Dick Tracy: Modern day ‘gold rush’? | TheUnion.com

Dick Tracy: Modern day ‘gold rush’?

Dick Tracy
Columnist

Dick Tracy

My late father-in-law was stunned when a sheriff's deputy knocked on his door and said, "Mr. Schaps, you have marijuana growing on your ranch."

Aerial surveillance showed a grow in a large blackberry bramble some distance from the house and someone was using pasture irrigation water — for a considerable length of time, judging from the size of the plants — to keep the operation going.

An enterprising individual had tunneled into the middle of the blackberries and the grow couldn't be seen from the ground.

That was over 40 years ago.

What smells like skunk spray isn’t created by animals but by what is undoubtedly our largest cash crop.

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And what's happened since then with the production of marijuana? It still appears on the ranch from time to time, as a weed along the irrigation ditches. The horses devour it as seedlings.

Elsewhere, a friend visiting a local bank was making a deposit for her husband, a beloved waiter at a fashionable Sacramento restaurant. It was a month's tip money.

"I hope you don't think this is drug money," she joked with her teller.

"Oh, sweetie," the woman replied, "This is chickenfeed compared to marijuana money. And these bills don't stick to your fingers or smell like pot does. We have so much of it in our vault that if you stay back there for 15 minutes you'll get high!"

It's what's happening here. "The new gold rush," some call it. Others just shake their heads in despair. For anyone unaware of the amount of Cannabis being grown here, simply roll down the windows of your car when driving back roads. What smells like skunk spray isn't created by animals but by what is undoubtedly our largest cash crop.

Shopping for garden supplies at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply I was in line behind a young man who was making a large order, totaling nearly $1,500. He handed the clerk a stack of $20 bills and I thought it would take her some time to count it out.

But no. She put the cash into a currency counting device that went "Brrrrp!" and it was counted in a few seconds. Business as usual.

Several decades ago the Mendocino County Agricultural Commissioner's annual report stirred up all kinds fluff when it stated flatly that marijuana was that county's biggest agricultural moneymaker.

No one was able to refute the claim, but just saying it caused embarrassment among local officials.

And there's lots of speculation that marijuana will soon claim that spot here. Just a mile or so from our home in the South County is a building that once housed a feed store. It's just gotten a new roof and has been cleaned up considerably. Several neighbors feel it's going to house a marijuana outlet.

You all know the arguments about the plant. As we were taught in school, it's considered a "gateway drug" to more powerful things, like heroin or cocaine. But on the medicinal side I know of people who claim that it is the most effective pain killer they've ever had — after years of trying any number of legally prescribed remedies.

That said, will its use increase the number of automobile accidents here? Will it attract a criminal element to create a black market? Will the cash crop boost our economy? Will tax revenues on legitimate operations be used to improve schools or other civic institutions? Will it become common fare at pharmacies?

Your guess is as good as anyone else's. In the long run, though, we may be able — like the Dutch — to accommodate the plants being a part of daily life.

In earlier years Netherlanders seldom had curtains on the front windows of their homes, allowing passersby to see that nothing "shameful" was going on in the household. Strolling the streets of Amsterdam I saw that the practice is still in effect in many homes with simple lace curtains providing a degree of privacy.

And in one was a luxuriant Cannibis sativa specimen, as attractive and proudly displayed under a plant light as a lush Begonia sempervireans might have been.

Dick Tracy, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.