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Medical Marijuana in North Carolina? Local Returns To Boone After Working Medical Pot Fields in Oregon

By Jesse Wood

This is some of Tubbs' handiwork. Photos by Rico Tubbs
This is some of Tubbs’ handiwork. Photos by Rico Tubbs

Jan. 31, 2014. With the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, teams that coincidentally reside in the only two states to have legalized recreational marijuana in the nation, playing in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, pot has been featured in headlines more frequently than normal during the past two weeks. So here is a pot story of our own:

Rico Tubbs, a 41-year-old native of Boone who requested anonymity with a pseudonym, recently returned to Boone after a cross-country road trip that followed three months of “backbreaking” work in the pot fields of Grants Pass, Ore., located about one-hour north of the California border.

In October, Tubbs left the High Country for the harvest season out West, where friends and fellow employees awaited his arrival, and his labor in the fields was legal because his employer grew pot under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, which was created in 1998 when voters approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.

“God, I should have lived in Oregon since the ‘90s,” Tubbs said.

Tubbs' tools.
Tools of the trade.

Tubbs spent his days working, pruning plants and snipping buds. For every pound of pot that Tubbs trimmed, he received $150 in pay. Just like a farmer, he would wake up at the crack of dawn to begin his workday that wouldn’t end until just before nightfall. 

“They want me back for six months [next year] to help plant,” Tubbs said, adding that his labor was in high demand because he had a great work ethic and didn’t complain. 

Tubbs’ employer was a small grower with 25 plants and three employees total. While that may sound like a small amount of plants, Tubbs said that each plant produced six to seven pounds of buds off of a 16-foot-tall plant. While working, Tubbs and crew would routinely hear helicopters overhead, filled with federal authorities looking for illegal growers operating in the national forests. Tubbs and crew had no need to worry.

This is one of the trees that Tubbs trimmed.
This is one of the trees that Tubbs trimmed.

Like 55,000 people (as of September 2013) who are card-carrying members of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, Tubbs had to purchase a license, which cost him $400 because he was out of state. The card allowed him to grow pot or someone else to grow pot for him. In describing his medical condition, Tubbs said he has had five shoulder surgeries and suffered severe whiplash in a car wreck in Boone.

Combined, cardholders may possess up to 24 ounces of dried pot, six mature plants and 18 seedlings.

Medical Marijuana in North Carolina? 

Oregon is among the 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, to enact laws that have legalized medical marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a foundation with the mission to change marijuana laws. North Carolina is not among them. 

In 2013, N.C. Rep. Kelly Alexander introduced legislation for a medical marijuana program to no avail. In a maneuver deemed unusual, the House Rules Committee killed the medical marijuana bill by giving it an “unfavorable report” before much debate on the issue could take place, according to a 2013 WRAL article.

When the topic was broached in the N.C. General Assembly in 2013, WRAL reported that Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam said lawmakers were being “harassed” with phone calls and emails about medical marijuana before killing the bill and therefore ending any internal discussion on medical marijuana policy.

“We did it to be done with it,” Stam was quoted by WRAL as saying at the time, “so people could move on for the session.” 

MPP also noted that Alexander also introduced a bill in 2013 that would require a legislative research committee to study medical marijuana. But that hasn’t come to pass either. 

N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan, who represents Ashe and Watauga constituents in the 93rd District, said he likely wouldn’t support a medical marijuana policy if it were to come up again in the N.C. General Assembly unless he were to see “dramatic” evidence about the health benefits of the plant. 

“It’s not something I am inclined to support. It’s come up a few times in the General Assembly, but there hasn’t been a real wide range debate on a particular bill,” Jordan said. “[I wouldn’t support medical marijuana] unless I see dramatic evidence or arguments from other states that have tried it.” 

Asked about supporting a study or commission on the topic such as Alexander’s initiative, Jordan said, “I don’t usually oppose studies.” 

Running against Jordan in the upcoming 2014 state elections is Sue Counts. On Friday, she said that she hadn’t given the topic much thought but supported medical marijuana. 

“I have a friend [who lives in Delaware] who had cancer, and she was treated with medical marijuana,” Counts said. “It helped quite a bit, so I wouldn’t be opposed to medical marijuana.”