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July 3rd, 2013 KATIE GILBERT | Q & A
 

Hotseat: Doug Fine

The author documents a strange truce in America’s war on drugs.

news4_3935DOUG FINE
Doug Fine is known for his work as a sustainability reporter. He prefers to be called a “comedic investigative journalist.”

He’s written about his “Hypocrisy Reduction Project”—moving his family to an off-the-grid,  goat-filled ranch in New Mexico for his 2008 book, Farewell My Subaru. Fine tested green ideals against the notion that the gadget culture is a necessary part of America.

In his latest book, Fine challenges the necessity of the war on drugs. For Too High to Fail, he moved to Mendocino County, Calif., where a onetime drug-warrior sheriff ran a program regulating and protecting medical-cannabis farmers. To show how it worked, he followed a locally developed strain of marijuana, which he named Lucille, from seed to THC.

Ahead of a July 9 Portland appearance, Fine spoke with WW about dope farming, changing attitudes about marijuana, and why a beer billboard looming over his arrest while researching the book proved an ironic symbol.

WW: What convinced you cannabis should be legalized?
Doug Fine: I usually wake up to the sound of hummingbird wings. But one morning, instead of that, it was helicopters, planes and automatic weapons. It turned out it was my AARP neighbor getting busted for growing a few plants. It told me that the priorities were really screwed up.

People often don’t support the legalization of cannabis because they don’t want to be viewed as stoners or deadbeat druggies.
The stigma front is the last front of the drug war. The lingering stigma is really fading. I saw a lot of seniors in conservative places seeing their friends getting better by not using pharmaceuticals but medical cannabis.

What was it like researching the book?
I would be there when there were landmark days. When they were inspected by the sheriff’s department or a mold was threatening the plant, or when it was flower-trimming time. Sometimes I would be with the sheriff following inspections or interviewing him.

What surprised you?
Like 80 percent of Americans, I knew that the drug war was a failure. So I wanted to examine a place where it was being done right. I knew when I found Mendocino County and their “zip-tie” program, where the sheriff permitted farmers who were responsible for 80 percent of the county’s economy instead of pretending their crop didn’t exist, that this had a lot of potential.

When do you think the drug war will end?
Within five years. I think that by 2016 we may have a dozen more states that have legalized cannabis, counting Oregon and California.

In your book, you point out that even the farmers in Mendocino had to deal with police.
As long as there is federal prohibition, you can be chucked in jail. I was profiled by Sonoma County [police] because I’m a young person with a beard, coming down the stretch of Highway 101 that farmers call the Gauntlet, and was falsely told that my truck smelled like cannabis. I was led into a police vehicle and watched this search. It was great for my book. It was right under this ironic Budweiser billboard that said “Grab Some Buds.” I calculated it cost taxpayers $11,000.

How did you come up with $11,000?
I took the amount of drug-war money that’s spent per day in that portion of California and divided it by the amount of time that I occupied the narcotics squad in the Gauntlet.

What does Mendocino smell like?
What you’re smelling when you smell cannabis cultivation or cannabis storage is the terpene and lipoflavinoids in the plant—the same kind of components that pepper spice or that give lemon its citrusy quality. It is very powerful.

Did it smell like a joint?
No, it didn’t smell the same as when it’s burning. I went into the Verizon store getting a new phone. I apologized because my 20s were crumpled up from my pocket, and they said, “Man, your money doesn’t smell like cannabis, doesn’t smell like hash oil. It’s going to be the easiest money I deposit all day.”

What is with the goats?
The bottom line is that humans have been interacting with goats as long as dogs, they have built relationships with them, and I meditate with my goats. They are smart, they’re funny, they have a great sense of humor, and on top of that, they provide you a lot of protein in the form of milk, yogurt, cheese and, most important of all, ice cream, so what’s not to like?


GO: Doug Fine will read at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Tuesday, July 9. 7:30 pm. Free.

 
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