This is the way the bust went down. I was standing in my house with a bag of cat food in my arms, and I was yelling at my kids, “Who fed the cat?” The next thing I know, someone shouts, “Hit the deck.” It had to be either the cops or thieves. I said, “Fuck you I’m not hitting the deck. I have a broken back and bad knees.” “Come on out,” the voice said.
While I went out of my house, the cops went inside and pointed automatic weapons at my 7 and my 11-year old and at my wife, Atsuko, too. They led them outside and made them stand there. Atsuko asked the cops to turn off their vehicles so the exhaust wouldn’t fill the air. “No,” one cop says. “We’ve been nice so far. No more.”
After an hour, they took the kids into the house and then brought them to school. Me and six other people were herded into a sea crate and detained there for hours. The cops harvested all the plants I had at two different locations. They’d done aerial surveillance, located the properties on a map, and searched PG & E records for names. Then they raided. There were 20 cop cars and an armored personnel carrier—an APC, military surplus. Rednecks would die for the tires on that thing.
I was growing for medical marijuana patients. It felt good to give away a few hundred pounds of weed to people with AIDS/ HIV and glaucoma. Sure, I wanted to make a million bucks, but it wasn‘t only about the money. I had all the patients’ recommendations sitting on a table next to the front door, just waiting for the cops.
During the bust, I was angry more than anything else. As I saw it, I was committing civil disobedience. Also, under Prop 215 I was allowed to grow 35 plants per patient. I had 60 fucking patients. In fact, I was under the limit by 400 plants. If I hadn’t run out of room, I would have grown more than the 1200 plants I had in the backyard. One of the cops tells me, “Every year your garden gets bigger and bigger.” Well, yeah, I had more and more patients.
The cops had been watching me for years and had waited to strike. One of the cops on the raid says to me, “This is the nicest garden I’ve ever seen.” The cops weren’t really gung-ho to bust. They liked using their toys, but once they saw that we had no guns, no cash, no drugs, and no dangerous dogs, they lost interest. It was all anti-climactic for them, though not for my family and me.
Of course the cops on the ground had not chosen to raid me. The orders came down from the upper echelons. They took me to the Sonoma County jail and held me in the waiting room until my landlord, Gordon Evans, put up cash and bailed me out. Code enforcement also put pressure on Gordon, hoping he’d put pressure on me. He did no such thing. I had no money, but Gordon let me live on the property rent-free. You know, he’s a local legend in West County. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for Gordon. He’s a real neighbor and a real libertarian in the best sense of the word.
While I was in the jail waiting room I made a phone call to Keith Faulder, of course. Keith told me I was over the limit. He also told me not to push their buttons because if I kept doing that, they’d kick my case upstairs to the feds. Keith has represented me five times. I own him $100,000, but he told me, “Forget about it, Joe.”
The upshot of my big bust was that they dropped the charges against me. I agreed that I wouldn’t grow again unless I had a permit. You know me. I grew without a permit and I was busted again. They only brought one small van the second time and no APC. I was insulted. After all, I’m supposed to Public Enemy #1.
Jail isn’t so bad in Sonoma County thought the strip search is no fun, nor is it fun when they look up your butt. The second year that I was raided and then put on trial, seven guys from the city showed up in court, all of them with AIDs and HIV, all of them ready to testify on my behalf. That was the deal I had with them. If I was nailed they agreed to explain that I gave them free pot. The DA took one look at the sick guys, disappeared for a while, then came back and said she wasn’t going to proceed with the case. We went home and cleaned up the mess the cops had made when they harvested the crop. It was sad. But when I heard that I wasn’t going to be prosecuted, I felt like a huge burden had been lifted. I didn’t have to worry about incarceration.
Looking back at these busts, and what followed, I’d say that they weren’t really about pot, but about control. I was caught up in the culture war. For me, it’s a civil liberties issue. No one has the right or the authority to tell me what I can put into my body and no one has the right to tell me I can’t grow an herb that humans have cultivated and enjoyed for thousands of years.