Colleen Daley lives on a sunburnt patch of overzoned Chula Vista real estate. She is besieged by the odiferous crosscurrents of wafting grease and the crackling bark of drive-in order speakers — her one-bedroom ranch is surrounded by fast-food joints. And that’s where she thinks her problems as a marijuana farmer started.
“The plants were eight feet tall,” she says. “My boyfriend and I were trying to keep things under wraps, but you know, you can only do so much. So it’s like they kind of knew.”
“They,” she suspects, were employees from one of these restaurants who had spotted her marijuana plants sprouting up through the roof of the greenhouse tucked in the far left corner of the yard, a rust bucket of a thing in its final stages of dilapidation. Daley guesses that if some covetous neighbor couldn’t have Daley’s grow, he’d made sure she couldn’t either.
“There were 13 officers in ninja outfits,” she recalls, of the day the police busted her.
She had 20 plants, putting her grow at 8 plants over the legal limit according to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (California Proposition 215), which makes the growing, purchasing, and ingestion of marijuana legal for those who can demonstrate a medical need for the drug.
Daley smokes pot because she suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Most of the time, she deals with an exhausting but manageable combination of muscle numbness, irritation, and spasms. But she knows it’s only a matter of time before her MS kicks into high gear.
She’s a big girl, “on the hefty side,” as she puts it. Her fleshy face holds expressive brown eyes, and when she smiles they smile right along. “It’s a lifetime thing,” she says of the disease. “The regression is very slow — like a slow torture.”
MS eats away at the sheathing around the brain and spinal chord — in the same way that mice will nibble away at a house’s plastic-coated wires. Depending on its severity, the disease causes excruciating pain. Daley has undergone heart surgery and lives with a pacemaker and a mechanical aortic valve in her heart. The mutiny in Daley’s body has also manifested itself in a bizarre condition known as Arnold-Chiari malformation, in which part of the brain pushes down through the base of the skull.
“The first time I went to get diagnosed by a neurologist, he sent me for a neck X-ray,” she says. “They found out that — this is so weird — that I had about an inch and a half of brain leaking down my neck — like the stem was coming down into it. Right, like I don’t have enough problems. So I had to have brain surgery too.”
Cannabis’s active ingredient is THC — tetrahydrocannabinol — a complex molecule that custom fits itself to inhibitors and stimulators in the human body’s neurological skein. Medical research is coming around to what everyone from Bob Marley to William F. Buckley has held to be true — by tweaking these various response mechanisms in the body, the naturally occurring THC in marijuana palliates pain and delivers an intricate palette of highs that depend on the cultivation and processing of the cannabis plant.
The other common active ingredient in marijuana, cannabidiol (CBD), works as both a spigot for THC, controlling the amount released by the plant, while adding its own particular effect to the drug. If THC puts the “high” in marijuana high, then CBD puts the “stone” in marijuana stone. Working as a sedative, it both complements and counteracts the THC, leading growers to breed pot varietals that rival wine grapes in number and flavor.
It was Daley’s desire to process her own marijuana that first led the CVPD on its wild goose chase — before the CVPD could confiscate her grow, it’s had a tough time of it corralling three ornery China geese that made no distinction between cops and thieves.
With 700 square feet of backyard to run around in and three kiddie pools to wade in, the geese served as guards for Daley’s late, great marijuana-growing operation. She put the geese out there, she said, after she began noticing footprints and bent plots of grass where sleeping bodies, presumably transients, had lain the night before.
As a backup to her guard geese, Daley electrified the top of a five-foot-high stone wall, enclosing her backyard with a livestock fence packing a 7000-volt charge.
“You really have to be trying to get over that wall to hit that charge,” she explains. “And one night, someone did.”
She figures that one of the restaurants’ employees just couldn’t resist.
“I have an audio tape [part of a homemade camera surveillance system] of a pulsating shock and then—” Her face lights up with a mixture of sympathy and mischievous delight — a scream — ‘AH...
AHHH... AHH... AHHHHHHH!’ And then a couple of minutes later you hear a girl’s voice saying, ‘Can you stand up?’ So someone got zapped and thrown, and I heard the scream — I was up watching TV, say ten o’clock at night — and you can hear me in the audio tape saying, ‘Yeah.… That’s why I bought [the electric fence]!’ ”
Perhaps, she acknowledges, the precautions were too effective — not long after, the CVPD came knocking. Daley admits to being guilty as charged of exceeding her 12-plant limit, but she found out the hard way that the letter of the law is all that matters to officers of the law.
“I was way over my legal limit, so I can’t say anything about that because that was my fault. But we were growing outdoors, and bugs were killing everything, and we went through two harvests without production because of the bugs. With this second harvest, the cops showed up and took everything. They left one plant for me, and I told them that they were taking my medicine…”
These days she buys her weed. Compared to growing her own, the monthly visit to a local dispensary (she won’t reveal its name or location) leaves a hollowed-out feel to her wallet.