The High Road

Growers who cashed in on illegal pot now welcome legalization and taxation.

Eventually Jones couldn't stand to keep living that way. He was also out of money. He borrowed a few hundred dollars, moved into his Mustang with two dogs, and drove up to Marin. Once there, he began attending every AA and Al-Anon meeting he could. "I did that for years, every day," he said. "Monday through Monday."

Eventually, Jones worked his way out of his funk and got an apartment in Corte Madera. Then one night in 1991 at a Gulf War protest rally in Berkeley thrown by Wavy Gravy — who is now a friend and neighbor — Jones met Harris, a long-haired hippie statistician who also had Southern roots.

Harris was with her boyfriend that night, huddled under a tarp to avoid a torrential downpour, and a mutual friend made the introductions. All agreed that they should head to Harris and her boyfriend's home for a joint.

When they arrived, Jones took note of the woodwork in the couple's home, and told them he could do better. Soon, the three were inseparable, traveling and following the Grateful Dead, smoking and growing weed, and creating and wearing their own unique brand of tie-dye. Eventually, Jones moved into an in-law unit behind the house.

Things soon went awry, and Harris and Jones got together. They moved around, growing and smoking pot everywhere they went. When California legalized medical pot in 1996, they got cards. Jones needed marijuana because of arthritis and "other issues," he says. Harris needed it to remedy pain in her neck caused by cervical degenerative disc disease. Eventually the couple moved to Marin, where for the first and only time in their lives, they got busted. Discovered growing 40 plants, Jones was charged with cultivation, but he was able to go to a drug diversion course and get the charge expunged. "I have a totally clean record," he says.

About a decade ago, Harris and Jones decided they wanted to buy a house with some land. The dot-com–era prices mostly ruled out the Bay Area, especially considering that the couple had $40,000 of what they call "Jerry Garcia credit card debt." So they started looking north. Laytonville was small and remote; they found a home and 20 acres for $170,000. They didn't move to grow pot, they say, but after a year of living there, Jones had created an outdoor garden of about 100 plants.

He recalls that a friend came over to check out the plants and wound up offering the couple $100,000 — cash — on the spot. That's when they knew they'd be able to make some money.

Harris and Jones don't invite many people to their grow compound, and they certainly don't want anybody knowing where it is. Let's just say that it's way back in the hills. You have to travel on a partially paved road to get to it. There are locked gates you must pass through. Then there are five big dogs to deal with. Smokestack is the most formidable: He's an Italian mastiff, and if he doesn't like you, he'll turn your arm into his personal chew toy.

On a recent Sunday, Harris and Jones escorted SF Weekly to their hippie enclave wonderland and offered an exclusive look inside the business they've built over the past decade.

In the entryway to their comfortable two-story home lies their insignia — a giant marble peace symbol, set inside a heart. Jones designed it himself. Since they purchased the property in 2001, he has remodeled almost the entire home to make it sturdier, and rebuilt the staircase with recycled redwood.

The upstairs bedroom has enormous windows, and you can see for miles from the second-story deck. But the most interesting part of the view lies just behind the house. Pot plants. Lots of them.

Last month, many of the outdoor plants were waist-high, but those were hardly the extent of the operation. There was also a shed where small plants were being cloned and incubated, and a greenhouse crowded with marijuana.

There were far more than the allowable 99 plants on the couple's property, but for good reason. Extracting the most marijuana possible from the fewest plants involves discarding a large number of male or otherwise inadequate plants. (Male marijuana plants don't produce buds worth smoking.) Some of these were also scheduled to be given away to friends. Only the most vigorous female plants, the ones that looked as if they were capable of producing multiple pounds of pot, would find a place in the ground.

The operation, though a highly profitable one, is nothing compared to what some of the neighbors are up to. "Fran and I, we're really small-time," Jones says. "Some of the people on our street have four or five hundred plants. ... In our forests and parks, they're finding grows with 15,000 [or] 20,000 plants."

Those kinds of grows upset Harris and Jones, particularly because of the damage they can do to the environment. Illegal, large-scale growers often use pesticides and rat poison, which can hurt local wildlife and wandering pets. They also divert stream water and leave behind trash and leaky generators. There's no concern for anything but money.

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