It wasn't until my plane touched down in _______ that it sunk in: I'd gotten away with it, and more importantly, I wouldn't be coming back. I'd had about five hours of sleep in the past two days, but the nervous tension that lingered was still powerful enough to overcome the combined forces of exhaustion and six hours of non-stop drinking since boarding my flight in Vancouver. I sat at the 24-hour airport bar as the plane refueled, and made small talk with some overweight, zit-faced kid from Bumfuck, Quebec. I ordered a couple double Jäegermeisters for us, and wondered when I'd see my girlfriend again.

The first time I almost got busted for drugs was in my hometown when I was 17 years old. Four friends and I were heading home from a football party when all of us, including the driver, passed out at a red light at 4:00 in the morning. I don't remember any of it, but my friends later told me the story.

I had a quarter-ounce of hash stashed in my sock, and a half-ounce of shitty Mexican ditch weed in the front pocket of my jeans when the cops dragged our asses into the local drunk tank. When the cop at the desk told me to empty my pockets, I reached in, started to pull out the bag of weed, realized it was a bad move, and tried to put it back. Fat chance.

I woke up the next morning, and realized I was in jail (not the first time that had happened). Reaching into my pocket, I discovered the weed was gone. Had I lost it, smoked it all at the party, or was I BUSTED? Then I checked my sock, and found the hash was still there. I started to scream, and kept screaming for a good 10 minutes until a very aggravated cop rapped his billy club on the bars of my cage and said, "Shut up, Myers, or we'll leave you in there all day!" Ah yes, Melvin Myers. They had found the ID I always carried with me in case... well, in case of just such an event. I shut up and waited patiently. And smiled.

They released me in the early afternoon on a promise to appear two days later for pictures and prints. (For some reason, the cop who usually handled this duty wasn't in that day.) "Sure, I'll be back. You betcha, Sgt. Stadenko." Yeah, right! They never saw me again. (Well, actually they did, three months later, but they didn't put it together.) However, they did put the fear into me.


THE DARK SIDE

As the years rolled by, the novelty of scamming welfare checks -- just to hand them over to slumlords and brewery owners -- wore off, and my greed negated the fear. So, along with everybody else in Vancouver who's too weird to work, too lazy to be legit, and too smart to be poor, I started growing pot in my basement. I had a good run going for a while. I was harvesting no less than 15 pounds every six to eight weeks, and selling it at $2,500 (minimum) a pound. After expenses, I was clearing $15,000 a month. Minimum. Tax free. With that kind of money to be made, you can see why Vancouver is the "grow-house capital" of North America.

It's been said -- and I believe it -- that marijuana is the single biggest agricultural commodity in B.C. Various law enforcement agencies claim there are 2,000 grow houses operating at any given time in Greater Vancouver, but my experience tells me it's probably double that. Everybody in B.C. who has a healthy lack of respect for Canada's absurd laws regarding marijuana, and has grown tired of grinding it out at shitty jobs just to pay the bills while never getting ahead, has thought about getting a little crop going. Some people are satisfied to supplement their income by growing three to 10 plants, while some, including myself, say, "Fuck that -- I want to make some real money."

I had friends from college who were growing and making tons of easy cash, and they had often offered to help me get set up. They were all driving new cars while I was still rollerblading around town in the summer, riding the buses when it was wet, and puking out cab windows when I was too drunk to do either. I was always tempted to join them on "the dark side," but I still lived with the fear from that close call in my hometown. But the thought of spending the next year or two paying off my massive debts was more than I could stomach, so I finally acquiesced.

I spent Christmas Eve that year bagging my first crop. It weighed in at 22.5 pounds, and my friends told me that nobody had ever pulled a crop that size from the system I was using. A new record. A star was born.

Almost all the pot grown in B.C. is sold to Americans, who can easily double the $2,500-$3,000 a pound they pay by getting it across the border and down to California. I was introduced to some American buyers -- friends of friends, so to speak -- and we quickly arranged a deal. We met in the parking lot of the Trout Lake Community Center; me carrying a hockey bag stuffed full of pot, and the Yanks with a small backpack full of $20 bills. I got in their rented Grand Am, and we drove to a house not far away to weigh the pot, count the cash, and go about our merry ways.

I'd like to be able to spin you a tale of nail-biting drama about my first big drug deal -- but there really wasn't anything dramatic about it. If the Yanks were going to pull a gun on me and rip me off, there wasn't anything that I could do about it, so I just relaxed, counted my money, and walked out the door with just over $55,000 cash in my backpack -- a stack of 20s, two-and-a-half-feet tall. I walked to a gas station, called a cab, and headed to my girlfriend's place, where we spilled the cash all over her bed and fucked on it until we laughed ourselves to sleep. The next day I started to pay off all my debts, and 10 days later my girlfriend and I were rolling around on the beaches of the Dominican Republic, gambling in the casinos, and drinking champagne with a bed full of hookers in the Santa Domingo Hilton. Living the good life. Times were good. Times were really good.

After the first crop came in, I realized I was in business, so like any good businessman, I came up with a marketing plan. Well, more like an advertising gimmick. I had a roommate who dealt weed when I was going to college, and I would pick up a few extra bucks by middling for him to my friends on campus. They were always asking, "What kind of weed is it?" so we started to invent all kinds of goofy names for the stuff to increase its value. One month it was Ethiopian-Alligator-Swampweed, the next month it was Mongolian-Tropical-Rainforest-Wild-Pigweed. Whatever... it worked. Now that I was growing my own, I wanted a hook -- an angle, something that would make my product stand out from the competition. It came to me one night while I was watching The Killing Fields: POL POT! I had a bunch of stickers made with a picture of Pol Pot smoking a joint and saying, "Killer weed, dudes!" Next to the graphic was a statement from Mr. Pot that read, "I have personally developed this strain of high-grade, Cambodian, skull-fucking weed for my friends in the Marijuana Mines of East Vancouver. I hope you will enjoy it. Sincerely, Pol Pot." I placed one of those stickers on every half-pound Glad freezer bag I sold, and upped my price by $200 a pound.


A TASTE FOR COKE

Sting once said that cocaine is God's way of telling you you've got too much money -- and brother, can I attest to that. I started getting into "the shit" in a bad way when my girlfriend was away on vacation. Now, you would think a bright boy with a pocket... no... a suitcase full of cash would be able to find some way to keep himself amused. I certainly always thought so, but I was wrong, and I paid a big price for it.

I developed a taste for coke when I was living with a friend who dealt the stuff, back in my hometown. He'd regularly come home, dump a kilo on the table, and announce, "We better sample this stuff." Well, twist my rubber arm. We sat up for 24 hours one day and free-based 21 grams -- I couldn't think for a week. In the two months my girlfriend was away, I don't think I thought at all.

My taste for coke, coupled with my innate knowledge of which end of the bottle to use, nearly did me in that summer. I finally admitted to myself I was getting hooked when I found myself coming to consciousness in a skid-row back alley with some skanky old hooker reaching into my pocket (and I'm pretty sure she wasn't doing so for the sake of giving me a $5 handjob).

That was the kick in the head I needed to bring me back to some semblance of reality. I headed home, and when I opened the door to check on my little babies, they were all completely shriveled. Dead, dead, dead. Fifty grand gone up in a puff of crack. I'd been on the pipe for five days.


THAT SMELL

You would think Las Vegas would be the last place someone trying to deal with a substance abuse problem would want to be, but when my friend Big Thumbs suggested a quick trip to Sin City, I figured a week in the sun would do me some good. And it did. We spent a mostly uneventful week getting drunk, gambling, and lounging by the pool. My girlfriend got back to Vancouver two weeks later, and gave me the stability I needed to stay clean and get back to work.

Losing a crop, combined with all the cash I'd blown on coke, had a very serious effect on my cash flow. I wasn't exactly broke -- far from it -- but I was starting to think about shutting down my operation and doing something legit with my ill-gotten booty. I wanted to have enough cash to explore a couple of business ideas I had, and still be able to live comfortably -- for a while at least, if those ideas didn't fly. So I decided to try to increase my crop by 35 percent, by budding 100 plants instead of the usual 60 to 65. It was a mistake. Almost.

When you're growing that much pot in your basement, with neighbors only 12 feet away on either side, you can't afford to have that heavy, skunky smell escaping. I've gone past houses that were so poorly equipped with the technology necessary to mask the odor, I could smell them a block away. I always laughed at these "stupid hippies" for their lack of professionalism and ignorance of technology, but when I crawled out of a cab at 3:00 a.m. on a drunken night two days before harvest, and was greeted with a big waft of "that smell" coming from my house -- I stopped laughing.

In order to get the smell out of the basement, and away from discriminating noses, I was first filtering it through an ozone-creating machine, which sent it up the chimney with the aid of a powerful industrial fan. The fan was strong enough to blow the chemically scented air high above the house so that the wind would catch it, dissipate it, and send it clear of nosy (pun intended) neighbors. After staggering around in a drunken haze, checking my equipment and making sure it was all working properly, I decided the best thing to do was shut off all the lights (14 1,000-watt lamps), spray three cans of Glad rose-scented air freshener into the exhaust system, and go to bed.

The next day I once again examined all my equipment, thinking I might have just been whiskey-dumb and missed something. No, nothing wrong with my stuff; I was just growing more pot than my system could handle -- a victim of my own success.

Bringing in a crop is a huge chore, and I always used no less than 10 people to help with the cut-down. Of all the times to get busted, cut-down day is the worst. Not only are you four or five days away from cashing out, but you're also running the risk of having 10 other people busted with you.

If you're lucky enough to have a fireplace, cut-down day is the time to make full use of it. Cover half the neighborhood with the smell of wood smoke, pour a half gallon of essential oils around the yard, and you should be pretty much protected against any smell escaping from the basement. Unless the cops come knocking on your door.


IS THAT YOUR WHEELCHAIR?

The cutting crew was working away downstairs, and I was in the kitchen frying up a huge pan of onions and garlic and cooking a huge pot of curry, when the doorbell rang. I opened the basement, and told everyone, "shut the fuck up. There's someone at the door."

I had absolutely no intention of opening the door, but when I looked out my bedroom window and saw a cop snooping around the side of my house, I knew I'd have to face him. They weren't there to bust me, I was sure of that. If they were, they wouldn't be politely ringing the doorbell and waiting for an answer. They'd kick the fucker in, wave guns around, and scream at everyone, "Get face down on the fuckin' floor, and put your fuckin' hands on top of your fuckin' heads, you fuckin' motherfuckers!" So I opened the door, smiled real sweet, and said, "Hello officer, what can I do for you?"

"Hi, sorry to bother you, sir," the cop apologized. "Do you know anything about this wheelchair?"

"What fuckin' wheelchair, you stupid fuckin' pig," I thought to myself.

"This wheelchair on your lawn," the cop continued, as if he'd read my thoughts -- or at least half of them.

I stepped out on the stairs (making sure to close the door behind me), looked toward the street, and -- sure as hell -- there was a wheelchair sitting on my lawn. Beside the chair was another cop who was talking to a guy in another wheelchair (What is this? The Special Olympics training grounds?), presumably the same goody-goody cripple who called the cops in the first place.

"Beats the hell out of me, officer. It wasn't there when I got home an hour ago," I answered, genuinely perplexed.

What the fuck? Did a cripple run into some faith healer who gave him one of those "GET UP OUT OF YOUR WHEELCHAIR AND WALK, BROTHER! THE GOOD LORD HAS CURED YOU!" sermons in front of my house?

"You didn't see...," the cop started to ask.

"Some guy crawling around on his belly, like an alligator?" I laughed. "No, can't say I have, officer."

Bad career move -- gotta learn to respect authority , or at least keep my smart mouth shut. The cop gave me a dirty look.

"Honest, officer," I said, suppressing my laughter. "I don't have a clue what this is all about."

"Very strange. Okay, well, we'll try to figure it out," said the cop who, to my great relief, started walking down the stairs. But suddenly he stopped -- and turning back to me, asked, "What about the basement?"

"Basement? What about the basement?"

"Do you have the whole house to yourself, or does someone else have the basement suite? Could this guy in the wheelchair be visiting his friend in the basement?"

"What? Do you mean -- could this guy have gotten out of his wheelchair and dragged himself, like some WWII dogface trying to get through no man's land, across the lawn to the back door -- you donut-munching, FLat-footed, wife-beating fuckwit? Is that what you're asking me, Sherlock? Get out of here already; you're giving me the heebies!" is what I wanted to say.

"No... no, I've got the whole place to myself," is what I did say.

Sherlock shrugged his shoulders and made his way to the sidewalk to confer with Dr. Watson, as I locked the door, and headed to the fridge for a beer... well, okay, two beers.


BUSTED

That little incident could've put the fear right back into me, but I'd heard plenty of tales of growers having close calls, only to carry on, business as usual, and never get busted. So I said to myself, "Two more crops -- just two more crops -- and I'm outta here." Once again my greed negated the fear.

A month later, while my girlfriend and I were on the Oregon coast for the weekend, my grow house got broken into. "Junkies," I figured. Either that or punk kids looking for beer money. Whoever it was, they completely trashed my house, turning it upside down looking for something they could pawn for another fix, or a weekend piss-up.

They must have shit their pants when they pried open the basement door and were blinded by 14,000 watts of artificial sunshine. My crop was still six weeks away from being harvestable, and there wasn't a single bud on my little babies. You couldn't have gotten high if you smoked the whole lot of them, but the bastards took away all they could carry anyway -- which was less than one-third of the crop of about 60 plants. I knew that when the morons tried to sell their ill-gotten booty to someone with even half a brain in his head, they would have been told it was all for naught -- "You should have waited another six weeks, you idiots. Then it would have been worth tens of thousands."

At this point, I had three options: shut down (only six weeks away from another $50,000); move out and keep the place running as a "ghost house"; or stay put for a firsthand crash course in paranoia.

I fortified the place and installed an alarm system that would ring my special pager (which I carried all the time, even when I was in the house) if anyone tried to enter the place. If I started to hear a beep, beep, beep from the pager, it meant one of two things: the thieves had come back, or I was BUSTED! I also bought a couple cans of bear-strength pepper spray, but that wasn't enough to cure my paranoia, so I bought myself a gun.

I still don't know exactly why I bought the gun. It's not like I was going to blow some guy's head off and risk a murder conviction for the sake of a crop. And what if the cops did come around and kick in my door while I was out of earshot, in the basement, doing my chores? I'd hear the pager go off, grab my gun, and point it at whoever started climbing down the stairs. Bad career move, dude. The cops blew a punk away for having a fuckin' Walkman in his hands, and I was going to point a gun at them?

I can't even say the gun seemed like a good idea at the time, but it seemed like the thing to do all the same. Things were getting weird.

I was in Home Depot, shopping for some plant food, when the most horrifying sound I'd heard -- since the time I came home from school early and caught my dad poking my mom, with Barry Manilow providing the ambiance (YUCK! God, that's a rancid memory) -- emanated from my pager. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

I'd fallen off the wagon and gotten back into my dirty crack habit the night before, so my nerves were already shattered when the pager went off. I was literally trembling when I jumped in my car, and made like Al Unser to my house. When I arrived, there were so many cops that it looked like all-you-can-eat hour at the donut shop.

I sailed right past, waved goodbye, and headed straight to my lawyer's office. "As your lawyer, I would advise you to get the fuck out of the country for a while." He didn't have to say it twice.

I paged my girlfriend and entered 911 to let her know. She called me right back and I told her, "I'm busted. Time to get out of Dodge." I picked her up, drove downtown, and checked into the Hotel Vancouver (Hey, if you gotta go -- go in style).

I sat in the room, chain-smoking Marlboros, trying to figure who ratted me out. I was hoping it was the pricks who'd B&Ed me, as that would mean the cops probably wouldn't have a warrant out with my name on it. That would be a good thing, because it would be easy for me to get out of the country.

Ultimately, it didn't make any difference if they had a warrant out for me or not, because I was going to have to run the gauntlet, if there was one.

Knowing that the cops, and their lap-dog friends in the media, love to make a big deal out of every stupid little grow-house bust, I tuned into BCTV to see how they were spinning the story. When I heard anchor Tony Parsons go on about a "major marijuana grow-house bust," I knew the cops didn't give a rat's ass about me. If they had wanted me, they would have waited until I showed up instead of kicking in the doors in time to make the 6:00 news.

It was a made-for-TV bust -- not that I'm complaining. I was, in fact, laughing; secure in the knowledge I was going to get away, and I was still laughing 20 minutes later when I picked up the phone, ordered a bottle of champagne to celebrate my good fortune, and inquired about the weather in _______.

The next day I bade a Harlequin Romance-style farewell to my girlfriend at Vancouver International, complete with teary sobs, a parking lot quickie, and half-muttered pledges of fidelity, undying love, and a joyous reunion when she finished school.

As my plane soared over the North Shore Mountains, while the sun set over the Pacific Ocean on a cold, wet, miserable day, I looked down on the city that had been my home for 14 years, and realized that I might never again set foot in my country. Leaning back, I ordered a drink and flipped through the in-flight magazine.

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