chamber,
and yet to a gardener there was much to admire. I don't think I've ever
seen plants that looked more pleased, this despite the fact they were
being forced to grow under the most unn atural of circumstances—overbred,
overfed, overstimulated, sped up and pygmied all at once. "More!" the
marijuana plants seemed to say, sucking up the carbon dioxide, gorging on
the fertilizer, throwing themselves at bulbs so hot and bright I finally
had to look away. In return for a regimen of encouragement few plants have
ever known these 100 eager dwarfs would oblige their gardener with three
pounds of sinsemilla before the month was out.  Thousands of dollars worth
of flowers.It was all a little bit mad, and yet a gardener couldn't help
but be impressed, even as I counted the minutes before I could politely
make my exit and draw an ordinary breath. Only later, on the train back to
Amsterdam, did I fix on what may be the maddest part of all: that the
credit for this most dubious of achievements belonged not only to the
gifted, obsessed gardener and his willing plants but to the obsessions of
a Government as well.