Mary Jones - A Weed Grows In Boston

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Jim Finnel

Cannabis Warrior - News Moderator
What's a suburban soccer mom who was once fervently anti-drug doing running a business growing and selling pot?

Even though it's a crisp November day, the flower boxes of Mary Jones's neat little bungalow are overflowing with brightly colored blooms. The bubbly mother of three has her utility vehicle parked in the driveway. Her hair is perfectly coiffed, her blond highlights glimmer in the late-fall sun. She looks like she could be a real-estate broker, and seeing the rock on her manicured finger, I imagine for a moment that her husband is a doctor or a lawyer. Mary would, in fact, be the ideal soccer mom, except that one of her now-grown sons played football, and rather than working in real estate, she grows and sells marijuana.

She's Boston's own real-life Nancy Botwin, the protagonist of the Showtime dramedy Weeds.

Mary is no small-time peddler simply adding to her income with a $20-bag here or there. She has dozens of plants, which she methodically harvests every eight to 10 days, scattered throughout the house. She sells her crop to a mature, recreational-using clientele.

Nor, however, is she a ruthless street dealer. Instead, she has a bit of a Robin Hood streak — she gives away her product to those in chronic pain or with severely debilitating disease who can't otherwise afford it (even paying for delivery out of her own pocket). In doing so, Mary has signed on to an underground, global anti-pharmaceutical revolution that is gaining traction in this country, one which believes that the natural pain relief of marijuana is substantially more effective and less addictive than FDA-approved painkillers like OxyContin, to which the government, doctors, and Big Pharma typically steer sufferers.

I was first introduced to Mary at a party in Central Square, by a mutual friend. In order for Mary to trust me with her story, our friend had to vouch for me as someone known to be fair and discreet. I then had to agree to keep her identity secret (Mary Jones, as you may have already guessed, is not her real name, and all of the other names in this story have been changed to protect her and their anonymity). Sounds like a simple assignment, right? Not so much. Before meeting with her, for example, the photographer who accompanied me and I had to agree to be blindfolded during the very long drive to Mary's house. (This can be a nerve-racking thing, exponentially more so when you are being blindfolded by a drug dealer you just met.)

I didn't know where we were going, or what to expect when we got there. I had all kinds of questions running through my mind. Would there be guns, angry pit bulls, and large threatening thugs? What if something . . . happened?

But the question that really intrigued me was this: how did a petite, middle-aged, suburban housewife, who only a decade earlier was a fervent anti-smoker, end up as a thriving supplier in the Boston-area marijuana network and a global advocate of using cannabis to treat pain?

Mary's unlikely path to marijuana advocacy began when, while working in the medical field, a freak accident nearly cost her a leg, and left her with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a wretchedly torturous condition for which there is no cure. The National Institutes of Health describes RSD as "continuous, intense pain . . . which gets worse rather than better over time" and as an affliction in which patients can experience "unremitting pain and crippling changes in spite of treatment."

"They said I'd never walk again," she recalls.

She was then a patient of the Center for Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and her pain-management treatment was so complicated that her doctors had to work together to coordinate a plan.

"I was on MS Contin and MSIR," she says — noting two types of morphine, one quick-release and one controlled-release — along with an impressive list of other pharmaceuticals, including Percocet, Dilaudid, Valium, Prednisone, Phenobarbital, Flexeril, Lidocaine patches, Diazepam, Klonopin, and more. Not to mention the stool softeners, anti-nausea pills, and antibiotics for staph infections, all taken to offset her treatment's side effects.

"I told my doctor [about nodding out at my son's reading group] and he said, 'That's good. That's how we know it's working. We want you to feel like that, so you're not aware of the pain. That's what pain management is for.' "

But she grew more and more frustrated with her walking-comatose-like state, until a doctor suggested that she try marijuana to help control the pain. The idea did not appeal to her at first. Since her Catholic high-school days, she'd thought smoking anything, even cigarettes, was "gross." And she'd always been anti-drug, especially since becoming a mother. But she was desperately unhappy with how dysfunctional she felt while on the pills, so she gave pot a chance. It wasn't long before she was making the transition from morphine to marijuana.

"It was hell getting off the pills," she remembers. "I was on morphine for eight years. My mind didn't need it, but my body did."

Mary recalls that detoxing from the pharmaceuticals meant spending seven weeks in "torture" with "sweats" and "no sleep."

"You feel like you have restless-body syndrome," she says. "It was against medical advice to discontinue my meds, so the doctors didn't help me. I did it at home, cold turkey. I sat in the tub a lot. And I promised myself I would never touch a pill again."

Ride to nowhere
When Mary picks us up at a commuter-rail station outside of Boston, she looks like she has just stepped out of the pages of an L.L. Bean catalogue.

"I'm your next-door neighbor," she tells me later. "I'm the one who hosts your kid's [sports] team's pasta night."

We hop into her vehicle. "You're lucky!" she gushes, starting up the engine. "You arrived during the middle of a harvest!" I smile and buckle my seat belt. But then in an immediately more serious tone, as we pull away from the station, she instructs: "I have to ask you to remove the batteries from your phone — phones have GPS."

Mary is acutely aware of the precautions she must take to keep her business going and still tell her story. ("Doesn't the CIA do covert shit?" she asks me later. "So do we.")

As we cut through one of those franchise-store service-roads that could be anywhere in America, she tells us to blindfold ourselves, which we do. Frankly, neither the photographer nor I want to know where, exactly, we're going. We are both aware of the consequences that such knowledge can bring — for example, if we are asked by the authorities where the grow house is located, we can honestly say we don't know. Conversely, if Mary's house is broken into and her crop stolen (which can be a problem in the marijuana-growing community), she will know we had nothing to do with it.

On our blindfolded ride, I struggle to take notes without being able to see the lines on my pad or what I am writing. Mary takes advantage of our journey to share some of her thoughts on the business of pain management.

"Why do we have so many people addicted to pills?" she asks. "My sons are 18, 19 years old, and they call themselves 'Generation RX.' [Doctors] will put a 14 year old on Oxys for foot surgery. That's legal — but I'm considered a criminal.

"They're giving 14 year olds these pills and [the kids] think it's okay, because the doctor gave it to them. They're hyperactive and put on Adderall. I know an 18 year old who smokes Oxys now. Kids see what Xanax does to mom. The gateway drug isn't marijuana — it's the medicine cabinet."

Mary recalls the documentary The OxyContin Express — produced by the Vanguard news division of Al Gore's Current TV — and laments, "Those pills [OxyContin] are going to kids. My weed doesn't go to kids. Never. Ever."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug poisoning, primarily from prescription opioids, is the number-one cause of unintentional death among 35 to 54 year olds. It is the number-two unintentional cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds, behind motor-vehicle accidents.

Mary is a passionate advocate for the legitimization of her stealth industry. "I'm not addicting people," she notes. "I'm helping people. Every dime I make goes back into the economy. And I would love to pay income tax."

Besides her professed desire to pay taxes, making her business legitimate would create a pathway for Mary and her live-in partner Joey, who has diabetes, to obtain health insurance for themselves and their employees.

I feel the car turning left, and right, and winding around, and finally rolling to a stop. "Okay! You can take the blindfolds off now! We're here!"

"Here" it turns out, is the cutest little Norman Rockwell home you can imagine.

That living room has a few EZ chairs and a long, wrap-around couch — replete with built-in cup holders — where a "trimmer" is stationed with a marijuana-filled TV tray. He's using a little pair of scissors to cut the leaves (the "trim") off the buds (the desirable part of the plant for sale to consumers). MTV's For the Love of Ray J plays quietly on the television. ("In order to keep the trimmers trimming," she advises, noting how they can get easily distracted, "it has to be reality television. It can't be sports.")

"We pay our trimmers $20 an hour, plus food," explains Mary, gesturing to the composed laborer. "We can't offer them health insurance, though. Most of our trimmers are unemployed otherwise." One of them, it turns out, is a former chef who's had a hard time finding work in the global depression.

Mary then escorts us to the house's gardening center, the heart of the grow operation. It is mind-blowing, like a picture out of High Times magazine: this charming, unassuming little home is teeming with marijuana plants at different stages of development. Mary and Joey grow multiple strains of cannabis, including some that have such colorful names as Barack Oganja, East Coast Sour Diesel, Strawberry Cough, Massachusetts Super Skunk, and a hybrid strain of Chocolate Trip crossed with Blackberry Widow.

"It's a great product," she says proudly, "and I use my own product. I don't pollute the environment. I don't use pesticides. I care about my clients and I care about the patients." The way Mary looks at it, "as long as we're ethical, we're doing a good thing."

The marijuana she sells goes for $400 per ounce — a good deal, considering that in cities like New York, marijuana can have a street value higher than its weight in gold.

"The electric goes up, but our prices haven't," she points out. "In this economy, people need weed."

Some of the grow rooms are pitch black, others are in full light, depending on where the plant is in its cycle. She has learned expensive lessons over the years — at certain stages, just the tiny red light from a power strip could ruin an entire crop.

I spoke with her son Peter, now 19, who enthusiastically supports his mother's journey from pill popper to pot user. "Before my mom started smoking, and she was on the pain pills, she was pretty zombied out," he says. "She stayed in her room a lot. Marijuana helped her be a parent again."

From toker to grower
"My stepdad died, and we didn't have any money," Peter explains. "We lost our house, and mom had to send me and my brother and my sister to live with my dad. The only way she was gonna get us back was to start growing."

That was 10 years ago. Mary was living on worker's-comp checks of $129 a month, with three young children to support. No one would hire her, she couldn't get medical insurance because of her pre-existing condition, and she couldn't afford to buy marijuana on the black market to control her chronic pain. "I'm 100 percent disabled," she notes.

Joey, whom Mary had just started dating, suggested they try growing marijuana themselves.

"I offered to sell my quad for $4000," remembers Joey of his treasured toy. "We ordered the equipment and the seeds and I told Mary she didn't have to do anything. But then I called her in to help with nutrients." He then adds, with a smile, "She was good in the kitchen and knew about measurement stuff."

Since then, Mary and Joey have been partners in life and business. She tends to their gardens and he tends to the construction and design of their indoor grow house.

Now, the enterprise they started in desperation is putting two kids through college, employs nine people, and gives marijuana butter to the sick who can't afford pharmaceuticals or the black market.

I ask Peter and Mary if they've seen the show Weeds. "My mom wouldn't tolerate half the stuff the kids put the mom through on the show," laughs Peter. "She would never let me sell. She sells so I don't have to. She pays for me to go to school."

Weeds, adds Mary, is "very far-fetched. The premise started out great, but most growers don't sleep with people to get clients — Hollywood ruined it."



Pain-killing revolutionary
Mary leads us into the kitchen, where the air reeks with the stench of potent cannabis. She has brought down a large, nasty-smelling crock-pot — bubbling with black gooeyness — from an upstairs room and placed it on the counter. It's marijuana butter (which contains the extracted, powerful cannabinoids from the plant matter). She'll let it simmer for another 12 hours before straining out the plant matter and pouring it into pans. The butter is then cooled and refrigerated so it becomes solid (think how hard very cold butter is). She then packs it up and sends it out — Joey and Mary's gift to those suffering from debilitating illness and chronic pain.

Pharmaceutical companies, Mary points out competitively, "don't give their drugs away."

"There are medications that you need," she acknowledges. "Joey needs his insulin. I'm not opposed to medicine. I am opposed to the misuse and over-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepine. It's when you're handed a prescription for 180 morphines a month and you're told by your doctor to take them, and at the end of three months, you're a drug addict.

"I'm sitting here hiding because I give people a safer alternative — and the government says it's wrong. We're on the front lines of this movement."

Opioids, says Mary, "turn you into a robot. You don't feel joy. All you know is to take a pill so you don't get sick. We've got a lot of doctors abusing the privilege of pain meds."

Walter, one of Mary's first medical beneficiaries, agrees. He is an artist, and is battling HIV.

"Increasingly, marijuana was hard to get," he explains. Financially, Walter simply couldn't afford it, and he didn't want to be put in a dangerous situation trying to obtain it (such as going to a rough neighborhood and buying it off the street).

Walter was introduced to Mary, and she began giving him the marijuana butter.

"The benefit is it gets you out of your funk," Walter explains. "You can get through the things that otherwise you just can't. Simple things, like cleaning your room or doing your laundry.

"I have a lot of friends, but not a lot of intimacy. I haven't had sex in years. Pot gives you that [feeling of peace found in intimacy], and that's important when you have HIV."

He pauses, then muses, "It's so medicinal."

Mary gives the butter to "patients" like Walter once a week, typically sending 30 packages or more regularly to people suffering from pain. Neither clients nor patients ever visit Mary's home. Rather, she uses her own distribution system, delivering by hand. All of Mary's customers come from referrals.

Walter also shares Mary's hope for a shift in marijuana policy: "I think the state has no business telling us what to do with a plant," he declares. "The fact that it has slightly psychotropic properties — so what? So does alcohol.

"We need to free our country economically. Rural America could flourish if they could grow hemp and marijuana."

He also understands that "[Marijuana's] not for everyone. You have to have a head on your shoulders about what you do and when you're doing it."

So how do you keep a head on your shoulders when you are in chronic pain, raising three kids, and running an illegal marijuana-grow operation?

What about the children?
"[My brother and I] were 11 and 13 when we discovered it," Peter explains. "And mom and Joey said, 'This is what we have to do to support you.' They told us not to say a word to anyone. They were really straight up, and my brother and I were mature. We were more grateful than anything.

"It wasn't hard for her to tell us, because she knew we would understand the reason why she was doing it and we understood the importance," he says with a no-nonsense tone. "We understood the seriousness of the situation and respect her for it."

"Our daughter asked if we were growing ******* in the basement," Mary recalls. "She was about nine. We just explained that [it was medicine] and that mommy can go to jail and don't tell anybody."

I ask Mary if she uses a security system, or if she is worried about her kids saying something in school. "Your security is your intelligence," Mary offers sincerely. "Your mind is your best weapon.

"I'm a mom. I'm raising good, ethical kids. It's hard work. I'm proud to show my kids how hard I work — and I told them they couldn't smoke till they were 18!"

Mary and Joey seem to be genuinely concerned parents — the kids say that Joey is like a father to them. They actively support their children in all their extracurricular activities, even making sweets for fundraisers (Joey's desserts were most popular with the football team — though they, of course, were not of the contraband variety) and sharing parental chaperoning duties on student field trips.

"Ya know, it's not guns and violence," Peter observes. "It's a job. It's gardening. They help people. They're not big, bad drug dealers. They're your friend's mom and dad. This is a way for a family to get by."

Peter is now a sophomore in college. He doesn't smoke often, and even if he did, his parents wouldn't provide the marijuana for him. ("What if his friends want to know where he got the weed?" asks Mary.) His brother, Luke, is also in college and has only smoked a few times. He says that he doesn't like it at all.

While they each live on their respective college campuses, Peter and Luke come home for dinner with Mary and Joey and their little sister a few times a week. Both brothers are committed to completing school and getting professional jobs.

"Legalizing it would eliminate so much stress from [my mom's] life," says Peter. "Growers aren't scumbags. I don't see anything wrong with what she does or with what any grower does. I don't see why it's illegal. Like what she does for cancer patients. She's a lot nicer to them than insurance companies. I know at least 15 people where it's the only medicine they can get. I know these other two patients in chronic pain — they lost their house because of their medical bills. My mom gives them butter whenever she can, because they can't afford to buy pain killers, and the butter is better for them, anyway."

Peter pauses, and takes a bite of the macaroni and cheese that he's prepared as a snack.

"I respect her a lot for it. The first time she took me to her grow spot, I was really proud. She knows what she's doing."

"The thing that sucks about growing is the potential to get caught," says Mary. "And if that were to happen, my first concern is — what happens to my kids?"

Tax it all, Deval!
More than 200 years ago, a Massachusetts minuteman started a revolution in opposition to taxation without representation. Now, a Bay State businesswoman is begging the government to tax her, and it won't.

"I'm sick of being afraid," says Mary, who has a message for Governor Deval Patrick: "Tax us! Tax us like you tax any other farmer! Tax us equally and fairly!

"We want to earn a good living. If they legalized and taxed it, we could be a legal small business. I'd have no problem paying taxes. . . . Tax the prostitutes, tax the drugs. Stop being Puritans — wake up!"

While supporting her family played a huge role in getting her growing, Mary confesses that when her children are on their own, or even if she wins the lottery, she will continue to grow, both for her own pain relief and for the well-being of the patients she cares for. For her, it's a form of therapy, and she likens it to how some gardeners feel spending the day caring for treasured roses.

"President Obama!" Mary adds, hoping he'll read her words and hear her plea. "Legalize it on a federal level! Your country needs you to do it! You have the power to do it — so do it!

"That would be a lasting legacy for him. Everyone knows someone with chronic pain, or AIDS, or cancer."

As we prepare to leave, the trimmer stands up and stretches — he's been on the couch working all day — and comes to shake hands good-bye.

We exit into the crisp, late-afternoon fall air. It's a gorgeous day, and the home is perfectly unsuspecting. We climb back into the vehicle for the return ride to the commuter-rail station.

"I attribute my ability to get up and function every day to cannabis," says Mary as we buckle ourselves in. "[Marijuana] keeps me from pain killers.

"Okay! Cover your eyes!" she then cheerfully calls out, and we begin the drive back to the real world, the overpowering smell of fresh marijuana clinging to our clothes.


NewsHawk: User: 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: thephoenix.com
Author: VALERIE VANDE PANNE
Copyright: 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group
Contact: The Phoenix
Website: A weed grows in Boston
 
I really love this story...:roorrip:
 
Hi Mary! I live south of Boston in Westport been growing for awhile now had the prefect grow box going things change tried growing in my garage but got to cold and to much to run heater I think my plants froze or got a little to cold. move them in basement now leaves have yellow tips and kind of dropping can you help with figuring out what's going on my plants are not growing like they use to ya I no problems before when I was growing them in my box.first time to web site and I liked your article I have a lot of pain my ankle some days is so bad can't even walk my plant seam to be taking for ever to bud and your doing them ever 7-8 days you seam like you know a lot about taking care of people and plants hoping you might know why the leaves tips and middle are turning yellow then dying