United States of Pot

By Andrej Mrevlje |

I am not a great fan of pot or weed of any kind. I do not fancy drugs in general – or better, I do not go crazy over them. But I know them. And I think what is happening with the legalization of marijuana in the United States is interesting. No matter whether for medical use or just for a pleasure – in my youth, we used to smoke it to expand the consciousness, for more or less scientific purposes – the grass is growing all over the United States. It is funny to observe the dynamic of practice and discussion, but I get the impression that at a certain point the Pentagon will join the debate. Why? Because the use of drugs does not typically help to build or strengthen discipline. And since every army is tied together by a chain of command, discipline is needed. Considering that China is far from legalizing drugs, the Pentagon might ask itself, in case of an armed conflict, how efficient, say, would Navy Seals be if they were stoned? Or, for example, how would high Marines behave if they needed to land in North Korea?

I recently found myself reading the California Sunday Magazine, a publication that produces content both online and in print. I am getting addicted to it. In this issue, the group of California editors published a piece by Mike Sager entitled, “The craftsman at the front edge of the marijuana-concentrate boom.” It’s not a funny or entertaining story, but it’s solid reporting on a very interesting topic. It follows a group of young people in the marijuana trade. Among them is James “Skywalker” Johnson, a 32-year-old who used to work for a U.S. Senator, then quit politics and became a bartender, a chef, a computer programmer, and later a marijuana grower. He now claims to be “an ambassador for a California-based lifestyle brand inspired by the culture of hash oil.” In this story, Skywalker and other “craftsmen producers” (as they call themselves) of a kind of hash oil called HBO (Hash Butane Oil – in this method, hash is extracted with the help of butane gas and lab equipment) meet in Las Vegas for an annual fair, called the Secret Cup. These small producers of HBO test samples, exchange notes and try to compete for what would be the highest quality product on the market. They know the big corporations will soon join the market, so they want to be ready. Producing HBO is no longer a hippy matter – it’s serious business. These entrepreneurs help to ensure that HBO is correctly dosed in the products like brownies, pills and thousands of other snacks containing various types of weed. Growing, processing and manufacturing different weed products is becoming an industry with a multi-billion dollar market. With the development of technology, the competition is getting harsher every day. But the Secret Cup members think that their quality product pulls them ahead of the competition.

But not all those who work with weed have a happy story. In the New York Times article, “The Fall of the Cherry King,” Vivian Lee writes about Arthur Mondella, the owner of “Dell’s Maraschino Cherries,” the famous topper for tequila sunrises and other such fun summer drinks. Cherries had been the family business since 1948, and Arthur Mondella was born into it. In 1983, he took over the 1,500 square foot plant in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The business is worth $20 million a year, and Arthur Mondella was virtually running it by himself. He worked very hard, but also played hard. And he spent a lot of money partying in Manhattan. Then the neighbors started complaining about smells and leaks of some sort of chemical coming from the plant. On Feb. 24, a district attorney’s investigators came to the Red Hook plant. Mondella tried to lead them away from a garage on the site, whose double wall hid the entrance to a big underground space. Investigators said that they would come back with another search warrant to look through the basement. Mondella excused himself to bathroom. Seconds later, he shot himself.

It has since been discovered that Mr. Mondella ran two parallel businesses: on the ground floor there was the cherry plant. Below was a super high tech lab to grow marijuana. It was the biggest in New York, a 1,500-square-foot green house. The New York Times investigated the story, trying to figure out why the “Cherry King” needed to become a weed farmer, and there are many lovely details in this story, but Mondella kept his secret well. And if he had resisted authorities a bit longer, he could probably have legalized his business. Like these folks, who created the first legal Airbnb for marijuana lovers.

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