Posts Tagged ‘Marijuana’

And we believe this creation is bad for us?

And the Gods said: Behold, we will give them every herb bearing seed that shall come upon the face of all the earth, and every tree which shall have fruit upon it; yea, the fruit of the tree yielding seed to them we will give it; it shall be for their ameat.

– Abraham 4:29

I’m well beyond the curve on this one, having caught it a mere 15 years after it was first written or thereabouts, but thought it provided a nice parallel to the post I did a while back on Marijuana and the Word of Wisdom.  Reading this article is, methinks, well worth your time and consideration, both for the content and the style Michael Pollan (the same author who inspired that post on Marijuana with his book entitled The Botany of Desire) utilizes in crafting his story.

This is really a topic – Opium, that is – that I’d never thought of until this weekend.  Like Marijuana it simply wasn’t on my radar screen.  One of my brothers pointed out this article as we were traveling back from a catering gig with my pizza trailer, an article which was somehow pointed out to him, and here we are, after finding and reading through this article.  This article was written nearly 15 years ago, so certainly some of the details and information may/will seem slightly outdated to some of the more “in the know” readers.  Nevertheless, it might be worth your time to trudge on and read it regardless.

By the end of the article, if you choose to read that far (again, it’s well worth it), I hope you ask yourself the same questions that were raised in the Marijuana post, as well as some of the questions Pollan raises himself throughout the article.

We live in a world where everyone from the police, your school teachers, your parents, your ecclesiastical leaders and everyone in between seemingly know what’s best for everyone else.  A world motivated by fear, fearing people into doing good, fearing people into acting a certain way and fearing people into behaving according to societal and cultural and religious norms.  Perhaps it’s time to look at things through a slightly different paradigm, and that’s what Pollan brings in this article.  Read on, dear reader.

Just my $0.02.


Opium Made Easy

By Michael Pollan
Harper’s Magazine, April 1, 1997

Last season was a strange one in my garden, notable not only for the unseasonably cool and wet weather—the talk of gardeners all over New England—but also for its climate of paranoia. One flower was the cause: a tall, breathtaking poppy, with silky scarlet petals and a black heart, the growing of which, I discovered rather too late, is a felony under state and federal law. Actually, it’s not quite as simple as that. My poppies were, or became, felonious; another gardener’s might or might not be. The legality of growing opium poppies (whose seeds are sold under many names, including the breadseed poppy, Papaver paeoniflorum, and, most significantly, Papaver somniferum) is a tangled issue, turning on questions of nomenclature and epistemology that it took me the better part of the summer to sort out. But before I try to explain, let me offer a friendly warning to any gardeners who might wish to continue growing this spectacular annual: the less you know about it, the better off you are, in legal if not horticultural terms. Because whether or not the opium poppies in your garden are illicit depends not on what you do, or even intend to do, with them but very simply on what you know about them. Hence my warning: if you have any desire to grow opium poppies, you would be wise to stop reading right now.

As for me, I’m afraid that, at least in the eyes of the law, I’m already lost, having now tasted of the forbidden fruit of poppy knowledge. Indeed, the more I learned about poppies, the guiltier my poppies became—and the more fearful grew my days and to some extent also my nights. Until the day last fall, that is, when I finally pulled out my poppies’ withered stalks and, with a tremendous feeling of relief, threw them on the compost, thereby (I hope) rejoining the ranks of gardeners who don’t worry about visits from the police.

It started out if not quite innocently, then legally enough. Or at least that’s what I thought back in February, when I added a couple of poppy varieties (P. somniferum as well as P. paeoniflorum and P. rhoeas) to my annual order of flowers and vegetables from the seed catalogues. But the state of popular (and even expert) knowledge about poppies is confused, to say the least; mis- and even disinformation is rife. I’d read in Martha Stewart Living that “contrary to general belief, there is no federal law against growing P. somniferum.” Before planting, I consulted my Taylor’s Guide to Annuals, a generally reliable reference that did allude to the fact that “the juice of the unripe pod yields opium, the production of which is illegal in the United States.” But Taylor’s said nothing worrisome about the plants themselves. I figured that if the seeds could be sold legally (and I found somniferum on offer in a half-dozen well-known catalogues, though it was not always sold under that name), how could the obvious next step—i.e., planting the seeds according to the directions on the packet—possibly be a federal offense? Were this the case, you would think there’d at least be a disclaimer in the catalogues.

So it seemed to me that I could remain safely on the sunny side of the law just as long as I didn’t attempt to extract any opium from my poppies. Yet I have to confess that this was a temptation I grappled with all last summer. You see, I’d become curious as to whether it was in fact possible, as I’d recently read, for a gardener of average skills to obtain a narcotic from a plant grown in this country from legally available seeds. To another gardener this will not seem odd, for we gardeners are like that: eager to try the improbable, to see if we can’t successfully grow an artichoke in Zone 5 or make echinacea tea from the roots of our purple coneflowers. Deep down I suspect that many gardeners regard themselves as minor-league alchemists, transforming the dross of compost (and water and sunlight) into substances of rare value and beauty and power. Also, one of the greatest satisfactions of gardening is the independence it can confer—from the greengrocer, the florist, the pharmacist, and, for some, the drug dealer. One does not have to go all the way “back to the land” to experience the satisfaction of providing for yourself off the grid of the national economy. So, yes, I was curious to know if I could make opium at home, especially if I could do so without making a single illicit purchase. It seemed to me that this would indeed represent a particularly impressive sort of alchemy.

I wasn’t at all sure, however, whether I was prepared to go quite that far. I mean, opium! I’m not eighteen anymore, or in any position to undertake such a serious risk. I am in fact forty two, a family man (as they say) and homeowner whose drug-taking days are behind him. Not that they aren’t sometimes fondly recalled, the prevailing cant about drug abuse notwithstanding. But now I have a kid and a mortgage and a Keogh. There is simply no place in my grownup, middle-class lifestyle for an arrest on federal narcotics charges, much less for the forfeiture of my family’s house and land, which often accompanies such an arrest. It was one thing, I reasoned, to grow poppies; quite another to manufacture narcotics from them. I figured I knew where the line between these two deeds fell, and felt confident that I could safely toe it.

But in these days of the American drug war, as it turns out, the border between the sunny country of the law-abiding—my country!—and a shadowy realm of SWAT teams, mandatory minimum sentences, asset forfeitures, and ruined lives is not necessarily where one thinks it is. One may even cross it unawares. As I delved into the horticulture and jurisprudence of the opium poppy last summer, I made the acquaintance of one man, a contemporary and a fellow journalist, who had had his life pretty well wrecked after stepping across that very border. In his case, though, there is reason to believe it was the border that did the moving; he was arrested on charges of possessing the same flowers that countless thousands of Americans are right now growing in their gardens and keeping in vases in their living rooms. What appears to have set him apart was the fact that he had published a book about this flower in which he described a simple method for converting its seedpod into a narcotic—knowledge that the government has shown it will go to great lengths to keep quiet. Just where this leaves me, and this article, is, well, the subject of this article.


Before recounting my own adventures among the poppies, and encounters with the poppy police, I need to tell you a little about this acquaintance, since he was the inspiration for my own experiments in poppy cultivation as well as the direct cause of the first flush of my paranoia. His name is Jim Hogshire. He first came to my attention a few years ago, when this magazine published an excerpt from Pills-a-go-go, one of the wittier and more informative of the countless “zines” that sprang up in the early Nineties, when desktop publishing first made it possible for individuals single-handedly to publish even the narrowest of special-interest periodicals. Hogshire’s own special interest—his passion, really—was the world of pharmaceuticals: the chemistry, regulation, and effects of licit and illicit drugs. Published on multicolored stock more or less whenever Hogshire got around to it, Pills-a-go-go printed inside news about the pharmaceutical industry alongside firsthand accounts of Hogshire’s own self-administered drug experiments—”pill-hacking,” he called it. The zine had a strong libertarian-populist bent, and was given to attacking the FDA, DEA, and AMA with gusto whenever those institutions stood between the American people and their pills—pills that Hogshire regarded with a reverence born of their astounding powers to heal as well as to alter the course of human history and, not incidentally, consciousness.

Hogshire’s reports on his drug experiments made for amusing reading. I particularly remember his description, reprinted in this magazine, of the effects of a deliberate overdose of Dextromethorphan Hydrobromide, or DM, a common ingredient in over-the-counter cough syrups and nighttime cold remedies. After drinking eight ounces of Robitussin DM, Hogshire reported waking up at 4:00 A.M. and determining that he should now shave and go to Kinko’s to get some copies made.

That may seem normal, but the fact was that I had a reptilian brain. My whole way of thinking and perceiving had changed. . . .

I got in the shower and shaved. While I was shaving I “thought” that for all I knew I was hacking my face to pieces. Since I didn’t see any blood or feel any pain I didn’t worry about it. Had I looked down and seen that I had grown another limb, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all; I would have just used it. . . .

The world became a binary place of dark and light, on and off, safety and danger. . . . I sat at my desk and tried to write down how this felt so I could look at it later. I wrote down the word “Cro-Magnon.” I was very aware that I was stupid. . . . Luckily there were only a couple of people in Kinko’s and one of them was a friend. She confirmed that my pupils were of different sizes. One was out of round. . . .

I knew there was no way I could know if I was correctly adhering to social customs. I didn’t even know how to modulate my voice. Was I talking too loud? Did I look like a regular person? I understood that I was involved in a big contraption called civilization and that certain things were expected of me, but I could not comprehend what the hell those things might be. . . .

I found being a reptile kind of pleasant. I was content to sit there and monitor my surroundings. I was alert but not anxious. Every now and then I would do a “reality check” to make sure I wasn’t masturbating or strangling someone, because of my vague awareness that more was expected of me than just being a reptile—.

My interest in Hogshire’s drug journalism was mild and strictly literary; as I’ve mentioned, my own experiments with drugs were past, and never terribly ambitious to begin with. I’d been too terrified ever to try hallucinogens, and my sole experience with opiates had accompanied some unpleasant dental work. I’d grown some marijuana once in the early Eighties, when doing so was no big deal, legally speaking. But things are different now: growing a handful of marijuana plants today could cost me my freedom and my house.

We may not hear as much now about the war on drugs as we did in the days of Nancy Reagan, William Bennett, and “Just Say No.” But in fact the drug war continues unabated; if anything, the Clinton Administration is waging it even more intensely than its predecessors, having spent a record $15 billion on drug enforcement last year and added federal death penalties for so-called drug kingpins—a category defined to include large-scale growers of marijuana. Every autumn, police helicopters equipped with infrared sensors trace regular flight paths over the farm fields in my corner of New England; just the other day they spotted thirty marijuana plants tucked into a cornfield up the road from me, less than a hundred yards, as the crow flies, from my garden. For all I know, the helicopters peered down into my garden on their way; the Supreme Court has recently ruled that such overflights do not constitute an illegal search of one’s property, one of a string of recent rulings that have strengthened the government’s hand in fighting the drug war.

Overflights and other such measures have certainly proved an effective deterrent with me. And anyway, the few times I’ve had access to marijuana in the last few years, my biggest problem was always finding the time to smoke it. Whatever else it may be, recreational drug use is a leisure activity, and leisure is something in woefully short supply at this point in my life. No small part of the pleasure I got from reading Hogshire’s drug adventures consisted of nostalgia for a time when I could set aside a couple of hours, even a whole day, to see what it might feel like to have a reptilian brain.

Nowadays what leisure time I do have tends to be spent in the garden, a passion that in recent years has turned into a professional interest—I am, among other things, a garden writer. I mention this to help explain the keen interest I took in Jim Hogshire’s subsequent project: a somewhat unconventional treatise on gardening titled Opium for the Masses, published in 1994 by an outfit in Port Townsend, Washington, called Loompanics Unlimited. The book’s astonishing premise is that anyone can obtain opiates cheaply and safely and maybe even legally—or at least beneath the radar of the authorities, who, if Hogshire was to be believed, were overlooking something rather significant in their pursuit of the war on drugs. According to Hogshire’s book, it is possible to grow opium from legally available seeds (he provided detailed horticultural instructions) or, to make matters even easier, to obtain it from poppy seedpods, which happen to be one of the more popular types of dried flowers sold in florist and crafts shops. Whether grown or purchased, fresh or dried, these seedpods contain significant quantities of morphine, codeine, and thebaine, the principal alkaloids found in opium.

Hogshire’s claim flew in the face of everything I’d ever heard about opium—that the “right” kind of poppies grow only in faraway places like the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, that harvesting opium requires vast cadres of peasant workers armed with special razor blades, and that the extraction of opiates is a painstaking and complicated process. Hogshire made it sound like child’s play.

In addition to the horticultural advice, Opium for the Masses offered simple recipes for making “poppy tea” from either store-bought or homegrown poppies, and Hogshire reported that a cup of this infusion (which is apparently a traditional home remedy in many cultures) would reliably relieve pain and anxiety and “produce a sense of well being and relaxation.” Bigger doses of the tea would produce euphoria and a “waking sleep” populated by dreams of a terrific vividness. Hogshire cautioned that the tea, like all opiates, was addictive if taken too many days in a row; otherwise, its only notable side effect was constipation.

As for the legal implications, Hogshire was encouragingly vague: “Opium, the juice of the poppy, is a controlled substance but it’s unclear how illegal the plant itself is.” Here is how I figured one might be able to toe the line safely between the cultivation of opium poppies, routine enough in the gardening world, and felony possession of opium: if opium is the extruded sap of the unripe seedpod, then the dried heads used to make tea by definition did not involve one with opium. Hogshire didn’t go quite that far, but he did write that “it is unclear whether it is illegal to brew tea from poppies you’ve purchased legally from the store.” As will soon become evident, Jim Hogshire is no longer unclear on either of these points.

Last winter Hogshire’s lively little paperback joined the works of Penelope Hobhouse (On Gardening), Gertrude Jekyll (Gardener’s Testament), and Louise Beebe Wilder (Color in My Garden) on my bedside table. Winter is when the gardener reads and dreams and draws up schemes for the borders he will plant come spring, and the more I read about what the ancient Sumerians had called “the flower of joy,” the more intriguing the prospect of growing poppies in my garden became, aesthetically as well as pharmacologically. From Hogshire I drifted over to the more mainstream garden writers, many of whom wrote extravagantly of opium poppies—of their ephemeral outward beauty (for the blooms last but a day or two) and their dark inward mystery.

“Poppies have cast a spell over gardeners and artists for many centuries,” went one typical garden writer’s lead; this was, inevitably, quickly followed by the phrase “dark connotations of the opium poppy.” But nowhere in my reading did I find a clear statement that planting Papaver somniferum would put a gardener on the wrong side of the law. “When grown in a garden,” one authority on annuals declared, somewhat ambiguously, “the cultivation of P. somniferum is a case of Honi soit qui mal y pense. (Shame to him who thinks ill.)” In general the garden writers tended to ignore or gloss over the legal issue and focus instead on the beauty of somniferum, which all concurred was exquisite.

Reading about poppies that winter, I wondered if it was possible to untangle the flower’s physical beauty from the knowledge of its narcotic properties. It seemed to me that even the lady garden writers who (presumably) would never think of sampling opium had been subconsciously influenced by its mood-altering potential; Louise Beebe Wilder tells us that poppies set her “heart vibrating with their waywardness.” Merely to gaze at a poppy was to feel dreamy, to judge by the many American Impressionist paintings of the flower, or from the experience of Dorothy and company, who you’ll recall were interrupted on their journey through Oz when they passed out in a field of scarlet poppies. If ever there was an innocent angle from which to gaze at the opium poppy, our culture seems long ago to have forgotten where it is.

By now I too was falling under the spell of the opium poppy. I dug out my college edition of De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and I reread Coleridge’s descriptions of his opium dreams (“. . . how divine that repose is, what a spot of enchantment, a green spot of fountains and flowers and trees in the very heart of a waste of sands”). I read accounts of the Opium Wars, in which England went to war for no loftier purpose than to keep China’s harbors open to opium clipper ships bound from India, whose colonial economy depended on opium exports. I read about nineteenth-century medicine, in whose arsenal opium—usually in the form of a tincture called laudanum—was easily the most important weapon. In part this was because the principal goal of medical care at that time was not so much to cure illness as to relieve pain, and there was (and is) no better painkiller than opium and its derivatives. But opium-based preparations were also used to treat, or prevent, a great variety of ills, including dysentery, malaria, tuberculosis, cough, insomnia, anxiety, and even colic in infants. (Since opium is extremely bitter, nursing mothers would induce babies to ingest it by smearing the medicine on their nipples.) Regarded as “God’s own medicine,” preparations of opium were as common in the Victorian medicine cabinet as aspirin is in ours.

Is there another flower that has had anywhere near the opium poppy’s impact on history and literature? In the nineteenth century, especially, the poppy played as crucial a role in the course of events as petroleum has played in our own century: opium was the basis of national economies, a staple of medicine, an essential item of trade, a spur to the Romantic revolution in poetry, even a casus bell).

Yet I had to canvass dozens of friends before I found one who’d actually tried it; opium in its smokable form is apparently all but impossible to obtain today, no doubt because smuggling heroin is so much easier and more lucrative. (One unintended consequence of the war on drugs has been to increase the potency of all illicit drugs: garden-variety marijuana has given way to powerful new strains of sinsemilla; and powdered cocaine, to crack.) The friend who had once smoked opium smiled wistfully as he recalled the long-ago afternoon: “The dreams! The dreams!” was all he would say. When I pressed him for a more detailed account, he referred me to Robert Bulwer-Lytton, the Victorian poet, who’d likened the effect to having one’s soul rubbed down with silk.

There was no question that I would have to try to grow it, if only as a historical curiosity. Okay, not only that, but that too. Again, you have to understand the gardener’s mentality. I once grew Jenny Lind melons, a popular nineteenth-century variety named for the most famous soprano of the time, just to see if I could grow them, but also to glean some idea of what the word “melon” might have conjured in the mind of Walt Whitman or Chester Arthur. I planted an heirloom apple tree, “Esopus Spitzenberg,” simply because Thomas Jefferson had planted it at Monticello, declaring it the “finest eating apple in the world.” Gardening is, among other things, an exercise of the historical imagination, and I was by now eager to stare into the black heart of an opium poppy with my own eyes.

So I began studying the flower sections of the seed catalogues, which by February formed a foot-high pile on my desk. I found “breadseed poppies” (whose seeds are used in baking) for sale in Seeds Blum, a catalogue of heirloom plants from Idaho, and several double varieties (that is, flowers with multiple petals) described as Papaver paeoniflorum in the catalogue of Thompson & Morgan, the British seed merchants. Burpee carries a breadseed poppy called “Peony Flowered,” whose blooms resemble “ruffled pom-poms.” In Park’s, a large, mid-market seed catalogue from South Carolina (their covers invariably feature scrubbed American children arranged in a sea of flowers and vegetables), I found a white double poppy called “White Cloud” and identified as “Papaver somniferum paeoniflorum.” Although I didn’t know it at the time, all these poppies turn out to be strains of Papaver somniferum.

In Cook’s, the catalogue from which I usually order my seeds for salad greens and exotic vegetables, I found paeoniflorum and rhoeas, as well intriguing varieties of somniferum: “Single Danish Flag,” a tall poppy that, judging from the catalogue copy, closely resembles the classic scarlet poppies I’d read about and seen in Impressionist paintings; and “Hens and Chicks,” about which the catalogue was particularly enthusiastic: “the large lavender blooms are a wonderful prelude to the seed pods, which are striking in a dried arrangement. A large central pod (the hen) is surrounded by dozens of tiny pods (the chicks).” More to the point, Hogshire had indicated in Opium for the Masses that “Hens and Chicks” might prove especially potent.

This was an issue I had wondered about: the ornamental varieties on sale in the catalogues had obviously been bred for their visual or, in the case of the breadseed poppies, culinary qualities. It seemed likely that, as breeders concentrated on these traits to the neglect of others, the morphine and codeine content of these poppies might have dwindled to nothing. So what were the best varieties to plant for opiates?

I couldn’t very well pose this question to my usual sources in the gardening world—to Dora Galitzki, the horticulturist who answers the help line at the New York Botanical Garden or to Shepherd Ogden, the knowledgeable and helpful proprietor of Cook’s. So I tried, through a mutual friend, to get in touch with Jim Hogshire himself. I e-mailed him, explaining what I was up to and asking for recommendations as to the best poppy varieties as well as for advice on cultivation. As I would do with any fellow flower enthusiast, I asked him if he had any seeds he might be willing to share with me and told him about the varieties I’d found in the catalogues. “How can I be confident that these seeds—which have obviously been bred and selected for their ornamental qualities—will `work’?”

As it turned out, I picked the wrong time to ask. One morning a few days later, and before I’d had any response to my e-mail, I got a call from our mutual friend saying that Hogshire had been arrested in Seattle and was being held in the city jail on felony drug charges. It seems that on March 6 a Seattle Police Department SWAT team had burst into Hogshire’s apartment, armed with a search warrant claiming that he was running a “drug lab.” Hogshire and his wife, Heidi, were held in handcuffs while the police conducted a six-hour search that yielded a jar of prescription pills, a few firearms, and several bunches of dried poppies wrapped in cellophane. The poppies had evidently come from a florist, but Hogshire was nevertheless charged with “possession of opium poppy, with intent to manufacture and distribute.” The guns were legal, but one was cited in the indictment as an “enhancement”: another product of the drug war is the fact that the penalties on some narcotics charges rise steeply when the crime “involves” a firearm, even when that firearm is legal or registered. Neither Jim nor Heidi Hogshire had ever been arrested before. Now Jim was being held on $10,000 bail; Heidi, on $2,000. If convicted, Jim faced ten years in prison; Heidi faced a two-year sentence on a lesser charge.

Forgive me for the sudden upwelling of naked self-interest, but all I could think about was that e-mail of mine, buried somewhere on the hard drive of Hogshire’s computer, which no doubt was already in the hands of the police forensics unit. Or maybe the message had been intercepted somehow, part of a DEA tap on Hogshire’s phone or a surveillance of his e-mail account. I could hardly believe my stupidity! Suddenly I thought I could feel the dull tug of the underworld’s undertow, felt as if I’d been somehow implicated in something, though exactly what that might be I couldn’t say. Yet my confidence that I stood firmly on the sunny side of the law had been shaken. They had my name.

But this was crazy, paranoid thinking, wasn’t it? After all, I hadn’t done anything, except order some flower seeds and write a mildly suggestive piece of e-mail. As for Hogshire, surely there had to be more to this bust than a bunch of dried poppies; it didn’t make any sense. I asked our mutual friend if he would be in touch with Hogshire anytime soon, because I was eager to talk to him, to learn more about his peculiar case.

“Also,” I added, as casually as I could manage, “would you mind asking him whether he’s gotten any e-mail from me?”


My poppy seeds arrived a couple of weeks later. My plan was to sow them, see if I could get flowers and pods, and decide only then whether to proceed any further. I’d been spooked by Hogshire’s arrest, doubly spooked to learn from our friend that in fact he had never received my e-mail—undelivered e-mail being highly unusual in my experience. But I still had little reason to doubt that growing poppies for ornamental purposes was legal, and so on an unseasonably warm afternoon in the first week of April I planted my seeds—two packets, each containing a thimbleful of grayish-blue specks. They looked exactly like what they were: poppy seeds, the same ones you find on a kaiser roll or a bagel. (In fact, it is possible to germinate poppy seeds bought from the supermarket’s spice aisle. Also, eating such seeds prior to taking a drug test can produce a positive result.)

I’d prepared a tiny section of my garden, an area where the soil is especially loamy and, somewhat more to the point, several old apple trees block the view from the road. Papaver somniferum is a hardy annual that grows best in cool conditions, so it isn’t necessary to wait for the last frost date to sow; I read that in the South, in fact, gardeners sow their poppies in late fall and winter them over. Sowing is a simple matter of broadcasting, or tossing, the seeds over the surface of the cultivated soil and watering them in; since the seeds are so tiny, there’s no need to cover them, but it is a good idea to mix the seeds with a handful of sand in order to spread them as evenly as possible over the planting area.

Within ten days my soil had sprouted a soft grass of slender green blades half an inch high. These were soon followed by the poppies’ first set of true leaves, which are succulent and spiky, not unlike those of a loose leaf lettuce. The color is a pale, vegetal, green-tinged blue, and the foliage is slightly dusted-looking; “glaucous” is the horticultural term for it.

The poppies came up in thick clumps that would clearly need thinning. The problem was, how much thinning, and when? Hogshire’s book was vague on this point, suggesting a spacing of anywhere from six inches to two feet between plants. My “straight” gardening books advised six to eight inches, but I realized that their recommendations assumed that the gardener’s chief interest was flowers. I, of course, was less interested in floriferousness than in, um, big juicy pods. Eventually I called one of the seed companies that sell poppies and delicately asked about optimal spacing, “assuming for the sake of argument someone wanted to maximize the size and quality of his poppy heads.” I don’t think I aroused any suspicion from the person I talked to, who advised a minimum of eight inches between plants.

Around the time I first thinned my poppies, late in May, a friend who knew of my new horticultural passion sent me a newspaper clipping that briefly stopped me in my tracks. It was a gardening column by C. Z. Guest in the New York Post that carried the headline JUST SAY NO TO POPPIES. Guest wrote that although opium poppy seeds are legal to possess and sell, “the live plants (or even dried, dead ones) fall into the same legal category as cocaine and heroin.” This seemed very hard to believe, and the fact that the source was a socialite writing in a tabloid not known for its veracity made me inclined to disregard it.

But I guess my confidence had been undermined, because I decided it wouldn’t hurt to make sure Guest was wrong. I put in a call to the local barracks of the state police. Without giving my name, I told the officer who answered the phone that I was a gardener here in town and wanted to double-check that the poppies in my garden were legal.

“Poppies? Not a problem. Poppies have been declared a flower.”

I told him the ones I had planted were labeled somniferum, and that a neighbor had told me that that meant they were opium poppies.

“What color are they? Are they orange?” This didn’t seem especially relevant; I’d read that opium poppies could be white, purple, scarlet, lavender, and black, as well as a reddish-orange. I told him that mine were both lavender and red.

“Those are not illegal. I’ve got the orange ones in my garden. About two feet tall, came with the house. What you’ve got to understand is that all poppies have some opium in them. It’s only a problem if you start to manufacture opium.”

“Like if I slit open a head?”

“Nah, you can cut one of them open and look inside. It’s only if you do it with intent to sell or profit.”

“But what if I had a lot of them?”

“Say you planted two acres of poppies—just for scenery looks? It’s not a problem—until you start manufacturing.”

I was happy to have the state trooper’s okay, but by now a seed of doubt had been planted in my mind. Whether it was C. Z. Guest or the waylaid e-mail—that stupid, incriminating query careening unencrypted through cyberspace—I’d started to get the willies about my poppies. A mild case, to be sure—except for one harrowing night in May when I was caught in the grip of a near-nightmare. In my dream I awake to the sound of police car doors slamming out in front of my house, followed by footsteps on the porch. I leap out of bed and race out the back door into the garden to destroy the evidence. I start eating my poppies, which in the dream are already dried, dry as dust in fact, but I stuff the pods and the stems and the leaves into my mouth as fast as I possibly can. The chewing is horrible, Sisyphean, the swallowing almost impossible; I feel like I am eating my way through a vast desert of plant material, racing madly to beat the clock.

My first impulse on waking was to rip out my poppies right away. My second impulse was to laugh: so this was my first opium dream.


When Jim Hogshire entered my life, in April, my poppies were six inches tall and thriving, their bed a deep, lush carpet of serrated green. I’d heard that Hogshire had raised bail, and our mutual friend was trying to put us in touch; I wanted to talk to him about his case, which I was now thinking of writing about, but I also still hoped to pick up some horticultural tips. I couldn’t phone Hogshire, because he’d been thrown out of his apartment. It seems that Washington, like many states, has a law under which tenants charged with drug crimes may be summarily evicted; after the bust, someone from the sheriff’s office had paid Hogshire’s landlady a visit, notifying her of her “rights” in this regard and urging her to serve the Hogshires with an eviction notice. It sounded to me like a violation of Hogshire’s right to due process—after all, he hadn’t been found guilty of anything. This was my first introduction to what civil-liberties lawyers have taken to calling “the drugs exception to the Bill of Rights.” Over the past several years, in cases involving drugs, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the government’s new crop of laws, penalties, and police tactics, thereby narrowing the scope of due process as well as long-established protections against illegal search, double jeopardy, and entrapment.

Hogshire began calling me at odd hours of the day and night. He sounded like a man who had been brought to the end of his tether, edgy and distrustful; disquisitions on Papaver nomenclature drifted into diatribes about the indignities his pet birds had suffered at the hands of the police. The voice on the phone was a far cry from the urbane and funny character I’d been reading in Pills-a-go-go. But then, Hogshire’s bust had left him broke and homeless, bouncing from one friend’s couch to another, and adrift on uncharted legal waters—for no one had ever been prosecuted before for possessing dried poppies bought from a florist. Much of what he told me sounded paranoid and crazy, an improbable nightmare featuring a “snitch letter” to the police from a disgruntled houseguest; a search warrant alleging, among other things, that Hogshire was making narcotics out of Sudafed(!); and a police officer who waved Hogshire’s writings in his face and asked, “With what you write, weren’t you expecting this?” Listening to Hogshire’s fantastic account over the phone made me more than a little skeptical, and yet everything he told me I subsequently found confirmed in the court records.

According to documents filed by the prosecutor’s office, it was indeed an informant’s letter that led to the March 6 raid on the Hogshires’ apartment; the letter, sent to the Seattle police by a man named Bob Black, was cited along with Hogshire’s published writings as “probable cause” in the search warrant. Bob Black is the disgruntled houseguest, the black hat in Hogshire’s bizarre tale. A fellow Loompanics author (The Abolition of Work and Other Essays), Black is a self-described anarchist whom the Hogshires met for the first time when he arrived to spend the night on February 10; Loompanics owner Mike Hoy had asked the Hogshires if, as a personal favor, they’d be willing to put Black up in their apartment while he was in Seattle on assignment.

The evening went very badly. Accounts differ on the particulars, as well as on the chemical catalysts involved, but an argument about religion (Hogshire is a Muslim) somehow degenerated into a scuffle in which Black grabbed Heidi Hogshire around the throat and Jim threatened his guest with a loaded M-1 rifle. Ten days later, Black wrote to the Seattle police narcotics unit “to inform you of a drug laboratory . . . in the apartment of Jim Hogshire and Heidi Faust Hogshire.” The letter, a denunciation worthy of a sansculotte, deserves to be quoted at length.

The Hogshires are addicted to opium, which they consume as a tea and
by smoking. In a few hours on February 10/11 I saw quarts of the tea, and
his wife smaller amounts. He also took Dexandrine and Ritalin several
times. They have a vacuum pump and other drug-manufacturing tech.
Hogshire told me he was working out a way to manufacture heroin from

Hogshire is the author of the book Opium for the Masses which explains
how to grow opium and how to produce it from the fresh plant or from
seeds obtainable from artist-supply stores. His own consumption is so
huge that he must be growing it somewhere. I enclose a copy of parts
of his book. He also publishes a magazine Pills a Go Go under an alias
promoting the fraudulent acquisition and recreational consumption of
controlled drugs.

Should you ever pay the Hogshires a visit, you should know that they
keep an M-1 rifle leaning against the wall near the computer.

Largely on the strength of this letter, the police were able to get a magistrate to sign a search warrant and raid the Hogshires’ apartment. It was quarter to seven in the evening, and Jim Hogshire was reading a book in his living room when he heard the knock at the door; the instant he answered it he found himself thrown up against a wall. Heidi, who was at the grocery store at the time, arrived home to find her husband in handcuffs and a SWAT team, outfitted in black ninja suits, ransacking her apartment. The SWAT team was so large—twenty officers, by Jim’s estimate—that only a few could fit into the one-bedroom apartment at a time; the rest lined up in the hall outside.

“Do you publish this?” Jim recalls one officer demanding to know, as he waved a copy of Pills-a-go-go in his face. And then, “Where’s your poppy patch?” Jim pointed out that it was wintertime and asked the officer, “Why should I grow poppies when they’re on sale in the stores?”

“You’re lying.”

This particular SWAT team specialized in raiding drug labs, which may have been what they expected to find in the Hogshires’ apartment. They had to settle, however, for dried poppies: a sealed cardboard box containing ten bunches wrapped in cellophane. The police refused to believe that Hogshire had bought them from a store. The police also found the vacuum pump Black had mentioned (though they didn’t bother to seize it), the jar of pills, two rifles and three pistols (all legal), a thermite flare that Hogshire had bought at a gun show, a box of test tubes, and several copies of Opium for the Masses.

The Hogshires spent three harrowing days in jail before learning of the charges filed against them. Heidi was charged with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance: the opium poppies. Jim was charged with “possession of opium poppy, with intent to manufacture or distribute,” an offense that, with the firearms enhancement, carries a ten-year sentence.

At a preliminary hearing in April, Jim Hogshire was fortunate enough to come before a judge who raised a skeptical eyebrow at the charges filed against him. The hearing had its comic moments. In support of the government’s assertion that Hogshire had intent to distribute, the prosecutor, apparently unfamiliar with the literary reference, cited the title of his book: “It’s not called `Opium for Me,’ `Opium for My Friends,’ or `Opium for Anyone I Know.’ It’s called `Opium for the Masses.’ Which indicates that it’s opium for a lot of people.”

The judge, a man who evidently knew a thing or two about gardening, found the language in the indictment particularly dubious: the state had accused Hogshire not of manufacturing opium but of manufacturing opium poppies. “How do you manufacture an opium poppy?” the judge asked, and then answered his own question: “You propagate them—it’s the only way.” By “propagate” the judge meant planting and growing, yet, as he pointed out, the state had presented no evidence that Hogshire had been doing any such thing. “If you had him with a field of poppies, then I think you’ve got him propagating them in some way. Particularly with the cut poppies and extracting the chemical.” But without evidence that Hogshire had actually grown the poppies, the judge reasoned, there was no basis for the manufacturing charge.

The prosecutor sought to recover by citing snapshots seized in the raid that showed Hogshire in an unidentified garden with live poppies whose heads had been slit; he also claimed that “there are poppies outside of his apartment.” (There may have been an element of truth to this: according to Hogshire, his landlady had had opium poppies in her garden—though in early March, at the time of the raid, it would have been too early in the season for them to have come up.)

The judge was unpersuaded: “Can you tell me whether those are the relevant genus and species? My mom has poppies outside of her house.” The prosecutor could not satisfy the judge on this point, so the judge granted the defense’s motion to dismiss the sole charge against Hogshire.

One might think that this would have been the end of Jim Hogshire’s ordeal. But the state evidently wasn’t through with him, for in June, after dropping charges against Heidi in exchange for a statement asserting that everything seized in the raid belonged to her husband, the prosecutor refiled charges—this time for simple possession of opium poppies—and also added a new felony count to the amended indictment: possession of an “explosive device,” citing the thermite flare found during the raid. An arraignment on the new charges was scheduled for June 28. When Hogshire failed to appear, a warrant was issued for his arrest.


I read through the court papers with a mounting sense of personal panic, for the squabble in the Seattle courtroom did not in any way seem to challenge the underlying fact that growing or possessing opium poppies was apparently grounds for prosecution. I called Hogshire’s attorney, who confirmed as much and directed me to the text of the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

The language of the statute was distressingly clear. Not only opium but “opium poppy and poppy straw” are defined as Schedule II controlled substances, right alongside PCP and cocaine. The prohibited poppy is defined as a “plant of the species Papaver somniferum L., except the seed thereof,” and poppy straw is defined as “all parts, except the seeds, of the opium poppy, after mowing.” In other words, dried poppies.

Section 841 of the act reads, “[I]t shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally . . . to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense” opium poppies. The definition of “manufacturing” includes propagating—i.e., growing. Three things struck me as noteworthy about the language of the statute. The first was that it goes out of its way to state that opium poppy seeds are, in fact, legal, presumably because of their legitimate culinary uses. There seems to be a chicken-and-egg paradox here, however, in which illegal poppy plants produce legal poppy seeds from which grow illegal poppy plants.

The second thing that struck me about the statute’s language was the fact that, in order for growing opium poppies to be a crime, it must be done “knowingly or intentionally.” Opium poppies are commonly sold under more than one botanical name, only one of which—Papaver somniferum—is specifically mentioned in the law, so it is entirely possible that a gardener could be growing opium poppies without knowing it. There would therefore appear to be an “innocent gardener” defense. Not that it would do me any good: at least some of the poppies I’d planted had been clearly labeled Papaver somniferum, a fact that I have—perhaps foolishly—confessed in these very pages to knowing. The third thing that struck me was the most stunning of all: the penalty for knowingly growing Papaver somniferum is a prison term of five to twenty years and a maximum fine of $1 million.

So C. Z. Guest had been right after all, and Martha Stewart (and the state trooper) wrong: the cultivation of opium poppies, regardless of the purpose, is indeed a felony, no different in the eyes of the law than manufacturing angel dust or crack cocaine. It didn’t matter one bit whether I slit the heads or otherwise harvested my poppies: I had already crossed the line I thought I could safely toe—had crossed it, in fact, back on that April afternoon when I planted my seeds. (What’s more, I was vulnerable to the very charge that hadn’t stuck to Hogshire—manufacturing!) I was, potentially at least, in deep, deep trouble.

Or was I? For had anyone besides Jim Hogshire ever actually been arrested for the possession or manufacture of poppies? A Nexis search fumed up no other case; nor did calls to more than a dozen lawyers, prosecutors, civil libertarians, and journalists who keep tabs on the drug war. Several were unaware that cultivating poppies was even against the law; when so informed, nearly all had precisely the same slightly bemused reaction: “Don’t you think the government has better things to do?” I certainly hoped that this was the case, but there the menacing statute was, right there on the books.

I called several experienced gardeners too, hoping to get a clearer picture of the risk involved in growing poppies. One told me a story about a DEA agent on vacation in Idaho who’d tipped off the county sheriff that poppies were being grown in local gardens; another had heard that the DEA had recently ordered the removal of the poppies growing at Jefferson’s Monticello. (Both stories sounded apocryphal, but both turned out to be true.) I phoned a radio call-in gardening show, asking the resident expert whether I needed to worry about the opium poppies growing in my garden, “I’m not a lawyer,” she said, “but wouldn’t it be a shame if gardeners had to pass up such a magnificent flower?”

No one had heard of an actual bust, and most of the gardeners I spoke to seemed blithely unconcerned when I apprised them of the theoretical peril. Some treated me carefully, as though it were paranoid of me to worry. The answer-lady at the New York Botanical Garden tried to reassure me (a bit patronizingly, I thought) by saying that, to her knowledge, there were no “poppy patrols out there.” Wayne Winterrowd, the expert on annuals who’d written “Shame to him who thinks ill” of the poppy grower, likened the crime to tearing the tags off pillows and mattresses, another federal offense no one ever seemed to do time for. Laughing off my worries, he offered to send me seeds of a “stunning” jetblack opium poppy he grew in his Vermont garden. He also confirmed (as did a botanist I spoke to later) that “breadseed poppies” as well as Papaver paeoniflorum and giganteum were botanically no different than Papaver somniferum. I’d planted a handful of paeoniflorum, and had had no idea what they were—until now.

I took no small comfort in Winterrowd’s mattress-tag analogy, if only because I really did not want to have to rip out my poppies, at least not now. For my first poppy was on the verge of bloom. It was the first week of July when I noticed at the end of one slender, downward-nodding stem a bud the size of a cherry, covered in a soft, hairy down. The bud’s outer covering, or calyx, had split open, and I could see the scarlet petals folded inside, packed as tightly as a parachute. By the following morning the stem had drawn itself up to its full four-foot height and the petals—five deltas of rich red silk freaked with black—had completely unfurled, casting off their calyx and fuming to face the sun. That solitary exquisite bloom was followed the next day by three more equally formidable dabs of pigment, then six, then a dozen, until my poppy patch was a terrific, traffic-stopping blur of color, of a red so red as to be platonic. Now I knew what Robert Browning meant when he spoke of “the poppy’s red effrontery”: this hue was a shout. The lavender blooms of another variety followed a few days later, a cooler but no less pure jolt of color. When the sun stood behind them, toward evening, the petals were as luminous as stained glass.

“It is a pity,” Louise Beebe Wilder wrote, “that Poppies are in such haste to shed their silken petals and display their crowned seedpods.” Having seen them, I would have to disagree with her, and not only on pharmacological grounds. The poppy’s seedpods are scarcely less arresting than its flowers: swelling blue-green finials poised atop neat round pedestals (called stipes), each pod crowned with an upturned anther like a Catherine wheel. For most of the month of July my whole poppy patch was alive with interest. All at once and side by side you had the drooping sleepy buds, the brilliant flags of color, and the stately upright urns of seeds, all set against the same cool backdrop of dusty green foliage. I couldn’t decide what was more beautiful: leaf, bud, flower, or seedpod. I did decide that this poppy patch was as gorgeous as anything I’d ever planted.

My fellow gardeners were making me feel foolish for even thinking of cutting down these flowers; indeed, as I admired my poppies in their full midsummer glory, this unexpectedly lavish gift of nature, it was difficult to credit the notion that they could possibly be illegal—that for the purposes of the law I might just as well be admiring packets of white powder on a table in some dingy uptown drug factory. But this, I knew, was indeed the case. And what a metamorphosis this was!—that an act as ordinary and blameless as the planting of a handful of common and perfectly legal seeds could somehow transport one into the country of criminality.

Yet this was a metamorphosis that required not only the physical seed and water and sunlight but, crucially, a certain metaphysical ingredient too: the knowledge that the poppies I beheld were, in fact, of the genus Papaver and the species somniferum. For although ignorance of the law is never a defense, in the case of poppies, ignorance of botany may be. True, I had planted seeds I knew to be Papaver somniferum and then blabbed that fact to the world. But what if instead I had planted “breadseed poppies,” or the poppy seeds on a poppy-seed bagel? What if I had planted only the Papaver paeoniflorum I’d ordered, the one I’d had no idea was really somniferum? As I stood there admiring the extravagantly doubled blooms of this poppy, I realized that growing it was no more felonious than growing asters or marigolds—for as long, that is, as I remained ignorant of the fact that this poppy, too, was somniferum. But it’s too late for me now; I know too much. And so, dear reader, do you.

It was precisely this knowledge that inspired the slightly cracked logic behind what I now decided to do. I had not planned to slit even one of my poppies, for fear that it was the step that would take me across the line into criminality. But now I knew I had already taken the fateful step. In for a dime, in for a dollar. I know, this wasn’t even a remotely rational approach to the situation: a slit seedpod in my garden would constitute proof that I knew exactly what kind of poppies I had. Yet that particular summer afternoon, as I stood there alone with my ravishing poppies, in what, after all, was my garden, this logic seemed strangely compelling. So I combed my little stand of poppies for the fattest, most turgid seed head and bent it toward me. Taking the warm, plumsize pod between my thumb and forefinger, I nicked its skin with a thumbnail. After a moment a small bead of milky sap formed on the surface; the wound continued to bleed for a minute or two, the sap darkening perceptibly as it oxidized, and then it slowed, clotting. I dabbed the drop of opium with my forefinger. touched it to my tongue. It was indescribably bitter. The taste lingered on my palate for the rest of the afternoon.


When I finally met Jim Hogshire in mid-July, it had been two weeks since his missed court date. He was staying in Manhattan, a good place to be anonymous, as he mulled over his next move.

On a hot summer morning we met for coffee on West Twenty-third Street, afterward, we planned to visit the flower district, to shop for dried poppies and check out a rumor that Hogshire had heard about a crackdown on imports of dried poppies. Hogshire was dressed all in white, a slender thirty-eight-year-old with long blond hair gathered in a neat ponytail. His face was handsome but careworn; his fine, angular features were lined, and his deep-set eyes, which are a striking shade of gray, were ringed with shadows. In conversation I found him alternately expansive and wary, though only rarely did he ask to speak off the record. For someone who had no place to live, who was one traffic stop away from going to jail, Hogshire seemed surprisingly composed—or at least a lot more composed than I would be under the circumstances.

Hogshire is passionate about poppies, and we covered that mutual interest for a while, shuttling from Papaver horticulture to jurisprudence, Papaver nomenclature to chemistry. I learned about the thirty-eight different alkaloids that have been found in somniferum, the “biogenetic pathways” from thebaine to morphine (he lost me here), and the “incredible potential” of the “Bentley compounds” that have been synthesized from Papaver bracteatum. He told me that he’d first heard about poppy tea from a friend, a gardener whose Russian grandmother had brewed it as a home remedy. Hogshire started experimenting with poppies that he found growing “literally right outside the door of my apartment.”

“The first few times I got it all wrong—I didn’t grind the poppies up, and I was indiscriminate, using the leaves and stems as well as the pods. I also tried smoking all the various parts, using myself and my wife as guinea pigs. I proved to myself empirically that the heads are undoubtedly the most potent part of the plant.” I realized that Hogshire regarded himself as heir to a great tradition of self-experimentation in Western medicine. Eventually he learned how to make a potent tea from dried poppies, pulverizing a handful of heads in a coffee grinder and then steeping the powder in hot water. I asked him to describe the effects of a cup of poppy tea.

“It’s not a knock-you-on-your-ass sort of thing, not like smoking opium. In fact, a lot of people will tell you they forget that they are high. It starts with a tickling feeling in the stomach that then rises up into the shoulders and head—this feeling of just . . . joy. You feel optimistic about things, energetic but at the same time relaxed. You’ll remain functional: you won’t say anything stupid and you’ll remember everything that happens. You won’t nod out, though you will feel a strong desire to close your eyes. Any pain you have will go away; the tea will also relieve exogenously caused depression. That’s why poppy tea is served at funerals in the Middle East. It can make sadness go away.”

It’s hard to believe that commercially available flowers could produce such effects, and at times the claims in Hogshire’s book had reminded me of earlier “household highs”—smoking banana peels, for instance (“they call me mellow yellow,” Donovan had purred back in 1967), eating morning-glory seeds (purported to be a hallucinogen), or sipping cocktails made from Coca-Cola and aspirin. Could it be there was some sort of placebo effect at work here? Hogshire showed me a scientific article, from the Bulletin on Narcotics, that stated plainly that commercially sold dried poppies did indeed contain opiates, in significant quantities. He also pointed out that it was possible to become addicted to poppy tea. In his book he says, “Opium withdrawal hurts, but the pain will end, usually within three to five days…. Those are indeed hard days for the kicking addict but it is no worse than a nasty case of the flu.” This certainly didn’t sound like the effects of a placebo.

If Hogshire was right, then opium was hidden in plain sight in America—which certainly would explain why the government would take an interest in the author of Opium for the Masses. He and his small-press book had punctured a set of myths that have served the government well since 1942, when Congress decided that the best way to control opiates was to ban domestic cultivation of Papaver somniferum and force pharmaceutical companies to import opium (which they use to produce morphine and other opiates) from a handful of designated Asian countries. Since then the perception has taken hold that this legislative stricture is actually a botanical one—that opium will grow only in these places. The other myth Hogshire had exploded is that the only way to extract opiates from opium poppies is by slitting their heads in the field, a complex and time-consuming process that, I heard over and over again from law-enforcement officials and gardeners alike, made the domestic production of opium impractical.

The durability of these myths has obliterated knowledge about opium that was common as recently as a century ago, when opium was still a popular nonprescription remedy and opium poppies an important domestic crop. As late as 1915, pamphlets issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were still mentioning opium poppies as a good cash crop for northern farmers. A few decades before, the Shakers were growing opium commercially in upstate New York. Well into this century, Russian, Greek, and Arab immigrants in America have used poppy-head tea as a mild sedative and a remedy for headaches, muscle pain, cough, and diarrhea. During the Civil War, gardeners in the South were encouraged to plant opium for the war effort, in order to ensure a supply of painkillers for the Confederate Army. The descendants of these poppies are thriving to this day in southern gardens, but not the knowledge of their provenance or powers.

What Hogshire has done is to excavate this vernacular knowledge and then publish it to the world—in how-to form, with recipes. As far as I can tell, the knowledge in his book hasn’t seeped too far into the drug culture—Opium for the Masses has sold between eight and ten thousand copies, and I turned up no evidence of widespread tea-brewing in drug circles—yet I was curious to know just how far knowledge about his knowledge had spread in law-enforcement circles. As Hogshire and I strolled the few blocks up Sixth Avenue to the flower district, he told me that, since the book’s publication in 1994, the price of dried poppies had doubled and the DEA had launched a “quiet” investigation into the domestic poppy trade. Agents had paid visits to dried-flower vendors, as well as to the American Association for the Dried and Preserved Floral Industry, a trade group based in Westport, Connecticut. All this sounded to me like either boastfulness or paranoia—until, that is, we got to the flower district.

Manhattan’s flower district is modest, a picturesque couple of blocks of lower Sixth Avenue where a few dozen dried- and cut-flower wholesalers have their showrooms at street level. As a pedestrian reaches Twenty-seventh Street, what had been a particularly dreary stretch of Manhattan suddenly erupts into greenery and bloom. Buckets of dried lotus heads and hydrangeas line the storefronts, gardenias in hanging baskets perfume the air, and clusters of potted ficus trees briefly transform the grubby sidewalk into a fair copy of a garden path. On Twenty-eighth Street we stopped in a narrow, cluttered shop that specializes in dried flowers. Hogshire surveyed a long wall of cubbies stuffed with unlabeled bunches of dried flowers—yarrow, lotus, hydrangeas, peonies, and roses in a dozen different hues—until he spotted the poppies: four different grades, their seedpods ranging in size from marbles to tennis balls, most of them in bunches of ten wrapped in cellophane. The smallest ones still wore a green tint and had a few crunchy leaves wrapped around their stems. The larger poppy heads were buff-colored and strikingly sculptural. They reminded me of a botanical photograph by Karl Blossfeldt, the early-twentieth-century German photographer whose portraits of stems and buds and flowers make them look as if they’d been cast in iron. Hogshire asked the woman at the register if she’d had any problems lately obtaining poppies. She shrugged.

“No problems. How many you need?” I took a bunch, for $10. I felt weirdly self-conscious about my purchase, and the plastic sack she offered me was too short for the long stems, so before we stepped back out onto the street I turned the bunch head-down in the bag.

We heard a very different story across the street, at Bill’s Flowers. Bill told us that he couldn’t get poppies anymore: according to his supplier, the DEA—or the USDA, he wasn’t sure—had banned imports a few months before, “because kids were smoking the seeds or something.” The supplier had told him that it was okay to sell whatever inventory he had left but that there’d be no more poppies after that. Bill’s story was my first indication that the federal authorities were, as Hogshire had claimed, doing something about the poppy trade—though it would take me several more weeks to figure out exactly what that something was.

Before the morning was over, Hogshire invited me up to his room; the day was getting hot, and he wanted to change his shirt. Most nights since his eviction he’d spent in the apartments of friends, far from home. Tomorrow he expected to be staying somewhere else. I’d asked him earlier why he hadn’t stayed to face the charges in Seattle.

“I would go back in a second if I thought they were going to fight fair—if I could be sure they wouldn’t manufacture evidence or slap me back in jail at my arraignment. But the fact that they wouldn’t just drop this thing after the first charge was thrown out shows me they’re being vindictive.” (By February, Hogshire had had a change of heart. He said that he’d retained a new lawyer and that he was planning to go back to Seattle to face the charges against him.)

I sat on the bed while Hogshire changed his shirt. Looking around the cramped room, I could see he was traveling light, with little more than a change of clothes, his laptop computer, some books, a stack of articles about poppies, and a sheaf of legal papers about his case. I wondered what it would be like to slip underground—not to be able to go home, not to have your stuff around, not even to know exactly where you would be spending the next night, week, month.


Easy as it may have been to distance myself from Hogshire’s underground existence, riding home on the commuter train I found myself wondering just how much circumstantial distance really stood between Jim Hogshire and me. It was less than meets the eye, and far too little for comfort. I had poppies growing in my garden, after all, and I was preparing an article that would not only acknowledge that fact but would also reprise the very information that had gotten Hogshire into so much hot water. With what you publish, the officer had asked Hogshire as they hauled him off to jail, weren’t you expecting this? So what, exactly, set us apart? For one thing, my life wasn’t lived as close to society’s margins as Jim’s appeared to be; for another, I was writing for a national magazine rather than the fringe press. And this: I didn’t associate with people like Bob Black.

I clung to these distinctions in the weeks that followed as I made a concerted effort to learn just how strongly the DEA really felt about poppies—whether, as Hogshire had suggested, the government had launched an investigation and crackdown on domestic opium growing. My curiosity on this point was journalistic but also somewhat more self-interested, and urgent, than that. For by discovering what the DEA was up to, I hoped to learn whether the paranoid fantasies gnawing at me had any basis in reality. I needed to know whether I should be getting rid of my poppies as quickly as possible or whether I could safely let them ripen and then perhaps experiment with poppy tea.

I started checking out Hogshire’s leads. At the American Association for the Dried and Preserved Floral Industry, Beth Sherman confirmed that a DEA agent by the name of Larry Snyder had indeed paid the group a visit in 1995. “He asked us to put an article in our newsletter advising people not to carry this certain kind of poppy,” she told me. The poppy had always been illegal, the agent had explained to them, but “prior to this they didn’t enforce it. They were trying to correct something that had gotten out of hand, but they were trying to do it in a low-key way.” The association agreed to publish an article supplied by the DEA informing their membership that it was illegal to possess or sell Papaver somniferum.

Hogshire had told me that a Seattle-area flower shop called Nature’s Arts, Inc., had also been contacted by the DEA. I got in touch with Don Jackson, the shop’s owner. Jackson, who has been in the dried-flower business for forty-five years, told me that a local DEA agent named Joel Wong had visited his shop in March of 1993. The agent had told Jackson that he was investigating poppies and wanted to know what kind his store carried and where they came from.

“He took away several poppies and had them tested. A few weeks later he told me that they were of the opium type and that someone could get high on it, but he didn’t say I had to stop selling them.” Since then, Jackson had heard rumors of a crackdown and said that he knew of several big domestic growers who had stopped planting poppies for fear of having their crops confiscated. Jackson was concerned about the disappearance of somniferum from the trade: “We don’t have anything to replace it with,” he explained. “That seedpod is so nice and big and round. It’s just what people are looking for as a focal point in an arrangement.”

When I tried to get in touch with Joel Wong I learned that he’d recently retired. Another agent in his office took my call but insisted, at the end of a fifteen-minute chat, that I not quote him by name. Under the circumstances, I think I’ll oblige. Agent Anonymous seemed to be unaware of his predecessor’s investigation into dried poppies, so I changed the subject to poppy growing.

“It’s illegal to grow opium poppies,” the agent said, “but frankly I don’t see it becoming a big problem, only because it’s so labor-intensive to harvest the opium. You’ve got to go out early in the morning and slit the pods, then wait until the gum oozes out, and then you have to scrape it off pod by pod. Why would you do all this when you can go down to First and Pike and score some black tar?” (Black tar is a cheap form of heroin from Mexico.) “I say, let ‘em at it—it’s not going to be a big problem.”

It was a friendly enough chat, so I figured I’d ask the agent what advice he’d give a gardener of my acquaintance who had opium poppies growing in his garden. “I’d tell him it’s illegal and he’s running a risk of getting his front door kicked. But I’ve got priorities. If he’s a University of Washington botanist who’s growing poppies, he’s not going to have his door kicked; on the other hand, if this professor’s scoring the pods, his door most likely will be kicked. It’s on a case-by-case basis.

“But I would also tell him, Why grow this illegal plant when there are so many other beautiful plants you can grow? That would be my advice: Why grow the opium when you can put your energy into bonsai plants or orchids, which are so much more challenging? Because how many people can grow an orchid?”

I had told him that I was a garden writer, and he seemed eager to talk about orchid growing, his hobby; he mentioned he kept an orchid on his desk. But when I pressed him about my hypothetical opium-poppy grower, he turned distinctly less amiable.

“What if this poppy grower is also publishing articles about how to make poppy tea?”

“Then his door is going to be kicked. Because he’s trying to promote something that’s illegal.”

It was a chilling conversation. I was reminded of something Hogshire had said about the laws governing opium poppies. “It’s as if they had on the books a twenty-miles-per-hour speed limit that was never posted, never enforced, never even talked about. There’s no way for you to know that this is the law. Then they pick someone out and say, Hey, you were going fifty. Don’t you know the speed limit is twenty? You broke the law—you’re going to jail! But nobody else is being stopped, you say. That doesn’t matter—this is the law and we have the discretion. The fact that your car is covered with political bumper stickers that we don’t like has nothing to do with it. This isn’t about free speech!” Whatever else they may be, the drug laws are a powerful weapon in the hands of an Agent Anonymous or, for that matter, a Bob Black. With the speed limit set so low, all it takes is an angry government agent or a “citizen informant” to get you pulled over—to get your door kicked.

It was soon after my conversation with Agent Anonymous that I had my second opium dream. July was nearly over, and I’d come down with a case of Lyme disease, so my nights were already frightful enough, a roller coaster of fevers and bone-rattling chills. In the dream I awake to find faces pressed against the windows of my bedroom, five panes filled with five round white heads: slightly elfin, slightly Slavic-looking. It’s a raid, I realize; they’re looking for poppies. All night long they search my house, and then, at daybreak, they begin to scour my vegetable garden. They’re examining every inch of soil, they’re even dusting the leaves of my cabbages for fingerprints. My tormentors are peculiarly non-menacing, and in this dream I’ve already pulled out my poppies, so I should have nothing to worry about. Even so, I’m trying as hard as I can to watch all five of them at once, just to make sure they don’t “plant” anything, but no matter which way I move, one of them is always blocking my view of the others. I move this way, then that, and the frustration of not being able to see what they’re up to builds until I think I’m going to explode. And then all of a sudden I spot a single, gorgeous lavender poppy in full bloom on the other side of the garden fence: an escapee. Will they notice it? I wake before I find out, the bedclothes drenched with perspiration.

Maybe the Lyme disease explains the nightmare—I’d had intense, fevered dreams all that week—but it could also have been the call I received from Jim Hogshire earlier that day, announcing that he was thinking of coming up to my place “to help out with the harvest.” By comparison, the dream was a walk in the park, for here was a genuine nightmare: I was sick with a 103-degree fever, my joints so stiff I could scarcely turn my head, and a man who was wanted by the police and had no place to live was proposing to come over to help me harvest a crop that could land me in jail. My mind careened as I considered precisely how terrible an idea this was. Did I really want someone who might well, at some point, come under intense pressure from the police (all right, Hogshire, who else can you finger?) to see my garden? And once he had unpacked, how was I ever going to get my houseguest to leave? (The Cable Guy was in the movie theaters that week.) This is, I know, terribly unfair to dim Hogshire, who strikes me as a decent-enough fellow, but I kept thinking about something disturbing that he’d told me: that, after his eviction, he had given some serious thought to turning in his landlady for growing opium poppies. I was also flashing on the figure of Bob Black, the Houseguest from Hell. I rifled my brain for a polite and halfway credible excuse, but this was a summit that social etiquette had not yet scaled. In the end I merely spluttered something pathetic about being too sick to think about having people over right now and needing to check with my wife before extending any invitations.

I also told Hogshire that I wasn’t sure whether I was ever going to harvest, which was true. I didn’t yet have a good enough fix on the DEA’s intentions regarding poppies and, therefore, on the risk harvesting might entail. It appeared that the DEA was up to something, but what, exactly? I knew I should contact the DEA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, but knowing how opaque its agents can be (and being more than a little nervous about alerting them to my existence and interests while my plants were still in the ground), I decided it might be best first to find out as much as I could about the scope of their domestic poppy campaign.

I called Shepherd Ogden at Cook’s, one of the seed companies that sells opium poppies. He’d heard rumors that the DEA had sent letters to seed companies requesting they stop selling somniferum, though he hadn’t received one himself. Ogden reiterated what I already knew: that the sale of seeds is perfectly legal. Beyond that he was uncertain. He suggested that I check with the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, a trade group in Oberlin, Ohio. As it turned out, the president of the association, a northern California flower grower named Will Fulton, had just drafted a column for the latest issue of the association’s newsletter alerting members to the DEA letter, which had been received by “one of our most reputable seed companies.” The column quoted the letter’s first paragraph:

It has come to the attention of the United States Department of Justice,
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), that in certain parts of the
United States the opium poppy (Papaver Somniferum L.) is being
cultivated for culinary and horticultural purposes [the italics are Fulton’s].
The cultivation of opium poppy in the United States is illegal, as is the
possession of “poppy straw, (all parts of the harvested opium poppy except
the seeds). Certain seed companies have been identified as selling opium
poppy seeds, some with instruction for cultivation printed on the retail
packages. Before this situation adds to the drug abuse epidemic, DEA
is requesting your assistance in curbing such activity.

Judging by the spirited polemic that followed, Will Fulton is the Tom Paine of the cut-flower world. “Wait a minute!” he wrote. “Where’s the mens rea [criminal intent] here?” Imagine yourself in the interrogation room, he asked his members: “`So, you admit that you intended to cultivate for culinary or horticultural purposes.’

“Why is it illegal to plant a seed, a gift from nature, when your only intention is to grow it for its physical beauty, yet at the same time it is perfectly legal to purchase an AK-47 when your only intention is gopher control?” True, the Founding Fathers had provided for a specific right to bear arms, but the only reason they’d had nothing to say “about the right to plant seeds [was] . . . because it never would have occurred to them that any state might care to abridge that right. After all, they were writing on hemp paper.

When I reached Fulton at his flower farm in northern California, he identified the recipient of the DEA letter as Thompson & Morgan, a venerable British-owned company with offices in New Jersey. Lisa Crowning, the chief horticulturist at Thompson & Morgan, confirmed having received the letter, which she regarded as “intimidating” and “worrisome.” Sent by registered mail in late June, the letter was signed by “Larry Snyder, Chief, International Drug Unit”—the same man who’d paid a visit to the American Association for the Dried and Preserved Floral Industry. Thompson & Morgan hadn’t yet made a final decision on the DEA’s request, but Crowning hoped the firm would continue to offer opium poppies, which she told me she grows in her own garden. Crowning had telephoned Larry Snyder, hoping that there might be “some halfway measure” that would satisfy the DEA (she mentioned putting a warning in the catalogue, or removing growing instructions from the packets) but found him completely inflexible. “We don’t want to offend the DEA,” she told me, “but we feel we are completely within our rights to sell these seeds.”

The full text of Snyder’s letter to Thompson & Morgan brought the alarming news that the DEA was indeed arresting poppy growers. It alluded to “a recent DEA drug seizure involving a significant quantity of poppy plants . . . many with scored seed pods . . . [that] revealed a supply of poppy seeds noting the date of the shipment and the name and address of your company as the supplier. You should be aware that supplying these seeds for cultivation purposes may be considered illegal.” After that thinly veiled threat, Snyder called for a “voluntary cessation of the sale of Papaver Somniferum L.”

By October the horticultural grapevine was abuzz with poppy talk and what sounded to me like rumors of war. From Beth Benjamin at Shepherd’s Garden Seeds I learned that the police had seized poppies from a public garden project for the homeless that the firm had backed in Santa Cruz. From Will Fulton I learned about a grower in northern California who had had his crop plowed under by the DEA. From the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) I learned that the DEA—in the person of Larry Snyder—had formally requested that the group call for a voluntary ban on sales of poppy seeds; the association had complied, a staffer told me, “as a civic-duty type of thing.” From Katie Sluder, an importer of dried flowers based in North Carolina, I learned that a container load of poppies that she had ordered from a grower in Holland had been turned back by U.S. Customs.

A crackdown was under way, but it was an oddly muffled crackdown. Rather than stage a few well-publicized raids, the DEA seemed to be pursuing a far more subtle strategy. It was working within the industry (in some cases by intimidating companies engaged in legitimate trade) to stanch supplies of both seeds and dried flowers without making any noise in public, much less publicizing exactly what people might be doing with poppies. The subtle hand behind these efforts apparently belonged to Larry Snyder, and I decided the time had come for me to talk to him. When I spotted his phone number printed in ASTA’s newsletter, I felt as though I had stumbled upon the Wizard of Oz’s direct line.

After I introduced myself as a garden writer, Snyder agreed to an interview. I began by asking his advice on the poppies growing in my garden. He came right to the point: “My advice is not to grow them. It is a violation of federal law. I would get rid of them.” He added that “we’re not going into Grandma’s garden and taking samples of her poppies” and confirmed that a gardener had to be growing P. somniferum with knowledge and intent before the deed became a crime.

Perhaps trying to be helpful, Snyder pointed out that there are 1,200 other species of poppies I could be growing instead, including “rhoeas and giganteum and a jillion others.” Giganccum? Wasn’t that the one Wayne Winterrowd had said was just a strain of somniferum? 1 asked him to describe it. “It’s got an even bigger capsule than somniferum. I’ve got one of them sitting right here on my desk.”

Snyder acknowledged that the DEA had done nothing to enforce the laws against poppy growing until recently, after receiving “some information coming in out of the Northwest and California that people were making a tea from dried and fresh poppies.”

Was he familiar with a book called Opium for the Masses?

After what felt to me like an uncomfortably long pause, he said simply, “We see most of the publications.”

I might be mistaken, but it was my impression that Snyder grew suddenly curt with me at this point in our conversation. He refused to say anything more about the seizure mentioned in his letter to the seed companies, on the ground that it was “still an active case.” When I wondered on what authority the DEA could stop seed companies from selling legal seeds, he cut me off: “If they sell for cultivation purposes, that is illegal.” It was hard to see what other reason a seed company would have for selling seeds.

Then I asked Larry Snyder if he worried that his efforts might alert people to just how easy it is to obtain opiates in this country.

“There’s always a risk that as more people become aware, some people will try it. It’s kind of like announcing that the bank leaves the vault open at nine o’clock in the morning. Is that going to induce someone to rob the bank? Draw your own conclusions.”


The conclusion I drew was that the DEA was indeed trying to implement a quiet crackdown, attempting to shut down supplies of poppies, fresh as well as dried, without calling attention to the fact that, as I had discovered with Jim Hogshire’s help, they are commonly available and easily converted into a narcotic. What was in the bank vault that Snyder alluded to was this very knowledge, still shut up behind a high wall of misinformation and myth. The DEA appears to be intent on keeping it there, making sure that domestic opium disappears before the knowledge gets out that it is, in fact, hidden in plain sight.

The government would seem to be walking a torturously narrow path here, attempting to send one message to those who are in the know and a very different one to those who are not. This delicate balancing act was on full display in the seizure that Larry Snyder wouldn’t discuss with me. I’m fairly sure that I now know what bust Snyder was talking about—or not talking about. On June 11, a few weeks before my own poppies had bloomed, the DEA and local law-enforcement agents in Spalding County, Georgia, raided the garden of Rodney Allen Moore, a thirty-one-year-old unemployed man, and his wife, Cherie. Agents seized 258 poppy plants, many of them with their seed capsules scored; two dozen marijuana seedlings; and several ounces of bagged marijuana. A search of the trailer in which the Moores lived turned up records indicating that the poppy seeds had been ordered from Thompson & Morgan and two other firms, as well as a copy of Opium for the Masses. Moore was charged with manufacturing morphine and possession of marijuana. Although he had no prior arrest record, he was (and as of February is still being) held on $100,000 bail.

It does not appear that Moore’s bust was part of any organized crackdown on people who grow poppies; acting on an anonymous tip, agents had come looking for a plantation of marijuana and apparently stumbled upon the poppies. But the way the raid was handled is, I think, indicative of the government’s two-pronged strategy with respect to domestic opium. While with one hand the DEA took advantage of the bust to track down and apply pressure to the companies that had (legally) sold Rodney Allen Moore his poppy seeds, with the other it sought to spread a thick cloud of disinformation about poppies before the public.

AGENTS TO CHECK ON HOW POPPIES ENTERED THE COUNTRY, read the page-one headline in the Griffin Daily News, alongside a photo of one of Moore’s scored poppy heads. The article made no mention of the well-known seed catalogues found in Moore’s trailer, which, of course, proved that his poppies had not “entered” the country at all. Instead it quoted Vincent Morgano, a DEA agent, claiming that the growing of opium poppies in this country was unheard of: “In my 25 years with the agency I have never seen it grown in the United States.” Clarence Cox, head of the Griffin-Spalding Narcotics Task Force, assured the press that the confiscated poppies are not the same kind that are commonly grown in American flower gardens, Spalding County Sheriff Richard Cantrell said that each of the 258 seedpods seized in the raid could, if properly harvested and processed, yield up to a kilo of heroin apiece. (Talk about alchemy!) Bill Maloney, also with the DEA, explained to a reporter that extracting narcotics from the pods entailed a very complicated and dangerous procedure: “I don’t even think someone with a Ph.D. could do it.” He also said that opium poppies were extremely rare in the southeastern United States. “The climate has to be just right,” he explained. “The temperatures have to be warm and you have to have the right amount of water.”

All these assertions I read in the Griffin Daily News, which had taken them on faith. And why not? What reason would government officials have to lie about horticulture? Yet several of these statements I had already disproved in my own garden. I knew for a matter of fact that the poppies in question—Papaver somniferum—are indeed the same kind commonly grown in American gardens, and that growing them anywhere in the country is not by any stretch a horticultural challenge. And although I did not yet have direct knowledge that these poppies could be made into a narcotic tea, James Duke, a botanist I contacted at the United States Department of Agriculture, had told me that ordinary, garden-variety opium poppies did contain morphine and codeine, and that these alkaloids could easily and effectively be extracted from fresh or dried seedpods by infusing them in hot water—by making a tea. Duke, who has done extensive work on poppies and is something of a legend in botanical circles, further suggested that alcohol would make a better solvent for extracting alkaloids from poppies than water, which made sense: laudanum is a name for just such a tincture of opium. “You can get the equivalent of a shot of heroin from a good green pod dissolved in a glass of vodka,” Duke told me. “So you can see why they might be concerned.”

And why they might be inclined to lie. If opium is so easy to grow, and opium tea so easy to make, the best—perhaps the only—way for the government to stop people from growing and making their own is to convince them that it can’t be done.

I had every reason to believe that James Duke and Jim Hogshire were right, and to doubt the statements of the government agents in Georgia. But it still seemed to me that, in light of the ever-thickening mist of mis- and disinformation swirling around the subject of poppies, the best way to nail down the last piece of poppy knowledge would be to perform a simple experiment on the flowers in my garden. I understood by now that the laws governing poppy cultivation had already expelled me from the country of the law-abiding, indeed had done so even before I knew it had happened. Since those laws drew no distinction between growing poppies and making poppy tea, there seemed to be no good reason not to take the steps needed to satisfy my curiosity.

Drinking tea was unlikely to put me in any greater jeopardy than I already was. But what about writing about the experience? It was with that troubling question in mind that I went in search of some legal advice.

Many pages ago I mentioned that civil liberties lawyers now speak in terms of a “drugs exception” to the Bill of Rights, and in the last few weeks I have had a chilling education into exactly what that means, under the tutelage of several criminal lawyers and one former district attorney. Throughout this whole expert meet, my worst-case scenario, inspired largely by Jim Hogshire’s experience, has been the midnight visit from the police; the seed of my paranoia, the germ of my opium dreams, had always been the team of agents armed with a search warrant, tearing up my house and garden while my family and I look on helplessly. I had always assumed, though, that the government would need some physical evidence (surely the poppies themselves) or at least an eyewitness—some sort of independent corroboration of the fact that I grew poppies—before it could bring charges against me.

But after two decades of war against drugs, the power of the government to move against its citizens has grown even greater than many of us realize. According to the lawyers I’ve talked to, a search warrant may turn out to be the least of my worries. It is at least conceivable that a federal prosecutor could charge me with manufacturing a Schedule II controlled substance with no more evidence than the contents of this article. And then there is this even more disturbing fact: under federal asset-forfeiture laws amended by Congress in 1984 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the government could seize my house and land and evict my family from our home without convicting me of any crime, indeed without so much as charging me with one. My house and garden can be “convicted” of the crime of manufacturing opium poppies regardless of whether I am ever charged, let alone convicted, of that offense. That’s because under the civil-forfeiture statute the standard of proof is much lower than in a criminal prosecution; the government need only demonstrate “probable cause” that my property was involved in a violation of the drug laws in order to confiscate it. What would it take to establish that probable cause? In the opinion of some of the lawyers who have read it, nothing more than the article you hold in your hand.

To borrow an expression from Jim Hogshire, I have exceeded the twenty-mile-an hour speed limit that the government has posted (or not posted) over the growing of poppies; that much this article has established. By publishing it, I enter a zone where the government possesses the means by which to make a mess of my life. Will its agents avail themselves of those means, will they pull me over? Obviously there’s no way of knowing; a huge uncertainty has entered my life. But the decision now is theirs. And it is a decision that will be shaped by certain facts of a political and even rhetorical nature that I would be foolish to ignore.

I happen to believe that it would be no big deal to harvest a couple of seedpods from my garden, to crush and steep them in a cup of hot water, and to taste the resultant tea. (It certainly wouldn’t take a Ph.D.) I happen also to think that it wouldn’t be wrong to describe that tea as little more than an interesting home remedy—a powerful analgesic that also produces a mild sensation of euphoria. But that’s my description. And now that I have made myself vulnerable to the government’s police power, I am forced to weigh, if not honor, the government’s very different description of those same acts: that making poppy tea is “manufacturing narcotics”; that printing its recipe and describing its effects in any but the most horrific terms would be “promoting drug abuse.” The decision whether or not to prosecute a per son turns not only on what crimes he may or may not have committed but also on what sort of story a prosecutor can tell about him. If I were to describe here the brewing and tasting of poppy tea, it would be that much easier for a prosecutor to tell a story in which I appear less like the countless thousands of poppy-growing gardeners to whom the police turn a blind eye each season and more like, well, Jim Hogshire.

Hogshire still calls and e-mails me now and then, from wherever. (“Before I say anything else,” one recent communique began, “I wanna make sure I remembered your e-mail [address] right so write me back and tell me something you know . . .”) In our last conversation he urged me to be “extremely careful what you write, man.” Hogshire’s experience certainly suggests that it is not my experiments with poppies that are apt to get me in trouble; it is the act of publishing an account of those experiments—the one act that, ironically enough, is constitutionally protected. Would Jim Hogshire have been prosecuted for the possession of store-bought dried poppies had he never published an upbeat how-to called Opium for the Masses? It seems doubtful.

We’ll kick his door, Agent Anonymous had memorably vowed when I described to him a hypothetical author of articles about making poppy tea. Why? Because that’s promoting something illegal. As the cases of Jim Hogshire and Rodney Allen Moore suggest, the government appears every bit as concerned with the supply of poppy information as it is with the supply of poppies themselves. With what you write, the arresting officer had asked Jim Hogshire as they drove him off to jail, weren’t you expecting this? This is not a question I ever want to hear.


It was on a chilly afternoon last fall that I set to work pulling up my withered poppies. By now they had dried on their stalks, forming crinkled brown pods the size of walnuts. Examining the seedpods, I could see that the tiny portals circling the anther at the top of each capsule had opened, releasing the poppy seeds to the wind. The seed portals looked like the little observation windows circling the crown of the Statue of Liberty. By now the seeds had probably been dispersed all over the neighborhood and would probably come up on their own, willy-nilly, next spring. (What, I wondered, would be the legal status of poppies that had planted themselves?) I made a mental note to weed very carefully next season.

I was unsure exactly what to do with this crop of dead flowers—this evidence. I’d read that police no longer needed a warrant to search my garbage (another juridical fruit of the drug war), so throwing the poppies out with the trash was not an option. The seedpods I decided simply to crush in my fists; it was blowing fitfully that day, and the brown shards, light as chaff, were carried off on the wind. That left only the anonymous-looking stalks, which I decided to compost—somewhere off my property.

As I gathered up the poppy stalks, I reflected on the season’s unusual harvest. Pride is a common enough emotion among gardeners at this time of year—that, and a continuing amazement at what it is possible to create, virtually out of nothing, in one’s garden. I still marvel each summer at the achievement of a Bourbon rose or even a beefsteak tomato—how the gardener can cause nature to yield up something so specifically attractive to the human eye or nose or taste bud. So it was with these astonishing poppies: how can it be that such an inconsequential speck of seed could yield a fruit in my garden with the power to lift pain, alter consciousness, “make sadness go away”?

We have the scientist’s explanation: the alkaloids in opium consist of complex molecules identical to the molecules that our brain produces to cope with pain and reward itself with pleasure, though it seems to me that this is one of those scientific explanations that only compounds the mystery it purports to solve. For what are the odds that a molecule produced by a flower out in the world would turn out to hold the precise key required to unlock the physiological mechanism governing the economy of pleasure and pain in my brain? There is something miraculous about such a correspondence between nature and mind, though it too must have an explanation. It might be the result of sheer molecular accident. But it seems more likely that it is the result of a little of that and then a whole lot of co-evolution: one theory holds that Papaver somniferum is a flower whose evolution has been directly influenced by the pleasure, and relief from pain, it happened to give a certain primate with a gift for horticulture and experiment. The flowers that gave people the most pleasure were the ones that produced the most offspring. It’s not all that different from the case of the Bourbon rose or the beefsteak tomato, two other plants whose evolution has been guided by the hand of human interest.

There was a second astonishment I registered out there that autumn afternoon, this one somewhat darker. As I threw my broken stalks on the compost and fumed them under with a pitchfork, I thought about what it could possibly mean to say that this plant was “illegal.” I had started out a few months ago with a seed no more felonious than the one for a tomato (indeed, they had arrived in the same envelope), and, after planting and watering it, thinning and weeding and performing all the other ordinary acts of gardening, I had ended up with a flower that rendered its cultivator a criminal. Surely this was an alchemy no less incredible than the one that had transformed that same seed into a chemical compound with the power to alter the ratio of pleasure and pain in my brain. Yet this second transformation had no basis in nature whatsoever. It is, in fact, the result of nothing more than a particular legal taxonomy, a classification of certain substances that appear in nature into categories labeled “licit” and “illicit.” Any such taxonomy, being the product of a particular culture and history and politics, is an artificial construct. It’s not difficult to imagine how it might have been very different than it is.

In fact it once was, and not so long ago. Not far from my garden stands a very old apple tree, planted early in this century by the farmer who used to live here, a man named Matyas, who bought this land in 1915. (The name is pronounced “matches.”) The tree still produces a small crop of apples each fall, but they’re not very good to eat. From what I’ve been able to ream, the farmer grew them for the sole purpose of making hard cider, something most American farmers had done since Colonial times; indeed, until this century hard cider was probably the most popular intoxicant—drug, if you will—in this country. It shouldn’t surprise us that one of the symbols of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was an ax; prohibitionists like Carry Nation used to call for the chopping down of apple trees just like the one in my garden, plants that in their eyes held some of the same menace that a marijuana plant, or a poppy flower, holds in the eyes of, say, William Bennett.

Old-timers around here tell me that Joe Matyas used to make the best applejack in town—100 proof, I once heard. No doubt his cider was subject to “abuse,” and from 1920 to 1933 its manufacture was a federal crime under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. During those years the farmer violated a federal law every time he made a barrel of cider. It’s worth noting that during the period of anti-alcohol hysteria that led to Prohibition, certain forms of opium were as legal and almost as widely available in this country as alcohol is today. It is said that members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union would relax at the end of a day spent crusading against alcohol with their cherished “women’s tonics,” preparations whose active ingredient was laudanum—opium. Such was the order of things less than a century ago.

The war on drugs is in truth a war on some drugs, their enemy status the result of historical accident, cultural prejudice, and institutional imperative. The taxonomy on behalf of which this war is being fought would be difficult to explain to an extraterrestrial, or even a farmer like Matyas. Is it the quality of addictiveness that renders a substance illicit? Not in the case of tobacco, which I am free to grow in this garden. Curiously, the current campaign against tobacco dwells less on cigarettes’ addictiveness than on their threat to our health. So is it toxicity that renders a substance a public menace? Well, my garden is full of plants—datura and euphorbia, castor beans, and even the stems of my rhubarb—that would sicken and possibly kill me if I ingested them, but the government trusts me to be careful. Is it, then, the prospect of pleasure—of “recreational use”—that puts a substance beyond the pale? Not in the case of alcohol: I can legally produce wine or hard cider or beer from my garden for my personal use (though there are regulations governing its distribution to others). So could it be a drug’s “mind-altering” properties that make it evil? Certainly not in the case of Prozac, a drug that, much like opium, mimics chemical compounds manufactured in the brain.

Arbitrary though the war on drugs may be, the battle against the poppy is surely its most eccentric front. The exact same chemical compounds in other hands—those of a pharmaceutical company, say, or a doctor—are treated as the boon to mankind they most surely are. Yet although the medical value of my poppies is widely recognized, my failure to heed what amounts to a set of regulations (that only a pharmaceutical company may handle these flowers; that only a doctor may dispense their extracts) and prejudices (that refined alkaloids are superior to crude ones) governing their production and use makes me not just a scofflaw but a felon.

Someday we may marvel at the power we’ve invested in these categories, which seems out of all proportion to their artifice. Perhaps one day the government won’t care if I want to make a cup of poppy tea for a migraine, no more than it presently cares if I make a cup of valerian tea (a tranquilizer made from the roots of Valeriana officinalis) to help me sleep, or even if I want to make a quart of hard apple cider for the express purpose of getting drunk. After all, it wasn’t such a long time ago that the fortunes of the apple and the poppy in this country were reversed.

As I made sure the stalks were well interred beneath layers of compost, close enough to the heat at the center of the pile to blast them beyond recognition, I thought about how little had changed in my garden since Joe Matyas tended it during Prohibition, a time we rightly regard as benighted—and wrongly regard as ancient history. If anything, those of us living through the drug war live in even stranger times, when certain plants themselves have been outlawed from our gardens with no regard for what one might or might not be doing with them. Prohibition never outlawed Joe Matyas’s apple trees (nor did it threaten this property with confiscation); it wasn’t until Matyas made his cider that he crossed the line.

But there it was, then as now, a line through the middle of this garden. Thanks to two national crusades against certain drugs that can be easily produced in it, both he and I found a way to violate federal law without so much as stepping off the property, and jeopardized our personal freedom simply by exercising it. In addition to inhabiting this particular corner of the earth, Matyas and I presumably had a few other things in common. There is, for example, the desire to occasionally alter the textures of consciousness, though I wonder if that might not be universal. And then there’s this: the refusal to accept that what happens in our gardens, not to mention in our houses, our bodies, and our minds, is anyone’s business but our own. Fifteen years ago, when I first moved into this place, some of the crumbling outbuildings dotting the property still bore crudely lettered warnings directed, I liked to think, at the dreaded “Revenuers” and anyone else the old farmer judged a threat to his privacy—to his liberty. KEEP OUT! went one, an angry scrawl painted in red on the side of a shed.

My sentiments exactly.

And the aMessiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may bredeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are credeemed from the fall they have become dfree forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon

2 Nephi 2:26

Do I Have to go to Church?

I’m a lucky man tonight.  I’m sitting out on my parents back porch.  That’s not why I’m lucky, but it’s a setting.  I, like many young former-“professionals” have moved back in (temporarily, I hope) with my parents as I both search for, and start a job.  I’ve been unemployed going on 14 months now, officially a bum in the eyes of most people.  When I was living in Utah, with my in-laws, I was the recipient of more than a few odd looks.  Though most people seemed, on the exterior at least, to be understanding and empathetic with my family’s situation, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of those odd looks had to do with my mooching off of my in-laws and the free rent we received for a full year.

Certainly, within my wife’s own family, her siblings (and parents, to a lesser degree) presented a trial as they, too, questioned what we were doing and were more than eager to throw us out.  Such is the plight of an unemployed bum.  13 full months of job searching later, I’m no closer to finding a job than when I begin.  Hundreds of applications have been sent, less than a handful (literally) of callbacks or email responses have come back my way.

Such it is, in this context, that I find myself a lucky man.  I’m sitting on my parents back porch, watching the fire glow in the portable brick oven I just finished building less than a week ago.  It’s in the curing process, right now, as I try to get the thing acclimated to temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Currently, it’s sitting right about 400 degrees.  Tomorrow it will be slightly hotter.  The next day even hotter than that.  Then, some Saturday, our first pizza party will take place here at my parents house.  This project has been more than 6 months in planning, and I’ve taken more than my fair share of bumps and bruises in my feeble attempt to start a fledgling business.  Cost overruns, time overruns and broken parts have hampered the process, but at last there is some semblance of success at the doorstep.

That, in truth, is only part of the reason why I’m lucky.  While more than a few people here in Wisconsin complained of the heat (93 degrees with a fair amount of humidity), my wife and kids were suffering through a day in the low 30s with a nice slushy snowfall.  When I spoke with my wife earlier this morning, there was a 65 degree difference (literally) according to  I chuckled, as we’ve often lamented the fact that Wisconsin seems so cold, and Utah typically the more temperate climate, and I was more than willing to point out the temperature difference to my wife as she suffered through a chilly late May day.


As I did a little bit of reading, this morning, I was again reminded of a common theme among some LDS members as it relates to church.  I preface these comments with the clause that I am not terribly certain that our modern day interpretation of “church” is anywhere near accurate, and certainly has deviated from the scriptural definition in more than a few ways.  Church, as it’s referred to today, means little more than a religious body that meets on a weekly basis, with other meetings sprinkled in for good measure.  Church, as it’s referred to today, consists of meetings, programs, and hourly blocks of (mostly) scriptural discussions that repeat themselves at least every four years.  If you ask a member of the LDS faith what church is, they’ll likely reply that it’s their set of beliefs and more or less synonymous with the term “gospel.”

The 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines church as “a house consecrated to the worship of God,” or “the collective body of Christians, or of those who profess to believe in Christ.”[1] The original Greek word for church is Ekklesia which means “a gathering” who could be “united into one body.”[2] The most likely New Testament definition, from what I’ve been able to gather, is that church was described or defined as any meeting where “two or three [were] gathered together,”[3] and could literally have been a group that small.  Any meeting consisting of two or three people which discussed spiritual principles or ideas or speculation, therefore, could have been labeled “church.”  The most succinct definition of church as contained in scripture is likely found in D&C 10:67-69, which reads, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and acometh unto me, the same is my bchurch. Whosoever adeclareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is bagainst me; therefore he is not of my church. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and aendureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my brock, and the cgates of hell shall not prevail against them.”

The term “gospel,” by contrast, is defined by the same 1828 Webster’s dictionary as “the history of the birth, life, actions, death, resurrection, ascension and doctrines of Jesus Christ,” and “a revelation of the grace of God to fallen man through a mediatory … the whole scheme of salvation, as revealed by Christ.”[4] D&C 39:6 states and defines the gospel as, “repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the bbaptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and cteacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”  3 Nephi 17:21 follows similar lines and states, “aRepent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be bbaptized in my name, that ye may be csanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand dspotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my agospel … .”

The Difference Between the Church and the Gospel – 1984

Though many of you may be familiar with Ronald Poleman’s talk, given in 1984[5], on the gospel and the church, the differences highlighted therein likely give the best definition of the mainstream view of each, especially when one considers the changes and redactions that occurred to that discourse.  The original discourse defined the church as “a divine institution administered by the priesthood of God.  The church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.”  The gospel, as defined in this same talk, is “the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation.”

Following these brief definitions, the church is an institution which is charged with teaching the gospel, or the “plan” that leads us to individual salvation and exaltation.  They are, and were, two distinct and different entities.  Immediately after the original talk was given in general conference, Poleman was required to re-do the talk and give a similar, though distinctly different version which was then published in the Ensign and elsewhere.  In this second version, the church is redefined to be, “the Kingdom of God on Earth” and “divinely commissioned to provide the means and resources to implement this plan [the gospel] in each individual’s life.”  The remainder of the talk, as presented throughout changed version continue to highlight, continues to highlight how the church, and only the church, is divinely inspired and commissioned to implement, teach and administer the gospel.

The original talk, which I find to be a fantastic discussion on important and well defined differences, contains this instructive thought:

“Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage, be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies.  Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles.  Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy.  In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.” – Ronald Poleman, October 1984 General Conference (original version)

The changed version removes this entire paragraph and replaces it with an entirely different line of thought, “the eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures.”  You can be the judge of the similarities and differences of these two statements, juxtaposed against each other.  Suffice it to say, the redone version is geared and directed to a mostly hierarchical definition that strengthens and supports an ever increasing bureaucracy.  If what Polemen said was true in 1984, how much more true is it today?  The traditions – false and otherwise – are even more ingrained and popular than they were then and even more likely to hold sway in any given lesson or discussion.  The only way these can be adequately rejected or refuted is by knowing (a) what they are and (b) knowing the true form of the principle behind the tradition.  That, I’m afraid, is our task.

Is it any wonder, in retrospect, that this talk was both given, censored, changed and rebranded in 1984?[6] From Orwell’s 1984, I found a couple of insightful quotes as it pertains to this discussion:

“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

The Universality of Revelation

So, why this discussion on church, the gospel and whether I have to attend church?  Well, one of my pet peeves (but only recently) is the idea of the universality of revelation.  My definition of the universality of revelation would be broken down by a rather simple statement:  “Since I received a revelation/witness that I need to be doing this or that, that means that you (all of you) should also be doing this or that”  In essence, the universality of revelation suggests that all the individual insights we receive are also applicable to everyone else, regardless of their station, their situation and their own individual lives.

Case in point:  if I were to believe (tacitly, because we never admit it) in the universality of revelation, then my thoughts on Marijuana and the Word of Wisdom must be followed by everyone.  In that discussion, I outlined why I think marijuana is not only kosher with the word of wisdom, but is perhaps one of the things our Heavenly Father has given us to use and enjoy, both for its effects on the conscious and its effects on our overall well-being.  Following this universality of revelation premise, my thoughts on Marijuana must thereby be the required protocol not only for me, but also for everyone else.  If it’s good for the goose, well, it’s good for the gander as well.

Now, as I stated in that previous paragraph, the belief in universality of revelation is one which is only given tacit approval.  Anyone reading the above paragraph will recognize the inherent weaknesses of my argument, not only because it falls on its face under closer inspection, but also because it bypasses the idea of everyone having their God-given right to lead their lives in concordance with the principles of revelation and free agency.

Guilting Me into Going to Church

So, how does this universality of revelation apply to this discussion?  Well, there are those around me who continually profess that leaving the church simply isn’t an option.  Not that I have any intentions of leaving, but the whole idea that (a) “the Lord is going to hold us all accountable” (to our “support” of church leaders and programs of the church), (b) “those who are sensitive to the troubles which beset the church need to be there, faithfully serving,” (c) Zion and her redemption are the same thing, and same cause, as serving in the church, (d) “withdraw[ing] from the church [will] cut yourself off from necessary ordinances, including the sacrament” and “imperil your capacity to keep the Sabbath day holy” and “limit your capacity to serve others,” and other similar thoughts[7], all related to the discussion of leaving or staying in the church, leave me beside myself.  Probably for good reason.  I probably need the reminding, but at the same time, I can’t come to an agreement on any of those items listed above.

If we step back and analyze the state of affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some things might come into focus, and rather quickly.  The first few things to enter our view would probably be (a) all is not well in Zion, (b) staying in or outside the church is an individual decision, (c) once ordinances are performed, all saints have the ability and right to practice those ordinances in their own homes, especially the Sacrament, no matter what any leader says, (d) leaving church will not imperil anyone from keeping the Sabbath day holy nor limit my (or anyone’s) capacity to serve and (e) the universality of revelation is alive and well in the LDS community.


My biggest bone of contention – and perhaps I’m wrong in this assessment – is that LDS members are so addicted to their own definition of church that they can’t really step outside the box and realize that “church” can be defined as broadly as we want it.  It really can be a meeting where you and I discuss spiritual principles.  That is church.  That is where we’re striving to grow closer to Christ.  Instead, for some reason, we define church in the most narrow version we can – a place we go and attend one time per week, with three hour blocks where we’re fed the same regurgitated vomit week in and week out.  We maintain incredibly narrow mindsets by thinking that service is to be rendered solely within the church, that we must attend a building 1x per week in order to even hope of keeping the Sabbath day holy, that we must support a system that is predicated on blind obedience to a pile of programs, lectures and leaders, and that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

I am so fed up with “programs” that I can’t even see straight.  Literally, the following is the list of “programs” we currently maintain (and I may be missing some):

  1. Primary program
  2. Young men’s program
  3. Young women’s program
  4. Sunday school program
  5. Duty to God program
  6. Personal progress program
  7. Scouting program
  8. Missionary program
  9. Home teaching program

10.  Visiting teaching program

11.  Provident living program

12.  Welfare program

13.  Temple attendance program

14.  Temple building program

15.  Humanitarian program

16.  Distribution center program

17.  Seminary program

18.  Activity Days program

19.  Young Single Adults program

20.  Activities program

And, from there, I could probably continue and re-label other organizations programs, because that’s all they really are.  The High Priests group is really about a program for old men, because you can only become a High Priest with age and seasoning, nothing to do with revelation.  The Elders Quorum is really a program for newly married people who aren’t spiritually sound enough to graduate to a special calling (i.e. their bishopric or the high council).  The relief socity is really just a program to keep the sister’s from backbiting and keep them engaged in various activities.  Programs, programs, programs.  Programs are little more than “a plan of action to accomplish a specified end,”[8] apparently.  And that “specified plan?”  To raise people who blindly follow leaders?  To raise people who pay a “full tithe”?  To depersonalize the gospel to such an extent that we think we need checklists, programs, graduations, certificates and prizes to suggest that we’ve arrived as “saints”?  Just what is the “specified plan”?  Interestingly, the word “program” only existed in the 1800s as a way to define a letter, advertisement or proclamation.[9] It had nothing to do with our “programmatic” learning that we’re now convinced we need.

And yet, in all these programs, our main focus is on three things:  (1) the church, (2) the prophet, and (3) the apostles.  If programs are the focus of the church, and I submit they are, then the result can best be seen in the beliefs (at least those publicly available to the average listener) of the average member.  The best place, it would seem, to hear these beliefs would be at your local “fast & testimony” meeting.  And, true to form, the results are rather predictable.  The next fast and testimony meeting you attend, take a pad of paper and a pen with you.  Make two columns.  The first column should have the header “Church / Prophet”, and the second column should have the header “Christ.”  Tally up the number of times someone testifies of either.  If someone testifies of the Church, or the Prophet, add the marks accordingly.  Likewise for Christ.  I did this over a several month time frame and the results were typically in favor of the Church / Prophet, at a rate of near 6:1 or 7:1.  I remember one meeting, only one person bore testimony of Christ, and that someone was a kid of 7 or 8 years old.  Everyone else bore testimony of either the prophet, or the church, or some other tale having little to do with the gospel.  That, I am afraid, is the result of the programs.  That, I am afraid, is what we have as a result of supporting these programs.  And, yet, I’m to believe that God will hold me accountable for not supporting these programs?  Well, if that’s the case, then I hope I can find a different God in the afterlife than the one I profess to believe in, because I can’t fathom how my God would expect me to believe in and support programs that run contrary to what I read in the scriptures.

Can one find good in these programs?  Of course they can, and probably do.  There’s no doubt there is some good, but the vomit that gets included in these programs (whether it’s the teaching of fear to our youth (i.e. “God’s great, you’re bad, try harder”), inculcating our primary aged children with a chant to “Follow the Prophet,” or the predictable “The Prophet cannot lead you astray” comments, or our adherence to a “uniform of the priesthood”) oftentimes more than outweighs the positives I see and witness.


Now, even amidst all this, I’m not saying that we should leave church.  Though I staunchly disagree with the comments enumerated above about our obligation to attend church, I am persuaded by some more wise than I that there are still reasons to attend church.  In a recent comment here (comment #2 and #4 are both pertinent), the following was added, which persuades me that there may be a better way:

I do believe that one individual can effect a great deal of change in a congregation. If the Lord has only one, inspired agent among every ward/branch, I believe that that is sufficient for Him to turn things upside-down. He could probably do it even with only one agent per stake/district. The masses, in my opinion, are not on as solid a foundation as they claim. I think it is more appearance and wishful thinking than actual fact.

The current status quo is one of continual unanimity, conformity, etc. A single person acting alone, but under the inspiration of God, can change the entire scene.

For example, if each week there is a single vote against, no longer can the claim to unanimity be made. Even closed-minded people are naturally curious, so although the leadership may discount that one, single vote against, eventually certain members of the congregation will approach the individual and ask why the hand was raised against. That is a teaching opportunity which may lead to two, or more, inspired agents of the Lord in the congregation.

Another example, a fixation on Christ in conversation can prove devastating to one’s idolatrous worship of prophets. Every LDS knows that although Nephi and people talked of Christ and preached of Christ, etc., the LDS do not do this. They talk and preach of prophets and apostles. An inspired agent of the Lord, forcing each conversation with another LDS back to Christ has an unnerving effect on that LDS, because they immediately recognize the scripture being lived and their own non-conformity to the word of God. So, even without preaching repentance, by doing certain things in a non-confrontational way, the population can be quickly brought around.

I can’t say that I’m as confident as the writer that things will improve “quickly,” but I note the wisdom in trying.  The difference between this comment, and the post referring to our “obligation” to stay, as I see it, is one of focus.  One chooses to focus on fear (i.e. we may “imperil” our ability to keep the Sabbath day holy, we will be held “accountable” for how we support and uphold “programs,” etc.), while one chooses to focus on hope and love.  For that, persuasion works wonders for me.

Returning, finally, to the universality of revelation, we simply can’t assume that everyone must follow the same course of action as we take.  While some may find wisdom and inspiration in staying in the church, others will find wisdom and revelation in leaving.  That is how it should be.  Everyone is on an individual journey and we must allow each individual the opportunity to individualize their journey as they and the Lord counsel together.  Sure, many may err in their judgments about what God is doing or not doing in their lives, but so long as they are trying and finding their individual path, I wish them all the luck in the world.

In spite of my misgivings about the way we interpret church in the modern context and how so many of the programs in the church are built around obligation, fear and guilt, I recognize what the commenter noted previously, that we are agents of change charged with acting, and not being acted upon.[10]

1984 Revisited

In the end, your decision to go to church is your choice.  Guilt should never be the primary motivating factor to do anything, and yet it’s one of the most popular methods used to get someone to do something, especially in the context of religion (i.e. if you don’t go to church, you can’t take the Sacrament and you’ll likely be breaking the Sabbath day, etc).  The universality of revelation is as false a doctrine or tradition, as Ron Poleman discussed previously, as there is on this earth.   Don’t believe it.  Do believe, however, in your ability to commune with your God and in your ability to receive divine counsel from on high (pun intended).

So, perhaps it is as Orwell stated, and as Poleman started back in 1984.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those of us who haven’t yet even learned to think are storing up inside of us the power that may, one day, overturn the tide of our idolatrous fornications with the “church.”

“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same–people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”  George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 10



[3] See Matthew 18:20







[10] See 2 Nephi 2:13-16, 26

“And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome aherbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with aprudence and bthanksgiving.”
Doctrine & Covenants 89:10-11

It’s 3:27am where I am, as I sit down to write this.  I haven’t yet fallen asleep, and have my doubts that I will.  You see, I’m sitting here thinking about Marijuana.  Not because I have some bizarre infatuation with what some affectionately call the “holy herb,” but rather because I’m beginning to wonder if it is indeed an/the “holy herb.”  For those of you who’ve been here before – and I acknowledge that my writing is much more for my benefit than for others – you’ll recognize that I write from the viewpoint of someone stuck in a strange world.  I practice the modern idolatry of belonging to a church.  Not just any church, mind you, but one mired in a mirage like “cult of personality”.  I say mirage like if only because on the inside that cult of personality cannot be seen for what it is.  Only upon waking up from our idolatry does any of this begin to make any sense.

Layers Upon Layers

It is as if the Lord is smiling down on us, amused at our ignorance.  Even when we think we’re on to something, it’s likely only another layer to a deeply philosophical paradigm which we scarcely begin to understand.  We’re too busy crying from the burning of our eyes as those layers get peeled back, and so we plod along in our ignorance until the Lord allows us to peel another layer back.  And so on.  And so on.  Little by little, clarity comes.

It is within that strange bemusing context that I write this, not really sure how it will turn out and fully acknowledging, at the outset, that this may be one terrible crash landing when it’s all said and done.

Ozzy Osbourne

My introduction with marijuana came sometime around my 17th or 18th year on this planet, or at least that’s the one time I remember it.  I grew up in a middle sized Midwestern town, not unlike most of them I’d surmise, where the height of excitement on a Friday or Saturday night was either hitting up the local main drag and cruising for girls, or hanging out at the bowling alley.  By the time I was a junior and senior in high school, the majority of my friends were drinking and smoking on a regular basis or at least on the weekends, and pretty heavily at that.

All the while, I stayed mostly aloof from their retreats to either the bottle or the smokestack, but was nevertheless cognizant of their weekend endeavors.  Though I never partook either one of those things during my high school years (or since for that matter), I was around it pretty regularly.  Regularly enough to acquaint myself with the smells of these intoxicating substances.

Those things, with my group of friends, were natural lead ins, I would guess, into this marijuana business.  Though I don’t specifically remember them experimenting with the holy herb, I’m fairly certain they did.  For that matter, most people in my high school probably did.  Later, during the summer between my junior and senior years, I thought it would be cool (don’t ask me why) to go to an Ozzy Osbourne concert, with Filter also there.  It was an outdoor concert where, I was certain, I could have a good time.  I’m largely blessed with a high degree of naiveté, never realizing the situations I find myself in until way after the fact.  Such was the case with Ozzy and Filter.  The first question that comes to mind is, “What in the heck was a teenager doing at an event attended mostly be middle-aged men and women, long since sober, revisiting their teenage years at the Ozzy concert?”  And that wouldn’t be the last question of that ilk, were one to psychoanalyze the situation to its profound, or not so, depths.  To each question, I would fail to have an adequate response.  Such is the nature of my naivete, or so I call it.

Those were some of my better days, I must admit – head banging to a mostly indecipherably man in his 90s, or what seemed like it in concert, was the supposed epitome of excitement.   My friend, who went with me, and I were likely the odd couple of the crowd – two mormon teenagers head banging to Ozzy, as we sported sleeveless t-shirts, in a crowd comprised almost entirely of men and women old enough to be our parents, if not worse.  And, to make matters worse, we paid to be there.

It was there, in the midst of all these middle aged men and women, that I had my first memory with the holy herb – at least the first one I can seem to recall clearly enough to describe here.  I must state that I didn’t smoke any, nor did my friend, but I distinctly remember that smell wafting up from a row or two in front of us.  To all who’ve either tried it, or have known someone who has tried it, or been around it, the smell is unique to the entire world and impossible to miss diagnose, or so I think.  I may be wrong on this front, given the paucity of my understanding on the subject.  This experience alone would lead me to believe I’d smelt it somewhere else previously, by my other gift (besides my naïveté), would be my ability to forget nearly everything that has happened in my life, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I have trouble remembering the first time I came across the holy herb.  Nevertheless, it was there amidst those who would counsel me on the dangers of such pastimes in any other situation, that I first remember smelling that sweet odor.

Maybe, in retrospect, the second hand smoke of the holy herb is what made the Ozzy concert more tolerable to both myself and everyone else in attendance, because I’m not sure how I made it through those shrill screams back then, but alas such is the joy of youth (and middle age for that matter).

What a Pervert!

From that time until now, a span of nearly 15 years or so, I can’t say I remember having that scent cross my olfactory senses but maybe one or two more times, if that.  It is simply something you don’t come across unless you run in certain groups, and I can’t say I run in those groups.  Like my previous encounter, I haven’t been found attending various outdoor concerts, or any concert for that matter in almost 10 years, so it may simply be that I’m limiting the circles of influence unwittingly.  Whatever the cause, it simply isn’t a smell that one encounters too frequently.

Then, a decision made over a few minutes of reflection once again thrust that sweet smelling herb into my mind.  A couple of weeks back I found myself getting ready to head out a long road trip.  Ever the one in need of intriguing books to keep me awake in the middle of the night as I drive across the wide open expanses of America, I turned to the local library to find a good audiobook or two.  Quite by chance, I picked a rather inauspicious book entitled, Botany of Desire, authored by Michael Pollan.  I’ve held some interest in gardening since my time in Vermont a few years back and noting that the book was about plants, a mild interest seemed to percolate within me.  Turning over the cover to the audiobook I found myself reading of the same interests – namely, plants, gardening and their effect in our world.  So, with some reluctance, I headed for the checkout.  I’m not entirely sure of the reluctance I felt in taking that copy to the checkout register, but there was some reluctance inside of me to even hold it in my hands.  Some may say it was the “good” spirit telling me to put it back, while others might suggest that it was the “bad” spirit trying to dissuade me from finding truth in the most unlikely of locations.  Only then did I realize a second reluctance – that of checking out a book with “desire” in the title.  A title which brought me a small degree of embarrassment as I approached the register.  Not entirely sure of the reasons, other than the dubious title, I sheepishly headed for the door all the while thinking that the young lady who had just looked at the title of the book in checking it out was probably thinking, “What a pervert!”

Perhaps not, but such were the games my mind was playing on me that day.  Not only was I questioning the selection of the book in the first place – not sure if it were going to be something I’d really find interesting listening at 3am in the middle of Nebraska – but I was also questioning the title and what others would think of me in having such a title in my hands.  Yes, I fight that idolatrous beast day in and day out, always conscious of others thoughts no matter how idolatrous those thoughts are.  Having the word of “desire” in any title brings up some rather interesting thoughts for a man, especially parading the book around in a library and making the conscious decision to check it out, but that’s a story for another day and another time.

Some 3,000 miles, and one full month, later, the book still sat unopened in my center console.  By this time, I had finished listening to no less than 6 audiobooks.   Only upon several reminders from my wife to return the book because it was long since overdue did I throw it in my CD player as I headed to Iowa to pick up an old military trailer.  I figured it was now or never, and mostly my reluctance to listen to it was suggesting never was the better option.

So, with no small amount of reluctance, I popped the first CD into my player, and the journey began.

The Good Stuff

I was more than reticent to actually listen to the book.  By the time the book was finished, it was more than 2 weeks overdue.  In reality, I only relented (to listen to it, that is) because I felt guilty about having it so long and not taking the time to listen to it.  So, on this short side trip to Iowa, I blithely slip into my seat and began the journey that may forever alter my existence here on earth.  Never one for hyperbole (ironic, isn’t it), this statement may indeed be true.

The book began with a long and interesting story on John Chapman, perhaps better known as Johnny Appleseed.  Then, this story was followed by an equally compelling story on the Tulip stock market which brought the Dutch economy to its knees in the 1700s (to say nothing of the nuances in all the Tulip varieties which were altogether over my head).  I learned that Johnny Appleseed wasn’t planting trees to give the local kids a good source of Christianity and apples with a healthy dose of Vitamin C.  No, he was planting trees to help establish solid orchards in the expanding frontier of the United States whereby the local purveyors of hard cider and apple jack might have an adequate supply stock.  So began the book.  Good, to be sure, but not the kind of stuff that keeps a man awake through the night.  By the time I had arrived at my destination in Iowa I had just come to the end of the discussion on Tulips and mankind’s desire for beauty (hence the cultivation of the tulip and entire economies devoted to futures contracts of a flower).

Then, finally, on my way back from Iowa the 3rd (of 4) chapter began to play through my speakers.  I wasn’t totally prepared for this chapter, though I knew the book was to speak on it.  That, I suppose, is also due to my forgetful nature.   This time, however, the discussion was neither on apples and Johnny Appleseed, nor on Tulips, but rather on intoxication.  Not intoxication in the form of inebriating beverages, but rather our human search for substances which alter the consciousness which rules our world, intoxication in the form of the great holy herb, or cannabis sativa.

The Gospel Gestapo

Being raised in a Mormon household, with an active, faithful Mormon lineage stretching back several generations, my thoughts are more than influenced through a paradigm heavily tilted to the side of Mormanity.  This is no different than any other person, in reality, as we’re all influenced through various paradigms our parents instill in us.  Like some sort of invisible surgery, our perceptions, realities and thought processes are almost invariably influenced by those entrusted to parent us.

Mostly, this comes out good, as is my case.  Though, in spite of the goodness, there is nevertheless a distinctly dogmatic paradigm through which Mormonism operates these days.  This is due to many factors, but mostly due to the desire to control and correlate the membership.  Any organization of any size instills a certain degree of correlation and control on its membership, and should be expected.  Such is the case today inside Mormonism.  More and more, members are encouraged to believe one set of principles, one set of ideas and one set of thoughts.  This creates the culture of conformity many see inside Mormonism, but also one of unanimity.

It is this box from which I am laboring to extricate myself these days.  Not that the box is inherently bad, but rather I find that the more I read and experience, the more I see a dogmatic box which serves as a limit and control on anyone inside of it.  All one has to do to see this control is walk into any Latter-day Saint meeting and suggest that we should trust our personal revelation, even when (especially when) it contradicts the hierarchy of leaders.  Members cling with increasing vigor to the “church” at the expense of everything else.  This appears to have been the result of the correlation of doctrine within the church, a misguided (if I may) approach to develop unity within the church.  Instead of striving to develop a unity of purpose, we see a striving to develop a unity of doctrine.

Back in the day there is ample evidence to suggest that the early saints were far less concerned about doctrinal differences then we are today.  The next time you bring up a doctrinal difference in your next church meeting, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see a mini-fight break up to quell the perceived rebellion.  Instead of championing the discussion and divergent ideas, the current status quo within the church champions uniformity of thought and belief.  Some view this as good.  Me?  Not so much.  This idea has only recently come to me, though it’s been something I’ve been trying to define in my own life.  I’ve been trying to recognize my role, today, with my varying thought processes when juxtaposed with the official party line.  Like the Greeks of old are fond of saying, the truth lies in the middle somewhere.  On the one end, we have the doctrinal police and the Gospel Gestapo.  On the other, we should have far more people actively reconciling their thoughts and beliefs with the divine.  Though truth is universal, it is also uniquely individual.

Wholesome Herbs

This all serves as a mere prelude – placed out of sequence – to my discussion on the Holy Herb.  The vast majority of Americans, I would surmise, serve as the Dogmatic Police with regards to the Holy Herb.  Inside the church, the Gospel Gestapo play a similar, albeit more authoritarian role.  In the world of religion, authoritarians often use the threat of salvation and damnation to corral rebels and squash dissent.  Such is the scene currently in play before our eyes.

Were I to mention, tomorrow in church, that I think we should all be partaking some Holy Herb on a regular basis, there’s no doubt I’d be reported to “higher” authorities, a misnomer if there ever were one, but that’s neither here nor there, at least not yet.  Nevertheless, that seems to be the view found in Pollan’s write-up on Cannibis, and who is to say he isn’t right.  I certainly was left a little dumbfounded listening to him discuss the natural history of the cannibis sativa plant, and mankind’s search for altered consciousness, but in a very good way.

The scriptures abound with references to God’s creations and suggest that man has dominion over them all, to do as he sees fit.  That’s not a recommendation to waste and pillage, but rather to use with prudence (see D&C 59:20).   The numerous creation accounts all reference the purposes for the myriad creations (see Genesis 1, Moses 2, Abraham 4, etc), but more specifically – especially as it relates to this write-up – the use of herbs.

Adam is told to eat “the herb of the field;” Moses is told to “eat every herb of the land;” Adam is told the “green herb have I given you for all things;” Job speaks longingly of herbs; the Psalms reference herbs as being “for the service of man;”  Isaiah speaks of herbs numerous times, even stating how bones “shall flourish like an herb;” the Book of Hebrews even suggests that the earth brings forth “herbs meet for them by whom [the earth] is dressed;” D&C 59 references how herbs are for our use; the Book of Moses states how “every herb” was created by the Lord, in the context of spiritual and natural creations; and, D&C 89 reminds us that “all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature and use of man … .”  These are some of the many references to “herbs” in scripture, and only give a glimpse of the possible meaning behind their numerous recommendations.

Indeed, the founding father’s, who the LDS church views as pious and saintly and virtually beyond reproach, were well acquainted with the “holy herb.”  Some of them had hemp plantations with thousands of acres of hemp.  Though I have found no hard evidence that they enjoyed the recreational uses of the “holy herb”, there are subtle indications that they were acquainted with its other uses (other then for cloth, rope, sails, paper, etc.).  In one instance, George Washington, as Harvey Wasserman wrote, “[Washington] regrets being late to separate his male hemp plants from his females. For a master farmer like George, there would be little reason to do this except to make the females ripe for smoking.”  The instance of the founding fathers is only to suggest that our modern interpretation of something being a “drug,” and it’s resulting effects on our spirituality, may be entirely misplaced and extremely misguided.

In fact, of note, is the idea that Wilford Woodruff once performed the temple work for the founding fathers and signers of the Declaration of Independence as these men “waited on [him] for two days and two nights.”  Some will be quick to point out that these ordinances have nothing to do with marijuana or this discussion – and they’d be right – but that’s not the point I’m getting at.  What I am suggesting is that our interpretation of good/bad may be entirely erroneous.  I’m persuaded, mostly, that many of the founding fathers – Washington, Jefferson, etc., – must have known of the recreational uses of the holy herb, being farmers and gardeners.  The advantages of the hemp/marijuana seed have been known through antiquity, going back thousands of years.  And yet, today, we believe (largely) that we’d be fit for hell (or worse) if we use the holy herb or partake of it, and it all largely has to do with public and governmental perception.   I really do doubt that there is any eternal punishment affixed to what plants we use/don’t use in our diets, especially after what I found in researching this issue a little further.  Mormons today believe that such an act as ingesting (in any form) such a drug is inherently wrong and evil, but only because it’s been classified as something by the government and society.  What’s interesting, in contrast, is that Mormons (up until the late 1800s) couldn’t have cared less about public perception or the way the government classified this or that.  Now, instead, we’ve been relegated to a group of people content on focus groups, questionnaires and polling to tell which way the wind is blowing.  Now, instead, we’ve become nothing short of “yes men” to those authorities.

Moving on with respect to this topic, and in context of this write-up, one simply must question whether something like the “Holy Herb” is an herb at all and not some noxious weed or thistle meant to torment man.  That is a most useful and pertinent question.

Definitions Defined

Some of you may be familiar, but most likely not, with the work being done over at The Chronicle Project where they are trying to get back to the heart of the Hebrew language as contained in the scriptures.  Hebrew, in their view, is a self-correcting system which we’ve managed to screw up over the years.  In our screwing up of the Hebrew language, we’ve lost – either on purpose or not – the original meaning of the scriptures.  It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that there are those who would “transfigure the word of God” to meet their belief systems.  Of note, Mormons are as guilty of “transfiguring” the word of God as they/we claim others are.  For an admirable article and write-up on this, go here.  After all, it surely must be easier to change a few words or definitions then it would be to change the way you live your life and what you believe.  Scriptures are funny that way, it seems.

In their “reworking” of the original verse of Genesis where the grasses and herbs are discussed, the original words appear to be, “Proceed new growth, the Earth.  New growth, young shoots, that to seed… .”  This would mean, in other words, that the original Hebrew was rendered, “grasses, and a number of other words, the word is a description of all fresh growth or herbage found in a pasture or wild field … .”  According to Strong’s Concordance, their take on the Hebrew derivation of “herb” is just that, “herb, herbage, grass, green plants.”  The word “wholesome” only occurs two times in both the Old and New Testaments, combined.  Each definition, according to Strong’s, suggests that which is “health, healing, cure.”

The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary – a useful tool in trying to understand the wording used primarily around the time of the Restoration of the LDS church – describes “herb” as, “a plant or vegetable with a soft or succulent stalk or stem, which dies to the root every year, and is thus distinguished from a tree and a shrub, which have ligneous or hard woody stems.”  This same dictionary defines “wholesome” as, “tending to promote health; favoring health; salubrious; as wholesome air or diet; a wholesome climate.”

Taking some literary freedom – it is my write-up after all – I would assimilate those words as meaning:  “a plant or vegetable (which dies to the root every year) which promotes health.”  Wow.  That was complicated.  Therefore, according to D&C 89:10, “all wholesome herbs” are ordained of God for the “constitution, nature and use of man…”  Or, in other words, “all plants or vegetables which promote health are ordained of God for the constitution, nature and use of man.”


From a scriptural standpoint, the Holy Herb only need be found “wholesome” to be ordained of God.  Simple enough, right?  Wrong.  At least in today’s bizarre world where bad is good and good is bad.  We’d rather ordain pesticide riddled crops or sugar laced drinks as “wholesome” than we would an herb which has attracted the ire of the drug war.  Rather than launch into a diatribe on the drug war we see bandied about in schools and publications across the nation, I think it best to focus on whether or not the “holy herb” can be deemed wholesome the way used back in 1828 and elsewhere.  And, for all intents and purposes, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

Though I had to meander through the equivalent situation as checking out a book with “desire” in the title in order to find the benefits of the Holy Herb, I nevertheless found many.  Why, as I digress, should I feel ashamed to research a topic – in this case, the benefits of marijuana – in the comfort of my home, away from the peering eyes of anyone else?  It’s not as if I have to check a book out, or buy something in the store, and yet, for some reason, there’s a sense of uneasiness about merely researching a topic.  Odd as it may be, I think the answer is also found in my reluctance to pick the book off the shelf at the local library to begin with – that of deciding whether or not I was ready (or wanted) to see truth in an area of life I wasn’t thinking of.

In thus researching this topic, I have found more than a few benefits.  Below are merely a few of those suggested benefits:

  1. “When the system is hyper-aroused, as in today’s lifestyle, marijuana calms. The significance of this fact cannot be ignored. It explains the increased creativity reported as a part of the marijuana experience, because when both sides of brain processes are heightened, both types of brain activity are greater. The left brain notices more, while the right brain receives more. This is the unification of logic and intuition. The term “expansion of consciousness” is explained physiologically as a “shifting of brain emphasis from one-sidedness to balance” (Sugarmena and Tarter, 1978), which fits precisely with the feeling called “high.” (p. 35)
  2. “When we ingest marijuana, the heart swells through capillary enhancement and is fueled more by more fully oxygenated blood, while, at the same time, its contractions and expansions are greater, allowing for stronger pumping action to the rest of the body (p. 37)
  3. “The marijuana experience itself does not miraculously cure. Instead, it allows the body a respite from the tensions of imbalance, while exposing the mental confusion of the mind. The marijuana experience of balance becomes a learned and, over time, somewhat permanent response as the essential human tendency to homeostasis is reawakened and the natural healing process restored.” (p. 49)
  4. “In a Costa Rican study, it was found that chronic marijuana smokers who also smoked cigarettes were less likely to develop cancer than cigarette smokers who didn’t use marijuana. Since marijuana (smoking, as well as ingestion by other methods) dilates the alveoli, toxins are more easily eliminated with cannabis use regardless of its method of application. … As an aid for all psychosomatic disease, marijuana can benefit the participant, generally because of its health-restoring effects… The fear of marijuana… stems from its limitless potential for treating illness, in that both the pharmaceutical industry and the medical monopoly would lose billions of dollars if marijuana became the non-drug of choice.” (p. 61)
  5. “With the expansiveness that occurs with marijuana, the subject may begin to notice infinite possibilities to raise the quality of his/her life that would otherwise have remained hidden from normal, defensive consciousness. And feelings of health and happiness naturally lead to hope, which of itself can be curative.” (p. 49)
  6. “Marijuana can act as the loosening agent, so that whatever has been banned from consciousness may come cascading forth. To uncover our deceptions without our usual rationalizations can be unpleasant, an experience that has turned many psychologically fragile individuals away from marijuana despite its therapeutic catharsis.” (p. 50)
  7. “To ascend the ladder of consciousness, human beings need as much help as they can get. Levels of consciousness above concerns of personal survival and power are neither necessary for human life, nor visible from ordinary states. Because these higher degrees of awareness threaten the power structure, all paths to them are often outlawed. If we are not taught by some older, wiser person that deep and timeless perceptions really exist (or unless we ourselves fortuitously catch a glimpse of these subjective realities), we remain ignorant of their existence and are easily molded into the lower social goals of materialism, competition, and power. This less enlightened state is expressed by a constant gnawing dissatisfaction. It is the dimension of perennial desire. With each fulfillment of a goal /need / want, another void erupts. In Buddhism, it is the realm of nightmarish, insatiable hunger, which cannot be resolved unless or until the being attains to a less self-centered level. Deep within each of us, an essential need for a higher meaning of life waits to be awakened. Because of its ability to unlock this yearning and allow us a glimpse of the deeper reality, marijuana is feared by the establishment and loved by the user. (p. 66)”
  8. “Marijuana, by its effect on the Automatic Nervous System, enhances both sides of the brain. Through increased Sympathetic action, left brain perception is heightened, while, at the same time, right brain reception is enhanced. This is a physiological fact. More blood, and cleaner blood, is sent to the brain, as in the “fight or flight” reaction. And because of Parasympathetic dilation of capillaries, which signifies relaxation, the blood supply to the entire brain is increased. More blood means more oxygen and consequently clearer and broader thinking. Since marijuana works on both sides of the brain, the most noticeable effect, in our fast-paced mind set, is one of slowing down, which blends the thrusting competitive attitude with the contrasting viewpoint of nurturance to arrive at a more cooperative balance. This experience is, however, not innate to marijuana, but to the mental set of the subject. When we are mellow, tired, and relaxed, marijuana is energizing and affords alertness, determination, and even strength. This variation in the physiological effects has caused great confusion from an either/or framework. And the balancing nature of marijuana (both/and) has not been understood. It both stimulates and relaxes, simultaneously, which equates to an unpredictable variation in effect that is solely dependent on the state of its subject. When the system is sluggish, as with natives in warm climates (Africa, India, South America), marijuana has been used extensively and for centuries to energize it…” (Chopra and Chopra, p. 3)
  9. Marijuana is psychoactive because it stimulates certain brain receptors, but it does not produce toxins that kill them (like alcohol) … . There is no evidence that marijuana use causes brain damage. Studies performed on actual human populations will confirm these results, even for chronic marijuana users (up to 18 joints per day) after many years of use.  In fact, following the publication of two 1977 JAMA studies, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially announced its support for the decriminalization of marijuana.  … Marijuana has the effect of slightly increasing alpha-wave activity in your brain. Alpha waves are … associated with meditative and relaxed states, which are … often associated with human creativity.”
  10. “The term “drug” connotes the concentration of substance to its most powerful form, but marijuana is unprocessed, dried vegetation from a strong smelling annual herb called cannabis.  It maintains its natural complex chemistry of both active and inactive compounds rather than concentration of a single compound. …  The main problem with drugs is their danger, since all drugs are defined as poisonous, depending upon dose, which means overdose can cause death.  … Marijuana has no known level of toxicity.  The amount needed to produce a lethal reaction has been estimated at from eating five pounds at one time, to smoking 40,000 joints in one day, far beyond any physical possibility.  … It does not kill people in overdose or produce other symptoms of obvious toxicity.” (Joan Bello, The Benefits of Marijuana.  Pages 21-22.)

Carl Sagan, of all people, described some of the benefits in an essay he wrote under the presumed name of “Mr. X.”  Only after his death did Dr. Lester Grinspoon publish the piece and reveal the identity of the previously unknown author.  His account is as follows:

I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature. I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist. If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I’m high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say ‘Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!’ I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis … which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it’s as if two people are reading each other’s minds.

Like others, Sagan discusses that such highs are available through other means (Pollan suggests that such highs are also available through fasting and meditation, and elsewhere), but because of the “defects” of our society and educational system they become inactivated and much more difficult to attain through these other means.  In his book, Pollan discusses how the “natural history” of such mind altering plants to be the “gateway” to a higher consciousness and that many of the historical giants we view as “spiritual leaders” were not discussing mere imagination and visions, but rather the results of “highs.”  Whether this is true or not is left for the reader to decide and peruse in their own studies, but certainly the topic is compelling.

Perhaps, with the word of wisdom, the Lord was providing a simple method whereby we could elevate our consciousness in spite of the poor diet of the modern society and the defects in intellect which find root in our educational systems we are so quick to throw our kids into at the tender age of 4 or 5.  Perhaps, instead of being a drug from which we should run, it was meant to be a “wholesome herb” to which we should turn.

Though I may have lost some of you in all that talk, I feel it necessary to discuss these benefits.  What I see from the above information is the epitome of a “wholesome herb.”  There are, from what I could gather, a pile of other benefits.  Somehow – which is way beyond the scope of this article – we’ve come out with a misguided understanding of an herb which grows annually and which has numerous restorative and health-promoting qualities, the essence of what a “wholesome herb” is.


I’d be mistaken not to discuss potential dangers when discussing such a topic, though I must confess that the “evidence” of alleged dangers was far from convincing.  Some sources suggest that marijuana is the “root of many mental disorders,” such as panic attacks, delusions, depersonalization, paranoia, etc., while others suggest it is a “gateway drug,” and responsible for “loss of motivation, increased heart rate and diminished inhibitions.”

If you know me, I’m generally disposed to believe alternative websites much more than “establishment” information channels.  So with that in mind, I went searching some of these alternative sites to see if they had anything good, or bad, to say about the Holy Herb. was mostly against marijuana, at least in its smoked form, while Natural News had a number of favorable articles on the subject.

Of those articles favorable to the subject, NN made this keen insight:  “Transcending political controversy and stigma surrounding the subject, the second largest physician group in the country [American College of Physicians] has endorsed the use, reclassification, and further study of medicinal marijuana…”  Also in this article, it discusses one of the common “dangers” of the herb by stating:

To date, the most serious argument for potential damage done by cannabis is harm to the lungs caused by smoking. The paper notes that this problem has already been overcome by a technology known as vaporization, in which the active constituents are efficiently released into the lungs without burning the plant.

Another myth dispelled by the paper is that marijuana acts as a ‘gateway drug,’ leading to the use of more harmful substances. “Marijuana has not been proven to be the cause or even the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse. Opiates are highly addictive, yet medically effective … There is no evidence to suggest that medical use of opiates has increased perception that their illicit use is safe or acceptable,” the group [American College of Physicians] states.

The paper also cites significant evidence that cannabis relieves the nausea, vomiting and wasting that accompany cancer, AIDS and other diseases, while lessening the pain associated with multiple sclerosis and many other conditions.

The paper, as written by the American College of Physicians, can be found by clicking here.  Elsewhere in various pieces of literature, the supposed anxiety, paranoia and other effects of plants have been noted to be the result moreso of the set and setting related to the drug (i.e. the time, place and culture in which the marijuana is consumed; some have noted that the set and setting is more important than anything else.  For example, if one were to partake of marijuana in a context of fear of the authorities (i.e. getting caught), then the user is much more likely to experience anxiety and paranoia).  This is admirably discussed in Pollan’s book (see page 151-152 for a more in depth discussion).  This is no different than any spiritual encounter, if one could call a “high” a spiritual experience.  Set and setting are as important as anything else.

How Did [we] Get Here?

One of my absolute favorite songs happens to have had its birth in the 1980s.  Not one for 1980s music, mind you, this one song is the exception to that rule.  That song, entitled, Once in a Lifetime and performed by the Talking Heads (who were probably high on something during many of their recordings), contains some lyrics which epitomize not only this issue, but life in general.  Here are those lyrics:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,

You may find yourself in another part of the world,

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,

You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife,

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?

You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead?

You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?

You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?

Those words come to me as I write this.  “My God, what have [we] done?”  The more I peel back the layers of this onion called life, the more I realize how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Yes, I just used two metaphors in the same sentence, and the meaning they provide is a propos.  Though I shouldn’t be surprised with what I find as God allows layers of the onion to be peeled back, the level of deception our world has reached is likely beyond compare.

I could choose (and probably should) to pontificate on the reasons why the rabbit hole is so deep and why there is deception at every turn of the road, but I think no reason is more clear than a simple scripture which is found in no other place than D&C 89.  That scripture reads, “In consequence of aevils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of bconspiring men in the last days, I have cwarned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation— …”

Some of you reading this may think I’m crazy for suggesting that the drug war on marijuana is thanks to conspiring men.  If so, so be it.  Here I have laid out what I believe to be a mere tip of an iceberg discussing the benefits of a “wholesome herb,” and yet arrests for marijuana – for the mere possession – represent the vast majority of drug related offenses.  According to some sources, between 30% and 40% of the nationwide prison population comprises people arrested for “victimless” crimes, such as possession of marijuana.  Regardless of the end result, one must wonder why this particular herb is the source of so much ire from the bureaucrats who have staked their careers on its criminalization.

Doctrinal Police

So, how would this information play out amongst the Gospel Gestapo?  Most likely, it’d be like mud wrestling a 500# alligator, or trying to outrun a hungry lion when you’re as slow as a sloth.  In an age where doctrinal differences are tantamount to apostasy, odds are the outlier will be rejected, and in record time.  Especially in this instance.  While we could debate the purpose or goals of correlation, the end result is a quashing of divergent ideas.  In today’s context, one can profess their belief that the “holy herb” qualifies as a “wholesome herb” and, as such, is ordained by God, but it could have interesting consequences.

Some authors have addressed this topic (not the “holy herb,” but rather the doctrinal police) in the conversation of movements versus institutions, or peoplehood versus religion, and quite convincingly I might add.  Interestingly, the internet has a divergent set of opinions on the issue, at least as it relates to medical marijuana within the Mormon community.  Many simply fall back on the “legality” or “illegality” issue – stating that if it’s illegal, then we follow what the government says.  While others fall back and merely rely on what the “brethren” say about the topic (thereby relying solely on the office as a means for the authority of the statement, and not the truthfulness of the statement itself), or what this or that Ensign article stated, and some used logic to prove/disprove the idea.  I’m more easily swayed by the latter types, as that seems to fit D&C 121’s call for “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned…” as a way to work out differences, and not by “power” or “influence” (appealing to what the “Brethren” have stated), and as such would recommend you seek those sources out if interested in a further discussion.

As an interesting aside, James E. Talmage (of Jesus the Christ fame) once took Cannibis Sativa over a several week period as a way to test its effects on the human system (for scientific purposes).  Here is what he stated in his journal:

March 22. This being Saturday, was the day I selected to study practically the effects of Haschisch. This evening, after work and all was over, I took at 3 doses each an hour after the preceeding, 5 grains solid extract Cannabis Indica. At this writing—midnight—5 hours since last dose, I have experienced no effect whatever. The effect is said to be widely different in different people.

March 23. Sunday. Spent quietly. Have had no result to be noted of my physiological experiment yesterday ….

April 5 … Took in all 15 grains. No effects.

April 6. Sunday … Continued my experiment by taking 20 grains Cannabis Indica and the effect was felt in a not very agreeable way.

Try completing that experiment within the walls of your own home (interestingly, Talmage’s experiment would have included general conference weeked – April 5th and 6th) and you’ll be run out of town by everyone not named Batman Bin Suparman.  That’s simply the name of the game.  Regardless of what you believe, or the true interpretation of D&C 89 on the issue of the “holy herb,” it simply doesn’t matter.


All of this is merely a way of stating that (a) we should be enjoying the “wholesome herbs” God has given us and (b) Cannibis Sativa is a “wholesome herb.”

Now, whether or not I actually ever partake of any is another story entirely, but the knowledge is there and I shall see where it leads.  It sort of reminds me of the “mild drink” discussion and alcohol.  It’s too bad I loathe the taste of the stuff, otherwise I’d be glad to comply with the recommendations set forth on “mild drinks” in D&C 89.  For those interested in that aspect of D&C 89, you should read this wonderful entry on Pure Mormonism’s blog, entitled, Too Bad I Don’t Like Beer.  It does a far better job discussing the issue then I ever could hope to do.

To all who’ve read this far, congratulations.  I apologize for the layout of this post, but do encourage all reading to seek out two additional sources on the topic, as they have more information, detail and thought provoking material than I could ever hope to write here:

(1)    Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire

(2)    Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes:  The Authoritative Historical Record of Cannibis and the Conspiracy Against Marijuana

Perhaps a future article will delve into the conspiracy noted by Herer, as related to the “conspiring men” discussed previously from D&C 89.

Lastly, please do not take my word as anything from which you base your decision on this issue.  Make the decision consciously, but make it between yourself and your God.  Leave me out of the equation as all I do is muddy the view.