The High Road

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

Trippet hopes that doesn't happen. Her main problem with the 99-plant deal, she says, is that it's filed under a public nuisance ordinance, essentially sending the message that pot creates a blight on society and must be closely monitored, rather than regulated like any other business.

Sligh, who tends a large grow in Laytonville, doesn't think the sheriff's department has the resources to be running such a program. The department — which covers 3,590 square miles and is facing a $3.5 million budget deficit — employs 42 officers, five fewer than it did when Richard Nixon was president. That doesn't allow for much oversight, Sligh says.

Allman says that for the program to work, people need to trust in the department. "If you are going to grow the 99 plants, law enforcement is going to have full access to your property," he announced on KQED several months ago. "We're going to be able to inspect."

The reality is that Sligh's grow has far too many plants for him to even consider exposing it to the authorities. To reach it requires driving on backroads for miles and passing through locked gates. A friend of his who owns a dispensary in L.A. found the property advertised for rent on Craigslist, Sligh says, and asked him to manage it. When Sligh arrived to check it out, there was already infrastructure for a grow in place.

The site was filled with junk, and had seemingly been abandoned in haste. Sligh hired two Mexican immigrants who live on the property and tend the plants daily. He returns every few weeks to monitor the progress, and says he will make money only if the grow is successful. The experience of tending the pot plants is itself valuable, he says. He believes that knowledgeable growers with experience in the black market will have good opportunities in the industry after marijuana is legalized.

Sligh has been watching with interest as cities like Boulder, Colo., find ways to inspect and tax marijuana grows. The financial rewards in creating such a framework mean it's only a matter of time before California jumps on board. In the meantime, Sligh isn't even thinking about exposing his operation to the sheriff.

So why are Harris and Jones gung-ho about it? Trippet says she's never seen the deputies go after anyone in the community with a solid support base. "The sheriff's deputies will never bust those two people," she says. "They are very well loved. It would make martyrs out of them."

On an evening in late June, an orange sun sets behind Laytonville, leaving dramatic pink streaks across the sky in a tie-dyed pattern. It's as if nature itself is on the side of Harris and Jones.

They are in their backyard, surrounded by their plants while being photographed for this story. They're excited to be stepping out of the shadows, revealing who they are and what they do.

But they're also exhausted. They have just returned from a trip back east, visiting their families in the Carolinas, where they swam every day and played poker late into the night. Most family members drank alcohol, except Jones, who continues to attend AA meetings. Although the couple has experienced a significant amount of family strife over the years, even Harris' father, an Episcopalian bishop, has come to accept them as the tie-dye-wearing pot providers they are.

Some of the plants have grown taller than Harris and Jones and will be even taller come harvest time in September. They've gotten rid of quite a few male plants, and have planted more promising females. Although they aren't down to the number they expect to have when the sheriff comes — about 80 plants, they say — they are getting there. They're hoping to harvest around 200 pounds this year, and to sell it for $2,100 a pound.

Whether or not pot is legalized in the fall, Harris and Jones plan to continue being able to sell their pot to loyal and trusted recipients. That said, they absolutely think marijuana should be legal. They've believed all along in the value of the product, not just for patients, for but anyone who chooses to smoke.

Harris and Jones may have risen up on the wrong side of the law, but the will of the people in California has shifted in their direction. And in the end, the law is created by the will of the people.

"It's an awesome life," Jones says, sounding as if he still can't believe his good fortune. "It really is."

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