By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
He and his friend were able to weave the belt back together with some spare wire before they froze to death, but the mission was over. The next night, Hoxter waited until long after sunset and walked up to a border checkpoint that was only open during the daytime. He yelled and cursed at the top of his lungs and smashed a couple of bottles of tequila on the road. "Nobody came out," he says. "So the next night, I went up to the gate and cut the lock with bolt cutters at 3 a.m." On cue, Hoxter's friend, behind the wheel of a truck with the pot, roared through the checkpoint. An hour later, they unloaded the weed and were back through the border before anyone knew the gate's lock had been broken.
* * *
In the early 1980s—Hoxter can't remember the exact year—the Family commune in Montana began to fall apart under the strain of cabin fever and rapidly approaching middle age, and he and his wife moved to Lebanon, Oregon. There, they raised three daughters on a 2,500-acre property. They lived in a small trailer, but not because the property lacked proper shelter. In fact, Hoxter had purchased the land because it featured a large barn, which he had every intention of using for growing marijuana. Inside the barn, Hoxter wired together several 1,000-watt metal-halide lamps, hanging them from the beams, and reflected the heat with Mylar sheeting in a 10-foot-by-12-foot enclosure. When the female plants reached a certain height, he moved them to various locations he'd scouted in nearby national forest land, where, if he could keep the herb stalks hidden long enough, he could harvest his cannabis crop before the feds ripped them from the soil.
This being the dawn of the homegrown American marijuana-farming industry, Hoxter was hardly the only hippie in rural Oregon who had his own pot farm. There wasn't much else to do. The logging industry had been on the wane for years, and unemployment ran high in the small towns. "All I wanted to do was grow, although Canada was always my ace in the hole," Hoxter says. "I knew that I could always make a lot of money smuggling a load. At first, I was the only person I knew growing indoor with lights. But then a friend of mine started growing, and he used sodium-vapor lights, which turned out to have a better light spectrum for growing, and this kind of information would get spread like that." There was even a local magazine for growers, Sinsemilla Tips, that contained word-of-mouth horticultural advice. "People were learning," Hoxter says. "There were still no names for the product yet, none of the strains had been branded, and botanists were just starting to figure out how to crossbreed hybrids. It was all still just marijuana."
Every night, the local television station would broadcast reports on how many plants the feds had spotted with their planes and seized in the forests that day. But Hoxter never was caught, and everything went just as he'd hoped, until his wife became ill and died in 1987. Thus began a downward spiral for Hoxter. Or rather, thus ended a downward spiral that had already begun well before his wife died, one that had been amplified by the highly illegal nature of everything he'd been doing for the past few decades. His career ended with him becoming mentally and physically isolated, alone with three daughters, unable to cope, strung out on heroin and dealing harder drugs to support his habit. Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, the feds raided his farm.
After a stint in federal prison, Hoxter relocated to Southern California, where he went straight back into the marijuana business. But a cop in Laguna Beach who knew of his background as a smuggler got wind of his presence there and raided his house six times in 10 months until he caught Hoxter with a couple of pounds of weed, enough to charge him with possession with the intent to sell. Hoxter served the next 41 months in federal lockup and came out determined to put his criminal escapades behind him, although he reserved the right to smoke marijuana.
"I was on parole and had 18 dirty tests in a row," he explains. "My parole officer could have sent me back to prison, but she didn't because I was working full-time and, for some reason, she liked me.
"'Fifty years ago, you could go to prison for drinking beer, and now you can do that legally,'" Hoxter told her. "'So was it wrong then?'"
"I'm not going to argue with you," the parole officer responded. "But it's against the law, and you don't seem to get it."
Except marijuana wasn't illegal anymore.
Not exactly, that is.
* * *
Just weeks after the last time Hoxter was busted for marijuana, in November 1996, California voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medical purposes under state law for the first time in American history. The law was written by a group of marijuana-legalization activists in the Bay Area, most notably a San Francisco resident named Dennis Peron, whose partner had used cannabis to treat the symptoms of AIDS before he passed away from the disease. According to the new law, which became known as the Compassionate Use Act, if a doctor wrote a recommendation—not a prescription, since it remained illegal for doctors to prescribe—for marijuana, a patient could grow, possess and smoke the substance with no fear of the law.