Monday, September 9, 2013

California's Nascent Marijuana Industry, 1960-63

California's famous marijuana-growing region, the "Emerald Triangle," shown in green.
 In 1954, the Ukiah, California Kiwanis club invited Reno Bartolomie, a special investigator for the DA in Mendocino County,to speak at one of their weekly dinners. Bartolomie, who would later be elected sheriff of Mendocino County, discussed the state's growing concern with drugs and told the group their county "is fortunate in being one of the clean spots in the state" (1).

Eight years later, as sheriff, Bartolomie could no longer make that claim, as by August of 1962 his deputies oversaw the pullup of 121 marijuana plants from the backyard of Mendocino City resident Donald Treadwell (2).

Along with Humboldt and Trinity counties, Mendocino County is now part of northern California's "Emerald Triangle" - the country's hotbed of outdoor marijuana farming. But before the back-to-the-land hippies began cultivating marijuana in the warm, rugged region in the 1970s, large-scale growing operations stateside were few and far between (3). Of course, it has been well-documented on this blog that California's climate allowed dozens, probably hundreds of people to grow their own supply - and sometimes a little extra for the black market - pretty much anywhere (4). One L.A man in 1959 grew 550 plants in his backyard (5). But before the 1980s most of the nation's illicit marijuana was grown in and smuggled from Mexico, Jamaica, or Colombia (6).

However, a healthy foreign supply did not keep enterprising Californians like Treadwell from trying to get a piece of the black pie. Treadwell's partner, Jacques Mion, was an artist from San Francisco, a city that harbored more than its share of pot-smoking beatniks in the fifties (7). It is likely that either one or both partners smoked; deputies confiscated a "pipe" which, given the lack of poppy seeds or plants, was probably not "used for opium" (8). It was the cultural descendents of beats like Mion who would usher in Mendocino County's era of large-scale, high-quality marijuana production.