My Highest Years
By George X.
Marijuana, I never knew it would make such an impact on who I am as a man. Cannabis was always a part of my life, even when I was a child. I was born and raised in Minneapolis Minnesota; my childhood was, in my opinion, very normal. I grew up in a quiet middle class home where we went to school, did our chores, and played with the neighborhood kids in the surrounding woods and lakes.
My parents owned a small apartment building near the University of Minnesota and we lived a few minutes outside the city limits in a quiet little town. On our property there was a small barn, which we were instructed was out of bounds and more we were not to talk about the barn…ever. Of course, being a curious young boy armed with curious brothers and an immense determination, we continually found ways around the rules. Therefore, assuring that we would find a way to break into the barn and have a look around.
At first glance all was normal inside. There were stalls for horses that we never owned. Toward the back of the barn there was an old Chevy pickup truck, which was rarely used except for hauling furniture from time to time. The last object in the barn was the door to a small room; padlocked at all times to keep unwanted visitors out. If you walked by the door you could hear a low hum perhaps being caused by something inside the room and a slight unidentifiable fragrance.
“Stay out of the barn or you are going to get spanked!” I would hear that phrase in the back of my mind every time we went near “the barn.” As you probably know kids see everything, including where their parents hide important things such as keys. As fate would have it a possible tenant called and asked for a tour of one of our vacant units. In his haste to show the apartment, my father forgot the keys to the barn. Knowing where the keys would be, if forgotten, I sized the opportunity to finally discover the contents of the forbidden room; the locked room!
Knowing my dad would be gone for hours I was in no particular rush and took time to savor my victory. I calmly walked to the barn a few hundred feet away from the house and unlocked the door with confidence and proceeded to make my way towards the room. The key went smoothly into the lock; slowly I turned the key until I heard a recognizable click of the lock. The rusty hinges creaked as the door slowly opened. I was both stunned and disappointed by what I saw.
The room was lined from ceiling to floor with aluminum foil and I thought this quite strange. Fans were mounted on all four walls osculating back and forth creating what seemed to be an indoor tornado which explained the hum I always heard coming from this room. The strangest thing of all was the plants on the floor with pointy leaves. There were about a dozen plants in large pots, and that was it. I expected to see something extraordinary, something forbidden, life changing! Instead I saw just a few houseplants growing inside the small room in the barn. Disappointed, I locked the door and returned the keys to my father’s desk.
It took me years to figure out why the barn was off limits and we were never to talk about what was inside it. My father was born in Beirut Lebanon but moved to the United States in the 1950s. In Lebanon hashish was a common medicine used to treat many ailments including pain. Although hashish production is designated illegal personal use is not seen as an issue. Prior to my birth, he made a trip to Lebanon to see his sister and my aunt before she was married off. While there, he did a little shopping in the local markets of Beirut. As the story goes, he decided to bring home a small jar of pure hashish; a common medicine and social tool in Lebanon but a massive felony on this side of the pond.
The quality and purity of the product in Lebanon was the finest on Earth, so he took the gamble of bringing home a small neatly wrapped package with his luggage on the return flight. This gamble did not pay off. The price was two years of his life in a federal prison. Despite this he still grew his own medicine in our barn knowing full well that if the authorities ever got wind of the grow he would probably spend the rest of his days in a concrete box, for no other sin than enjoying the usefulness of one of God’s finest plant.
Thankfully, my father never had another run in with the law. He rebuilt his life, had me and my siblings, and lived out the rest of his days in peace until he passed away my senior year of high school. My father died at 72 years old and he smoked marijuana almost every day of his life. He would often give me a puff or two as a child, which in our culture was as normal as a French family giving their children a glass of wine at dinner. I did not care for it myself and asked him why he liked it. His reply was “when you’re older, you will find out it’s one of the finer things in life.” He was right.
I didn’t smoke marijuana or do any drugs for that matter my entire adolescence. I remember the days of DARE class in middle school warning me that all drugs are bad, as if they were all equal. What was even worse is that the DARE teachers were police officers, and they would tell us about how if you got caught with contraband, you were going to go to jail, even if you were otherwise a good person. This scared me strait, for many years.
It wasn’t until I was twenty-seven that I became aware that Arizona was going to be the next state to offer medical marijuana as an option for patients with qualifying conditions. I was taking hydrocodone at the time to treat the chronic pain I had in my feet from bone spurs, but these drugs were expensive; as a bonus I experienced all types of negative side effects. I remember my stomach doing (?????) after taking my pills. I needed the hydrocodone because the career I had at the time required me to stand eight hours a day, five days a week. My feet were on fire every day but I needed the job; I had a family to support. I decided to go to my physician to see if I qualified to become a medical marijuana patient. I brought my medical records including x-rays and filled out the paper work to become one of the first medical marijuana patients in Arizona. I was not a marijuana smoker before this time and I figured it was a long shot that it would work for me, but as they say “you never know until you try.” The rest, as they say, is history. The burning pain subsided quickly in my feet.
The one caveat for me was a restriction on the medications use. I would only smoke after work as I had a job requiring my undivided attention and I was unsure how the medication would hamper that requirement. That being said, I was thrilled at the relief I experienced, both physically and mentally, as chronic pain can be mentally exhausting. In the end, like significant numbers of people before me, who have made the decision to accept the idea of trying herbal for ailments, I became a believer.
One of the biggest problems at that time was the lack of dispensaries where I could obtain meds. I did not want to go find a “dealer”, and for that matter who would want to get their medication from a “dealer?” I had a friend, a long time smoker, who would help me get a small amount of meds for my normal daily use, however, he lacked knowledge of the herb’s true origins, how the plant was grown and what chemicals were or were not sprayed on the crops before they reached my pipe. My thinking was that if I’m going to breathe this stuff, I want to know what I am inhaling is the cleanest and purest it can possibly be. I suggest most people would agree. Fortunately Arizona’s Proposition 203 permitted qualifying patients with their medical cards the right to grow up to 12 plants at home for their own medical use. I remember thinking, “Wait…What? I can now, legally grow marijuana from the comfort and safety of my own home without fear of imprisonment?” How the world had changed since I was a child and I decided, in that moment, I needed to learn how to grow in order to produce a clean product.
The same friend I got my first nugget of cannabis from also had his medical card with the right to cultivate his own medicine and so my education began with a kindness. He taught me everything he had learned about growing a quality crop and if you have ever grown or even smoked marijuana you should know there is a significant difference when comparing top shelf bud to a mid-grade. After learning all that I could I made a swift decision to grow my own medicine because, after all, for the first time it was legal in Arizona to do so. I had the knowledge and realistic expectations, however, unexpectedly a small project quickly turned into a large undertaking. Growing high quality medical grade marijuana is an expensive and time consuming art; an art I did not fully appreciate until it consumed a large portion of my life.
One part farmer and one part outlaw; I was torn about what I was doing. I fell in love with my medicine, like so many others, but I also fell in love with the work. Growing Marijuana is every bit the same as growing flowers. I was a gardener, and nothing more, but the flowers I grew could ruin my life because federally it remained an illegal substance. Regardless of Arizona’s new medical marijuana program I had several friends whose homes were raided and have faced court battles; all over a plant God put on this planet for us to enjoy (Genesis 1:29).
Growing quality buds takes a lot of time, love, care… and money! Life never was the same after I took the plunge. I felt imprisoned by my choice to grow as being a legal grower and user of marijuana could result in some pretty harsh penalties, not only in the present but in the future. My whole life I followed the rules, I made it thirty years without a criminal record and I am proud of that fact. Now with just a few plants in my home and nothing more than a piece of green plastic stating “Right to cultivate” on it to keep me out of prison while at the same time denying that right as a defense against prosecution I became guarded. The next three years of my life were spent in a type of solitude. I rarely had guests over for fear of word getting out about what I was growing in my home. People talk, remember that. There are still a lot of folks who think negatively about this plant. Things are changing slowly, but there is a long way to go before those of us who are 420 friendly can be truly out in the open.
All things come to an end. This is true in all aspects of life including my rights to cultivate my medicine. The laws in Arizona state that if you live within 25 miles of a dispensary, which are spread out basically everywhere, you are no longer allowed to grow your own medicine. This includes almost everyone. As I look at the monthly newsletter in front of me, sent by the Department of Health Services, it boldly states that as of November 2013 96.2% of Arizonians live within 25 miles of a dispensary, therefore, eliminating the right to grow their own medicinal crops.
This law makes no sense to me. If I live on one side of an imaginary line I may grow my own crops, but on the other side I may not. Stranger yet for me is that for a small window I was allowed to grow and then, once again, not allowed to grow. I know many growers who are contemplating buying property way out in the sticks for no other reason than to grow their own medicine. Are such extreme measures necessary? I guess for now they are.
There is a part of me happy that it is over for now though it was a sad day when I shut down my grow room. I spent many days and nights working in that grow room and many thousands of dollars putting it together for which there is no reimbursement. I will not miss the $650 electric bills in the summer nor the thousands of dollars I spent on grow equipment and premium hydroponic nutrients. I will not miss the nightmares of the SWAT team kicking in my door and pointing guns at my family.
There are things I will miss though. I will miss the feeling of pride when my girls grew from clones or seeds to mature ladies, full of icy buds sparkling under my 1000 watt lamps. I will miss the excitement of harvest day, and the smell of fresh cut marijuana. Most of all I will miss the feeling of packing a bowl with the friends I made along the way. After all, the marijuana community is still a rather small but growing community. My dad was right, high grade cannabis is truly one of the finer things in life. It didn’t turn out to be what I thought it was. Today, marijuana is a part of American life and my life. Although I shut down the grow out of respect for the word of law I did so with a heavy heart. I love the process and the results of growing your own medicine; however, I found a pastime I can stick with for life. Growing cannabis is no different than growing tomatoes; they are both plants and they both nourish the body in particular ways. On top of that growers are some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. These people have jobs, families and pay taxes; they are professionals and laypeople yet they live in a cloud of fear. One might say legal, yet illegal.
In my opinion, the laws are wrong and most people are aware. Times are changing now faster than ever and I, for one, am optimistic about the future. Someday when I’m an old man having a few buds in your home will be as common as having a bottle of wine in the fridge and to this I say good! It’s way past time for a change. Marijuana is one of the finer things in life, it is my cure all. It stops my pain, and makes my life more enjoyable. The struggle isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, but I for one see the tide going in only one direction.
How many more people will have to pay the toll before the laws inevitably change? I suggest, too many. Good people will lose jobs because of drug charges on their records or they may not be able to procure a job at all. They will pay massive fines and legal fees; ultimately, they may also have to leave their families to live in concrete cells with true criminals and you will be paying the bill with your tax dollars.