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growing cannabis in the woods

Growing cannabis in the woods

David Spakowicz, director of field operations for the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation’s eastern region, says the state once thought it was “immune” from the sort of marijuana operations that have long existed in California and other Western states. He hopes Wisconsin’s policy, which he describes as “we’re not only going to take your plants, we’re going to arrest you,” will soon be a deterrent.

This spot is a reminder of a new danger in Wisconsin’s north woods: large marijuana-growing operations tended by armed illegal immigrants from Mexico. The first such site was discovered in the 1.5-million-acre national forest in 2008. Similar operations have been discovered every year since then.

In the most recent Chequamegon-Nicolet bust in August, federal prosecutors charged seven people with manufacturing marijuana with the intent to distribute it. More than 8,000 plants worth $8 million were seized. Their cases are pending.

“I’m very concerned about it,” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says. The problem in his state, he says, is “as bad as anywhere in the country.” Most people arrested have been illegal immigrants from Mexico with connections in California, he says, and their operations are “consistent with drug-trafficking organizations out of Mexico.”

In the last couple of years, the growers have changed their business model, he says. Instead of using a single, large growing site, they plant in many smaller spaces to help avoid detection. They also are moving deeper into the forest; a 2010 site that was raided was just a few hundred feet from a road.

Seefeldt, a district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, points out the trees and brushes that were cut down to make room for an illicit crop and piled into a makeshift fence meant to keep animals and human intruders out. He gestures toward the creek from which water was hauled to keep thousands of marijuana plants growing.

The damage left behind can be dramatic. Garbage, the carcasses of poached deer, poisons used to keep animals from harming the crop, pesticides and fertilizers make a mess and can harm the soil and streams. It can take years for trees hacked down to make room for the plants to be replaced with new growth.

Growing cannabis in the woods

So after a few weeks of mourning, I decided to give pot-plant parenting a second try. And this time around, I was determined to spare no expense — potential tax savings be damned. I invested in a bathroom scale so I could weigh the plant between waterings, and when Taylor offhandedly suggested an LED grow light so I could raise my little green girl indoors, I immediately ordered one and cleared a spot in my garage, not far from where my hard-partying friends used to routinely smoke plants like her in the pre-pandemic days.

And there’s one last tiny hitch in the homegrown giddyap — and one that’s of particular importance in a city like L.A. where most of us live cheek by jowl: any plants you’re growing must be in a locked space that is not visible to the public.

In the run-up to 4/20, a look at some of the ways Southern California is shaping the cannabis conversation.

I planted my first seed on Oct. 19, 2020, opting for an easy-to-grow strain called Lowryder. Considered one of the first autoflowering strains of marijuana — meaning the plant flowers after a set period of time instead of taking its cue from seasonal light changes — Lowryder is a cross of Cannabis ruderalis, ‘Northern Lights No. 2′ and ‘William’s Wonder’ that yields a compact, indica-heavy plant. Based on the grow guide included in my kit, my plant would be ready to harvest just before Christmas. In a nod to the holiday season timetable, when the first green sprout popped out of the soil a few days later, I nicknamed her Mariah in honor of the chanteuse whose 1994 album “Merry Christmas” seems to flower like clockwork year after year.

That wasn’t the only connection I was hoping for. I saw becoming an L.A. pot-plant parent as a way to gain entree to an invisible social network in this city in the way those who raise children here end up forming lifelong bonds with strangers who happen to have had kids at the same time. Instead of bonding over hastily arranged carpool schedules or sitting on the sidelines at a soccer game together, I imagined mingling with first-time marijuana moms and dope dads in the gardening supply aisle at Lowe’s, sharing baby pictures of our leafy green chlorophyll kids and trading curing tips and yield-boosting hacks.