Marijuana cost me my home.
That old house was in bad shape when we bought it, long before my breast cancer diagnosis, but we could feel its bones the minute we walked through the door. It included century-old redwood beams, pine floors that had seen the drama of life unfold, and antique glass that wavered in the sunlight.
We found the house on the internet after selling our business, and moved in. We loved the San Francisco Bay Area lifestyle we had left, but I was pregnant. We knew we couldn’t keep up our demanding work schedules in the Bay Area and care for a baby, too. Something had to go, so we chose a quieter lifestyle.
Lake County, California is slightly bigger than the state of Rhode Island, but it has only nine stoplights and the cleanest air in the nation. We decided it would be a good place to start our family.
Unfortunately, the smell of that air is pungent now with the stink of marijuana, which has become the county’s primary crop. During harvest season, you can smell the change as you cross the county line. It’s as if the driver in front of you blindsided an army of skunks.
After California loosened its medical marijuana law, growers flocked to the county. The family who lived behind us moved, and growers took their place. Little by little, our home became surrounded by pot.
The federal, state and local patchwork of laws regulating pot has created chaos. Cultivation of marijuana is against federal law, but California ignores those rules.
With a doctor’s recommendation and appropriate paperwork, people who call themselves patients — whether they are or not — are allowed to grow a certain number of plants in certain areas. The number of plants, how they’re cultivated, and where they can be grown varies by county and even within those counties. Transporting pot from grower to user has another set of complicated restrictions.
Because of these complications, a black market continues to thrive. And black markets come with crime.
One Christmas morning near our home, a young man was shot dead while attempting to rob a grower. Earlier that year, a teenage girl was found imprisoned in a box at a pot farm close by. And in the summer, an innocent 26-year-old woman was killed in a head-on collision as law enforcement officers rushed to the scene of what would be a pot bust.
Neighbors four houses up from us, on both sides of the street, experienced armed invasions from robbers looking for pot. At one of the houses, the invaders dragged a woman from her shower, hogtied her at gunpoint, and made off with her pot and over $30,000 in cash. At another house, an old woman, home alone, was terrified when armed invaders entered. Adding to the terror was that she couldn’t understand what they wanted: They had the wrong address.
The community where all of this was happening has a population of about 900. These types of crimes didn’t happen before pot changed everything.
When Operation Full Court Press began in the Mendocino National Forrest 1o miles from our home, authorities cleaned up pot grows. In the process, they removed 23 tons of trash, more than a ton of fertilizer to make marijuana plants grow faster, 57 pounds of poison for killing rival plants, 22 miles of irrigation piping for watering pot, and 32 guns.
They found 13 man-made dams diverting water for marijuana plants, and 120 propane tanks for such uses as generating additional carbon dioxide that the plants can use. It’s no surprise that many people don’t hike there anymore. It’s too dangerous.
Marijuana is complicated, but what is clear is that some communities pay the price for consumers who buy it. Communities like Lake County represent the collateral damage of laws that have yet to sort themselves out.
Cancer is a horrible disease, and I believe patients should have the right to whatever medicine improves their condition or eases their pain. Long before my diagnosis, I voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. But living in an area where pot is cultivated has exposed me to a side of the issue I hadn’t known about.
My hope is that legitimate patients can source their medicine in an ethically responsible way, one that doesn’t leave a trail of heartache in its wake.
In the meantime, the baby who inspired us to move to Lake County is now curling her hair and trying on make-up.
But she’ll be doing these things in another part of the state, in a city where pot cultivation is illegal.
For more about the realities of pot cultivation, please visit http://www.nancybrier.com/essay-pot
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.