The History of Cannabis Cultivation in Nevada County Part 2
It’s 2015 and we have reached the “golden anniversary” of local cannabis growing. It was roughly 50 years ago when the first “back to the landers” planted marijuana. In the first issue of Nevada County Cannabis, we took a look at the first 25 years of local marijuana cultivation, from 1965-1990. This issue we continue the history, highlighting the years of 1990-2005.
In the 60s, local cannabis cultivation was small and mainly a means of self-sufficiency for many of the new “back to the land” transplants. In the 70s, when the flow of cheap and plentiful marijuana from Mexico was suddenly curtailed by new federal policies enacted by Nixon, domestic cultivation took off locally and statewide, supported by an increase in price due to the sudden overall shortage. In the 80s, domestic cultivation was then attacked, helped by the emerging police tactic of aerial flyovers, a new proactive approach pioneered here in Nevada County. This led to another mass shortage amidst a dearth of people willing to grow in clandestine or risky locations, followed by a further price hike that encouraged criminal profiteering to fill the void left by previously peaceful backyard growers.
By the end of the 80s, the Reagan-era War on Drugs brought havoc, funding major aerial eradication efforts, leaving prices at an all time high, and ushering in the wild-west era of cannabis cultivation in Nevada County. Growing in our forests increased, rip offs of this new high-value commodity were common, and dangerous criminals willing to risk it all became the new face of cannabis cultivation. Growing methods were no longer about natural, organic and environmentally friendly techniques. It was all about how fast, how big, and how selfishly a sneaky crop could be produced, all for increasing profits. A dark cloud had descended on Nevada County with a cultural war in full swing.
In the 1990s, as a result of the war on outdoor gardens easily detectable by air, and which could only be grown once a year, a new version of cannabis cultivation emerged: indoor gardening. New technologies and industries sprouted, including special grow lights, hydroponic tables, and all the environmental controls necessary to replicate the perfect environment for growing inside. A crop could be hidden from aerial surveillance and the smell neutralized by filters. All across Nevada County a new wave of cultivation sprouted as indoor grow rooms were built or fashioned out of garages, sheds, and spare rooms. This new indoor-grown cannabis was known by its look, taste and smell, and was deemed superior by many aficionados, thus commanding a higher price premium while also allowing peaceful local home growers to emerge once again. The local supply was more in harmony with the growing demand as year-round harvesting occurred, but prices remained high due to the added overhead of constant electricity and the cost of indoor equipment.
Then, in 1996, legal medical marijuana cultivation arrived on the scene. By this time, cannabis cultivation was occurring all over Nevada County, grown by the young and old, both indoors and out, on public and private lands, and our area was a hub of connoisseurs, aficionados, and fantastically skilled gardeners. Prices were high and the idea of legal growing was exciting as well as confusing. Many folks wanted to save thousands of dollars by producing their own legal crop. Others wanted to make thousands of dollars by producing their own legal crop. The Nevada County District Attorney at the time, Mike Ferguson, acknowledged there was no way to police everyone, and as the 2000s arrived a sensible truce had to be drawn.
The first Nevada County Guidelines for Medical Marijuana Cultivation were issued by Ferguson in 2001, shortly after a local judge ordered the sheriff’s office to return pot it had seized from a legal medical marijuana patient. County officials had never before been forced to give someone back their pot and it was clear that the rules had changed. The cultivation guidelines held no force of law, since patients were allowed to grow as much as they needed, provided they could prove the harvest didn’t exceed their personal medical need. The guidelines drew a line for law enforcement, stating that if someone had a legal garden of 10 plants or less and had 2 pounds or less of actual herb, then they wouldn’t be prosecuted. This re-encouraged self-sufficiency, increased supply and reduced prices, and once again backyard gardens sprouted. When Ferguson retired in 2006, things would change.
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