High Times, December 1983, pp. 35-37

Excerpts from "Interview: Tom Alexander"

by Bob LaBrasca and Dean Latimer

[From the HT table of contents, p. 3:]

Tom Alexander knows the marijuana business inside and out. After being busted in [Corvallis,] Oregon in 1979 for potgrowing, Alexander went legit and began mail-ordering his leftover bat guano fertilizer. Business boomed, and within a short while Tom and his wife Nancy were running the largest grower supply store in the state. One year later he started a little homegrown newsletter entitled Sinsemilla Tips, which has since become the unacknowledged trade journal of the cannabis industry. ....

[Dick Evans' Bill, the DEA Coup
That Ended Democracy and Killed the Free Press in Oregon;
Fanatical "Parents" Groups Imported to Alter the Political Landscape;
and a Picture of Oregon Reform Efforts in 1983]

High Times: Oregon's the first state I know about where a bill to realistically regulate and tax marijuana has been submitted to the legislature. Dick Evans' model bill. Weren't you and your group, Citizens for Legal Action in on that?

Alexander: That's right. The reaction we got from our bill convinced us that it's not going to happen in the legislature until we get new people in there who are not afraid of the fanatical parents groups. Or maybe if bloodshed starts happening pretty soon the legislators may change their ways. But, pretty much they told us point blank, last time, that we don't have the money. We don't have the votes and so they don't really see us as a viable political force. Even though we got the proposal introduced, it was not given a fair shake. It got sent to the judiciary committee of the Senate, and the chairperson of that committee is a spineless liberal who is fearful of these political antimarijuana people. He kisses their ass. So, ultimately it got killed. But they also killed a couple of the bills that the antimarijuana people were supporting.

High Times: Regarding the Evans bill, isn't there some trouble because of it being done on a state-by-state basis? For example: If the Oregon legislature were to set up a taxation and regulation system - the minute somebody took some marijuana from Oregon into another state, the feds would come in.

Alexander: The DEA and the Department of the Treasury told the governor here that if that bill passed they would arrest him and all the political officials of Oregon.

High Times: They can't arrest legislators for passing laws!

Alexander: Because it was going against federal law, and they would be held accountable if the bill ever passed.

High Times: That's amazing. Nevertheless, it sounds as if the parents groups out there are very vocal but not all that powerful. Their bill didn't make it through, and they weren't able to push through the DEA's paraphernalia bill.

Alexander: Yeah, but they're gaining power. They've only been on the scene here in Oregon for about a year.

The Atlanta-based group, Dekalb Families in Action, and Robert DuPont and all of those other assholes targeted Oregon because we are progressive in our ideas and legislation, and they sent people out here to rally the troups.

High Times: Funny thing is, they really don't have any parents in that organization to begin with. They're just political hacks, and maybe some of them happen to have kids.

Alexander: That's the fact of the matter. Most of the head honchos are single people.

High Times: Yeah, they're single people, and even the ones that have kids, they're not worried about kids. They're right-wing, single-issue political organizers, and they're professionals.

Alexander: They had a state conference here about a year ago, with people in from Atlanta. I don't know who they were. From that original conference they formed a Portland antimarijuana group, Oregonians Free from Drug Abuse, which is state-coordinated. In the past year they've gone to PTA's, Lion's Clubs, civic groups, and drawn a lot of support from those civic groups. And now they have some thirty-five to forty groups in Oregon.

High Times: But in Oregon you also have the unique phenomenon of a couple of groups arising on the other side, calling for realistic marijuana information and legislation. These are essentially groups of parents who really do have children. Can you tell me something about those groups? One is called MAMA, Mothers Against Marijuana Abuse. [Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse - ed.]

Alexander: MAMA is a family-oriented organization to prevent drug abuse. Most of its members do have families, and are concerned that drug prevention is not occurring, that truthful information about drugs is not being put out. Instead, rhetoric, lies and scare tactics are being used by these fanatical parents groups who are supposedly concerned about drug use among kids.

MAMA's objective is to put out unbiased, truthful, factual information so people can be educated about marijuana and all drugs. They do not promote or advocate the use of any drugs. They're now trying to get some of the state money that goes directly to the Oregon antimarijuana groups. For example, last year ten thousand dollars went directly to the political front group Oregonians Free from Drug Abuse, without any consideration of any other drug-prevention group, the reason being they're part of the National Federation based in Atlanta: Parents for Drug-Free Youth. And they channel the money to the state mental health department, who in turn channels it to these political people.

Even the straight people are saying that MAMA makes more sense than these fanatics. But the problem is that the media, especially television, will only produce a program with a one-sided view. And these Oregonians Free from Drug Abuse people refuse to meet with us on media events. That pretty much stifles our getting the message out. We are realizing now that we have to get a financial base so that we can buy air time. Citizens for Legal Action is going to be doing a direct-mailing operation. We're going to start using computers to try to raise the necessary funds, so that we can get air time to get our message across.

High Times: What did you mean before when you said if bloodshed starts happening legislators may change their attitudes?

Alexander: Once people start seeing what's happening to our society because of these archaic marijuana laws, their viewpoint is going to change rapidly. It's like the Vietnam War. For a long time massive numbers of people just sat by while the war was going on. But then, when their neighbors, relatives and friends started coming home killed and maimed, they started saying, "Hey, this is a boondoggle that has to stop." The same thing's happening with the marijuana laws, and it is a war. The government pronounced it a war, and it's turned into a war. When innocent hitchhikers start getting blown up by booby traps, when growers start getting killed by thieves, and thieves start getting killed by growers, and when the police start getting trigger-happy with the cops, when all hell breaks loose up in the hills, people are going to start thinking.

High Times: And as long as the laws remain the same, you foresee a constant process of mutual and irreversible escalation?

Alexander: Definitely. While in Oregon it's mainly high-school kids responsible for the rip-offs, in California it's organized crime. I don't know if you could say it's the traditional Mafia - maybe it's motorcycle gangs - stuff like that. But whoever it is, they fly out of San Francisco on the overflights just like the cops. And they probably use better equipment than the cops. They map out where profitable targets are and they go for them. Highly armed thieves hit areas in Humboldt County and Southern Oregon: just in and out really quick, and in some cases death to the grower.

High Times: And there has been a significant amount of violence on that level?

Alexander: In Humboldt County there has, yes. I think last year five growers lost their lives. And they can't even estimate the number of thieves who've been shot.

High Times: Do you think that organized crime is interested in suppressing or taking over the domestic marijuana market?

Alexander: I have my theory, and most people that I explain it to say it makes sense. As you well know, the satellites are tracking everything leaving the Caribbean and South America. So the government has put a substantial dent in the importation business, which many people feel is controlled by both the Colombian Mafia and the American Mafia. So the American Mafia now finds itself with all these empty pot warehouses that are just sitting there.

I predict within a couple of years, just like the Mafia overtook the alcohol business, they are going to have a sizable chunk of the domestic market. You can look at practically anything - Laundromats, construction, those little trucks that go around and sell snacks and coffee to the construction industry. There are numerous legal industries that are controlled by organized crime. A sizable enough market was established and they took it over.

High Times: There seems to be quite a profusion of free-the-weed groups out on the Coast. A couple new ones every time a referendum rolls around?

Alexander: Yes, there's CLER, Citizens for Legal Equality and Rights. That's based at Portland State, mostly students. There's the Oregon Marijuana Initiative people. There's Balance from Douglas County and Roseburg. I was representing Sinsemilla Tips, but I'm also representing Citizens for Legal Action. So all in all there's about seven or eight different groups.

High Times: Is there going to be a focus now on the referendum as a course of action?

Alexander: Yes. We have a whole year to get signatures. The strategy is to have petitioning blitzes, at the State Fair or at the different county fairs, and in concerts - have specific dates when people show up and get signatures.

High Times: And you are optimistic, I assume, about getting the marijuana issue onto the ballot?

Alexander: Yes. They've got ten thousand signatures already and they have only been doing it a month. And the big blitzes have just started.

We have a deadline of July 6 of 1984 to get it on the November 1984 election ballot. We feel people will be coming out and voting against Reagan. So it has the potential to pass. The only problem is that the legislature can change it around to the way they see fit. Like they could put a limit on the number of plants, or they could raise the age from eighteen to twenty-one.

[End of excerpt]

Portland NORML notes: Sinsemilla Tips was always more than just a magazine for cultivators. Its coverage of issues relating to marijuana-policy reform was always original, astute and consistently more adult than that of High Times. But unlike the vast majority of commercial growers he wrote about, Alexander always extolled the view that pot should be legalized. While Sinsemilla Tips was produced, especially at first, with primitive technology and sometimes editing, it soon achieved something High Times never has, even with High Times' color glossies and broad advertising support - a consistently reasonable, progressive and calm perspective that never portrayed marijuana consumers or cultivators as moronic stoners.

The ensuing excerpt from the introduction to the December 1983 High Times interview (which begins on page 33) explains how Alexander made the transition from illegal cultivator to legitimate publisher, businessman and activist - a transformation of interest because, well, for one thing, just consider the lack of any known parallel during the entire history of alcohol Prohibition from1920 to 1933....

How Tom Alexander Became an Activist

....Tom and Nancy wound up in Oregon in 1976, on a projected resettlement migration to New Zealand; they had found Cape Cod too industrially overdeveloped for their liking. The Pacific Northwest turned out to be sufficiently natural for them, though, so they decided to settle down there. Trouble was, the timber industry being mainly defunct, there wasn't a whole lot of employment available for newcomers. So Tom commenced to grow pot.

He enlisted himself as the superintendent of a major patch being brought up, down near the California border, by a collection of fast-lane pot professionals who'd moved in a few pounds of Hawaiian sativa seeds. They put in 1,600 plants in a pretty mountain swale, and Tom sexed them down to 900 females, in three patches, in mid season. He pruned and trimmed them, camped out with them all through the three-week bloom phase, brought them in and manicured each bud individually. He says he felt pretty much like a gofer, a mere sharecropper. And when those "growers" - as they arrogantly called themselves - went and sold his pot for real Hawaiian prices, and only paid the Alexanders 10 percent of the usual homegrown rate, Tom elected to run his own personal operation next season.

So in late 1978, the Alexanders rented an old homestead cabin, high up in the Coastal Range at the end of a seven-mile dirt logging track that left the main highway 25 miles out of Corvallis. They laid out about a thousand feet of plastic pipe from a spring upslope, to feed a holding tank to irrigate their half-acre patch, which they planted about a quarter-mile from the cabin, where the property bordered some fine commercial timberland: big handsome Douglas firs. They put in about 2,000 plants and sexed them down to 1,200 in mid season.

But sure enough, way back in June, a timber-company crew cruising those beautiful pine trees had spied their bed of seedlings, and sicced the county cops on them. But Tom and Nancy obliviously went on all through the summer and early autumn busting their backs to bring in a premium crop.

On 27 September 1979, just as the buds were in mid development, Tom was finishing up some carpentry on his curing shed when a voice behind him said, "Now, we don't want anybody to get hurt." And then his patch was full of large men in flak jackets and fatigue caps, bearing semiautomatic rifles and pump-action shotguns. "You guys won the monopoly game," said Tom, as they clapped the cuffs on him and Nancy.

The handcuffs hurt like hell all the way back to Corvallis, where Tom and Nancy were dumped in the Benton County slam on the Class A felony of potgrowing. A man was brought in that afternoon on the Class B felony of rape, and released an hour later on $100 bail. Next day, another man was hauled in for dousing some female relatives with gasoline and swearing he'd set them on fire: a Class A misdemeanor, $100 bail within the hour. Tom and Nancy couldn't get bail at all until their arraignment because of this Class-A-felonious potgrowing charge. After 30 hours' confinement a circuit-court magistrate released them on their own recognizance, and the charge was ultimately thrown out because of irregularities in the search warrant - but only after the police had smeared Tom and Nancy as organized national mafiosi and schoolchild poisoners - and rated the value of their crop at several million dollars.

The police probably know exactly what his crop was worth, Alexander suspects. Now that the local folks knew the Alexanders as something other than a couple of hippiebilly recluses, a lot of them turned out to be quite respectful and companionable. They showed the Alexanders how, just weeks after their bust, the street market in Corvallis, Salem and Eugene was greatly enriched with miniature sinse buds of the exact same cultivars as the Alexanders had been tending. Shortly after that, the chief narcotics detective in Benton County - the one who had smeared Tom and Nancy as big-league mafiosi - was convicted for peddling weight amounts of cocaine, which he procured from God knows where, or from whom. The judge gave this narc no jail time at all, remarking that he was just a decent man in a nasty, dehumanizing job.

As might be expected, this pissed off Tom Alexander for fair. At the time, the Alexanders were subsisting largely on the sale of a whole lot of South American bat guano which they'd had left over, and which they advertised for sale on bulletin boards around town. They had a little extra money, so Tom acquired a typewriter, some rubber cement and some paste-up boards, and put out the first edition of Sinsemilla Tips by the flicker of the kerosene lamp in his cabin. He told the world exactly how to tell the males from the females, exactly how to set up a drip-irrigation system, exactly when to transplant the seedlings And he put in an ad for his bat guano, and sent it off to a print shop in April 1980.

Three years later he runs Full Moon Farm Products, the biggest grower-supply store in Oregon. After Sinsemilla Tips caught on big with the very first issue, he found himself deluged with mail-order inquiries for grow lights, water tanks, plastic hose, hydroponic units, gravity pumps, electronics gear - endless demand. The psychohorticulture artists of the Pacific Slope wanted to acquire their gear from a person who knew exactly how to use it; and the excellence of all those miniature buds which had been dumped on the market right after Tom's bust was legendary. So in the fullness of time, the Alexanders were full-fledged property owners, shop proprietors and thoroughly respectable members of the community.

Nowadays, while he duly pays his taxes and stays absolutely squeaky-clean with the law, Tom Alexander has become personally committed to the ever-escalating war on marijuana, lobbying strenuously with West Coast free-the-weed groups. Many of his customers strongly disagree with him, arguing that a properly regulated weed industry will only consolidate the profits in the hands of licensed rip-off artists, like the growers who ripped off Tom's hard work in 1977.

But with "task force" platoons of paramilitary narcs terrorizing entire rural communities for days on end during the harvest season, and federal helicopters defoliating tracts of wilderness with herbicides, and with vicious motorcycle gangs ripping off people like him and Nancy at the point of sawed-off shotguns, Tom Alexander is absolutely adamant: either the pot laws change, or this society will be dragged right down the toilet by these fascists.

Tom Alexander is a good man. He will change the marijuana laws, even if it puts him and his store and his magazine - and probably this magazine, too - out of business. But while the business lasts, it sure is peculiar that no equivalent of Sinsemilla Tips has so far sprung up in the Cascades or the Smokies or along the Gulf Coast. Once again, the Rocky Mountain pioneers are leading the way, obviously.

Information regarding Sinsemilla Tips and Full Moon Farm Products can be obtained by writing Full Moon Farm Products, P.O. Box 2046, Corvallis, OR 97339, or phoning (503) 753-7837. [Obsolete; see below. - ed.]

[End of excerpts]

Portland NORML notes: Alexander was obliged to quit publishing Sinsemilla Tips in 1990, not long after the DEA walked into Full Moon Farm Products and stole his entire inventory at gunpoint as part of "Operation Green Merchant," the October 1989 nationwide crackdown on horticultural stores. Although Alexander was never charged with any crime, the laws were written so it would have cost him more to contest the DEA's theft than his $55,000 of inventory was worth. Consequently, both his store and Sinsemilla Tips were effectively put out of business.

The illegal raid on Alexander's store had a significant impact on efforts to reform marijuana laws in Oregon. To this day the most prevalent feeling among would-be activists is that working to reform the marijuana laws will only incite illegal behavior against them by the police.

Understandably, Alexander has dropped out of the marijuana-law-reform movement. During the preparation of this page in May 1996, Portland NORML spoke with Alexander, who now publishes a widely respected non-marijuana-oriented magazine on hydroponic gardening called The Growing Edge. Explaining his silence in recent years, Alexander stated for the record,

"I spent 10 years on the front line. I tried to play by the rules but the DEA consciously broke the rules and targeted me."
Nevertheless, Alexander had no objection to a link here for his magazine and e-mail. He mentioned that his publishing company is about to release a new retrospective titled "The Best of Sinsemilla Tips." A complete set of back copies of Sinsemilla Tips is also still available for just $100. Portland NORML wishes Tom Alexander the best and thanks him for his legacy of activism and sacrifices. In addition to the Web and e-mail links just provided, Alexander and his new publishing business can currently be contacted at:

New Moon Publishing, Inc.
P.O. 1027
Corvallis, OR 97339
Tel. (541) 757-8477


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