By Mikal Jakubal
“The ripoff moon. That’s what my grandpa used to call it…the ripoff moon.”
“Yes,” I mumbled under my breath to my friend standing next to me, “he should know.” The speaker was, after all, the notorious ripoff son of said grandpa, himself a notorious ripoff. A friend and I were talking with him in front of my place, across the street from the junkyard and jumbled cluster of squalid hovels where the family lives.
He was referring to the full moon of late September. While still several days away, it is already bright enough to permit movement at night without a flashlight. This is the most dangerous and risky time for growers. The entire year’s work is riding on the hope that the next two to five weeks will go well. While the marijuana crop is not at peak harvest quality, it is mature enough to be smokable, salable and, unfortunately, stealable. By next month, with harvest in full swing, each farm will be abuzz with workers busily cutting, hanging and trimming the marijuana. But now, it is still quiet, with most growers doing the guarding themselves.
Anywhere you find an abundance of illicit wealth you will find an abundance of thieves. Some are locals—such as the family across the street from me—who make their living ripping off others’ marijuana harvest. In other cases, low-lifes come here from elsewhere with the intent of reaping what others have grown. Thieves in pot country are considered the lowest of the low, the scummiest of the scum, probably even lower on the totem pole of social respect than snitches.
Most growers I know rely on the remoteness of their homesteads—security through obscurity—for protection against ripoffs. Many also have dogs and simple security systems such as motion-activated lights or alarms to alert them to intruders. All have fences to protect the marijuana and the rest of their garden from deer. One grower I know has a large greenhouse with chicken wire air-nailed and battened to the inside of the stud framing, adding an additional layer of difficulty to any attempted break-in.
The real fear of most pot farmers I know is what is generically referred to as “armed home invasion,” where there is a forcible break-in involving weapons and a direct confrontation. In most cases, ripoffs will flee the garden if they think they have been seen. They are only there for an easy heist that isn’t worth the risk of a confrontation with an angry grower who may be armed or at least recognize them if they’re local. In an armed home invasion, the thieves are more determined, aggressive and unpredictable.
I haven’t seen any law enforcement statistics on this, but my overall impression is that these sort of violent conflicts have increased in the last half-dozen years. The actual numbers are also likely far higher than any official statistics, since many crimes go unreported due to the pirate nature of the industry. I should note that the fact that marijuana is becoming mainstream and tolerated might mean that the apparent increase is actually just an increase in reporting, now that busting hippies for a few plants is no longer a law-enforcement priority in Humboldt County or most of California.
Growers I know have responded to this perceived threat in a number of ways, mostly involving more security devices, fences, dogs and, unfortunately, guns. Many sleep in or near their pot patch this time of the year. While I have yet to talk to anyone who says that pot is worth killing anyone over or dying for, those who carry weapons usually phrase it as a matter of self-defense against an armed intruder. While they say they wouldn’t kill someone for ripping off their marijuana plants, they might shoot back—or shoot first—if the intruder points a gun at them.
A couple days ago, I talked to someone who lives down the same paved road I live on about his situation. He is not far off the road and only has a deer fence for protection. He has to leave to work elsewhere during the day. The patch is in his large vegetable garden, eighty feet from the house and too far to hear an intruder cutting plants while he is sleeping at night. He says he plans to put up motion-activated alarms soon [dude, do it now!], but in the meantime, he describes his situation like this:
“Every morning I get up and go down to the garden first thing to see if my marijuana is still there. Every evening when I get back from work I go down to see if it’s still there. So far it has been. Tomorrow it may all be gone. I could lose the entire year’s crop and the majority of my year’s income in a few minutes when my back is turned, but I can’t let it run my life. I have work to do in the day, I have to sleep at night and I don’t have anyone else here to guard it for me. You can’t be attached to an outcome in a situation like this. It’s like this every frickin’ year, so I’ve learned to accept that I might get nothing and then be grateful for whatever harvest I do get.”
While unarmed, my neighbor does keep a big, sharp machete by the door in case he has to go out at night and confront someone, noting, finally, “I always sleep a little easier once this full moon is past.”