Vagneur: The unholy trinity

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Greed, gluttony and dominance are not attractive words, although they ring with a beauty that makes their meanings unmistakable. The three words don’t necessarily go together unless one contemplates the ubiquitous reach of our government and then a certain connection can be made, particularly in the latest marijuana melee that is eating up a lot of headline ink.

“Legalization of marijuana” seems to be the frenzied cry, although that title can be misleading. If using THC-laden plants were truly legal, we wouldn’t be struggling with how to tax and control it. Anyway you cut it, and like other illegal drugs, marijuana’s still a “controlled substance,” just by the very nature of the laws we’re creating to control it. The advantage, I suppose, is that with marijuana’s “legalization,” you might not rot in jail the next 20 years for sucking up a toke or two.

The bottom line is, we’re talking about weed, for God’s sake. If only Canada thistle could generate such enthusiasm. Years ago, some paranoid pot head threw a loose bag of laughing grass in an Aspen irrigation ditch, maybe on an imaginary run from the boys in blue and, for years thereafter, those in the know were harvesting high-powered leaves from the consequent gift from the gods.

In the pursuit of full disclosure, I should mention that marijuana, legal or otherwise, has very little bearing on my life. I don’t use the stuff and don’t anticipate doing so in the near future, but it does get thrown in my face every once in a while. I’m not so naive that I can’t recognize the distinctive smell of a burning butt, and in the course of a winter, I sometimes get on the ski lift with those who smell precisely like the burned-out bowl of a recently smoked pipe.

Further, it should be noted that I have been running grow operations for years, starting in Woody Creek, sometimes on McLain Flats and most recently in Emma and Woody Creek, both. For decades, my partners and I have managed to raise some very fine leafy substances, high in nutrition and robust with flavor and fiber. Alfalfa, orchard grass and timothy grow almost as well in this climate as Mary Jane.

We’ve managed to grow our grasses in the great outdoors, hundreds of acres at a time, without the need for greenhouses or other contrived monstrosities. Why marijuana production requires a different paradigm for farm success stymies the imagination, unless it’s swollen ego and inexperience on the part of the growers, especially when such plants grow so well they are difficult to eradicate once started. In the grower’s defense, I guess it could be said that if you’re used to raising illegal pot in your basement bedroom then you probably have no idea how to grow it outside in the sunshine. Let’s face it — ranchers sell quality hay (the grass kind, with stems and buds, oh, never mind) year-round — without zoning changes or artificial environments.

As we speak, someone is contemplating a commercial marijuana farm in pastoral and bucolic Snowmass Canyon, complete with huge, shiny-topped greenhouses; another producer has approval to put in a greenhouse near the heart of Basalt and the public schools. Locating on such prime real estate obviously indicates a huge faith in the amount of return possible once January arrives. I reckon gas is too costly for them to deliver the bales, lids and loafs up from less-expensive real estate locales. It all sounds like a fool’s folly, and I’m glad I’m not bankrolling those boys.

I digress. Back to greed, gluttony and dominance. Never willing to miss a chance at fattening its coffers, the Colorado state government, per Tuesday’s election and the will of the electorate, is now empowered to charge up to a 25 percent tax on dope, excise and retail combined. On an ounce currently worth around $200, that puts the price in the neighborhood of $250. Add on state sales tax of 2.9 percent, plus other local taxes, and we’re no longer talking a cheap high. Naturally, the only way to collect such an exorbitant tax is to place strict controls on the supply and sale of reefer, making distribution difficult, if not impossible.

The government, in its own greedy and gluttonous way, is surely putting weed back in the hands of the black market, where it appears it will be most comfortable. Welcome to the legalization of marijuana …

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at