215. Cash Crop

I was a young man during the sixties. The summer of love came about in San Francisco while I was off on a summer archaeology dig in Michigan. I read about it in the magazines. A geology major friend of mine was on the west coast that summer, working for an oil company. He brought back some interesting vegetation and some interesting pills.

It was a strange time in Michigan, legally. Possessing marijuana was a felony but possessing LSD was a misdemeanor. The law hadn’t caught up to the pharmacopeia.

I won’t say some of my friends were pushers; that paints an inaccurate picture of grown men hanging around the middle school parking lot with baggies of pot. However, they bought wholesale and sold retail to their own acquaintances to finance their personal indulgences.

I didn’t participate. Not that I was holy, but I had my own issues. I was going to college on a scholarship. It was my only shot at leaving some ugliness behind and getting on with the life I wanted. I didn’t plan to let anything jeopardize that.

I let my hair grow long. I wore a beard – but that was in imitation of a favorite archaeology professor. I doubted everything – but I had learned that when I was a kid in Oklahoma. I dressed like a farmer – but that was because I had been a farmer. I hated the war.

I didn’t wear love beads or bandanas and I didn’t smoke pot. I was about half a hippie.

When it came time to write Raven’s Run, years later, I needed to know more about pot and its culture than I had picked up living on the edge of things. I took a drive north to Garberville which was the center of it all and soaked in the local color. 

I did my library research as well, and found a superb reference in Cash Crop: An American Dream by Ray Raphael. It consists of a mixture of interviews with law enforcement, growers, enforcers, and near-slave laborers, along with personal stories of Raphael’s days in and around the trade. If you have ever read a book by a professorial type who seems too far removed from his subject to be believed — this isn’t that book.

I was particularly taken by one interview with a old time cop who was thinking back to the early days. He said (this is a near quote from memory, I don’t have the book at hand), “We used to spend all day running around the woods rousting out moonshiners when alcohol was illegal. Then we would relax after work with a joint. Now we spend all day running around finding pot farms and burning the weed, and after work, we kick back with booze.”

Incidentally, here is lesson in the virtue of never throwing away a good book.  Amazon is offering Cash Crop used from $44.14 and the only new copies available start at $200. At that rate, my jammed back room full of cheap paperbacks would sell for a million bucks, if I could find a buyer with the same weird and eclectic taste that I have.


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