The Selected Quirks of Madjag

The Madjag Chronicles were compiled as memoirs and mental snapshots of my experiences during the 1978-1982 guerrilla growing years in Madjag Canyon and beyond. Importing weed from Mexico, lining up connections with the Colombians, and living for months in Jamaica to set up a 1/2 ton Ganja flight were some of my subsequent adventures. In recent years I have been a medical marijuana grower, a pollen chucker, and an Admin/Moderator for several online cannabis forums.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Cop stories abound when you’re talking with long-time smuggling professionals. Some tales get downright sad if you’re the actual subject one of one of these stories. The archetypal cat and mouse, cops and robbers game has a long history I’m sure, however in our modern world of governments enforcing their morality upon the people, especially when victimless “crimes” are involved, the game at times seems even more pathetic.

This version of the game started in the early 1900’s when certain government and business elites deemed that a whole lot of things that make people feel good were henceforth illegal substances. The first to fall were the old patent medicines that contained opiates, then came weed, and finally alcohol. Smart, wealthy men like Joseph Kennedy jumped right into the game and made millions by being successful smugglers. Others like Harry Anslinger became famous by inciting fear in white folks concerning the evils of marijuana and heroin being forced upon young whites by black pushermen. Eventually alcohol prohibition fell apart, largely due to more government officials in cohorts with rich businessmen who decided it was time to be on the “right” side of the law. Why smuggle gin from Canada or rum from the Caribbean when you could own your own distilleries and retail outlets? Today we see the results: decades of lives impacted by laws that serve only the regime and wealthy businessmen.

If drugs were totally legal and treated as a health issue, a social issue, then law enforcement wouldn’t have it so easy. They’d have to go after real criminals like bank robbers, thieves, killers, organized crime and the rest of the criminal fringe of society. Violence often rules in these worlds so the mortality rate among law enforcement would go up radically. Citizens like ourselves, who hurt no one, injure no one else’s property, and are involved only in transactions between grown adults who make their own choices, would be left to live their lives peacefully.

Smoking marijuana isn’t addictive, but growing it is.

– Ed Rosenthal

Some analysts predict that this will be the future of marijuana once it becomes legal, that it will be controlled by the government in a very direct way. Sounds about right, however it’s a lot easier to grow a few plants for your own needs than it is to bottle up all the beer, wine, or whiskey that you might want over the course of a year. Personally I think that most smokers will simply become consumers, trying and buying the multitude of varieties that will inevitably make up the marketplace, much like Cali and Colorado dispensaries offer now. Those of us that agree with Uncle Ed’s quote will happily continue to fly on our own supply.

Over the years I’ve had to live a double life at times. As a young man the intrigue definitely sucked me in and required that I become an actor and master the art of disguise. This lifestyle had many perks, however many costs were levied as well. Being surreptitious and sneaky was a way of life at times; you simply had to do it in order to avoid arrest, and thus being an expert at hiding in plain sight became the name of the game.

Was it worth it? Oh yeah….But I don’t live in the past even though I can recall it with amazing detail and zeal. Be it difficult times or living on easy street, life is a gift. Even my time in the federal monastery, as restrictive as it was, taught me in ways that I would have never imagined. So here are a few events and situations that stand out concerning how to appear one way when you are actually another. If you follow this path for very long, do your best to remember who you really are. It’s easy to forget.

“Using obstacles as a way of working with life situations plays

a very important part in crazy wisdom.”

– Chogyam Trungpa

Shipping the Sacred Herb from the southwest to New York was an interesting challenge. At least it was on our home turf and didn’t involve international airspace, radar, and ugly custom jet intercepts. How you did it, if you planned for as many contingencies as possible, was within your direct control. Acts of God and Nature could add factors that included the unpredictable, however even those were possible to prepare  for  (to a degree) if you put a lot of effort into your play and didn’t get hooked on easy success. Nothing like a string of easy successes, based upon loose planning and preparation, to suck a person or team into thinking they had it made. Many players have gone down because they confused luck with skill.

I’ve seen plenty of car moves fail just because there was no back up if someone opened the truck and looked in, let alone smelled the big pile of luggage within that had bundles of stinky homegrown carelessly loaded up. WTF, just throw it all into the trunk, look cool, and drive safely within the speed limit? No one will suspect a thing! Right, maybe in 1965….except that by 1975 New Mexico became the all-around champion of profiling and questioning when simple Interstate or State Highway Patrol stops were made by patrolmen. Two brothers I knew very well, long-time personal friends of mine, had sent out two totally distinct, unknown-to-each-other loads moving east through New Mexico. Both loads were in separate cars and by coincidence were stopped and questioned at a simple road block on the same day. Such odds! NM State Police began tossing up these quicky road blocks so that they could either wave you by or have you stop to answer a few questions. Both drivers were singled out by the profiling, later found to be primarily the presence of Arizona plates on newer sedans driven by young persons in their 20’s. This profile then signaled the initial tier of police questions like “where were they going?”, “what did they do for a living?”, and “do you have any illegal drugs in your vehicle?” Not the sort of questions I ever want to answer on a roadside.

Needless to say the profiling merely brought the drivers into a legal sphere of fear, often resulting in stuttering, wild-eyes, or lack of composure that indicated that they “might be hiding something”. Later, in jail, the two drivers discovered that they were both from Tempe and had a lot more in common than they would ever believe was possible. They shared a little more nervous talk and soon realized that they were working for the same brothers, from the same imported Mexican load, toward the same target city, New York. Any more reality than that and I think they would have collapsed into the Twilight Zone.

I know what you’re thinking, that they were ratted out and someone involved must have snitched. Negative. It was totally because they chose the same route, hit the same road block, had the same vehicle/driver profile, and virtually had the exact same cover story. On top of that, they both fit the most important factor of all:  the New Mexico Highway Patrol profile for drug smugglers. This event proved to us that the good old ways and days needed a lot of improvement in the Stealth Department. The tried-and-true methods of the early 70’s were no longer useful and drastically needed an upgrade. This is where I came in.

My good friend John the Mover, AKA Honey, the man who could pilot any vehicle that moved on land or air, got lucky one day and called me up to see if I wanted any Mexican sinsemilla.  It seemed that his connections down south had way too much mota on their hands and were willing to front him some. I was still growing in the remote canyons of the Rim, however I was not one to turn down an opportunity when it came to good weed, especially good fronted weed. As John explained the deal it became clear that we would have to handle all the logistics. They had the weed, pilots, and plane and we had to supply the rest, including an airstrip! The things we do for adventure….

To make a long story short, we pulled it off and had 500 kilos of beautiful sinsemilla from Sinaloa, wrapped in 20-pound cellophane bundles, sitting in our rented, extended-length van. A slight miscalculation in our super hurried Cessna unloading process and our van loading procedure made it necessary to put three bundles on the floor below the front passenger seat while the rest was stacked in back with the window curtains drawn and a blanket or two over the load. We had to drive 45 minutes of dirt road and 3 hours of highway to get back to the metro Phoenix area so we planned an escort the whole way. One car in front and one in back. If for any reason the state patrol was looking at the van or pulling in behind it in traffic, the plan was for the follow-up car to blast wildly past them both and toss out a beer bottle. The lead car’s job was totally different: to drive a bit further ahead in order to signal, via walkie-talkie, if there was a road block (unlikely) or an accident that slowed traffic down to a crawl (possible) that could bring the van close to emergency highway crews, especially those friendly traffic-directing highway patrolmen. You could smell the load 50 feet away, even with the windows closed, so you didn’t want to be driving slowly by an accident response team. Sometimes they make the traffic sit for hours, sometimes they have you turn around and go back, but most times they just have you pass by in one lane at very low speed. No option was fun. If we could avoid it we would.

We made it to Phoenix safely. The load was stashed at a lovely rental home that an herb-friendly, 70 year-old couple whom we had hired had rented specifically for this project. The house had all of our requirements: a drive-in garage (for unloading/loading out of public sight), a very tall block wall around the backyard (no neighbor troubles), and a swimming pool with a stand-alone poolhouse and changing room (the stash room for weighing and packing that was not in the main house). Finding a rental with all of these necessary ingredients meant a lot of real estate research, driving around, looking, and finally meeting the real estate agent at the property. It’s a much taller order than you might think. I played a new role and spun a story that would pass the realtor’s need to believe. You couldn’t prepare yourself for every possible scenario, but money talked and rentals need to be rented. If the realtor had any doubts, though, they quickly vanished when he met the old couple (our grandparents, for sure!) and was handed the huge check with the first and last month’s rents, as well as for the hefty damage deposit. No questions asked.


photo – Kathleen Culliton for

The game continued on into Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn and Chinatown in Manhattan. We shipped in small U-Haul trucks that had to meet several criteria. Definitely another hiding in plain sight scenario; it wasn’t just about hiding the weed in boxes stuffed deep in the back of the truck. Several stealth criteria had to be met for every shipment’s rental vehicle. First, the truck’s license plates had to be from Iowa, South Dakota, or some other non-weed shipping, non-weed famous state. Trucks sporting plates from Arizona, California, Florida, and East Coast states like New York were taboo and flagged too many profiles. Second, we only used the U-Haul mini trucks that had a small Toyota or Ford truck body with a modest cube on the back, though currently the body used is a van and no longer a compact truck. The best of these actually had a crawl through hatch from the front cab that allowed a person to slip into the cargo space behind, but that quickly became rare and I think was discontinued because people were sleeping in the back (like we did once) while another driver took the wheel. Great for the long-haul, though over-tired, never stopping, constantly driving teams could also pop up the profile if they were stopped, questioned, and had to make up an answer for, “Why are you folks in such a hurry?” Third, we had a special packing method that didn’t just conceal the weed as much as it served to camouflage the entire load and make it appear to be something totally innocuous. It created the old Obi Wan Kenobi scenario: if you looked inside the back of the truck you’d be struck with, “This is not the truck we’re looking for….these aren’t the people we want.” If you rolled up the back of one of these trucks you would see the load portrayed before you merely as folks moving their possessions to another state. Even better than that, you’d smell it that way, too.

We’d buy chests, tables, chairs, and lots of clothing at several different second-hand stores spread throughout metropolitan Phoenix. We knew them all and which ones had the gear we prized. A box spring and mattress were placed standing along the inside of the truck’s walls, believe it or not, in case the truck took a side blow in an accident and ripped open a hole in the cargo box. We had seen in a similar accident how a soft lining could keep the rest of the load intact. At the very back, near the roll-up door, was a chest facing out, drawers full of clothing and shoes. Buckets, mops, Mr. Clean bottles, and other cleaning accessories were crammed in last. The idea was that if you opened the roll-up door, you could easily imagine, or be told if questioned, that the drivers had just finished cleaning up their previous home (rental?) and had loaded up the moving truck with all of their belongings. Clorox and ammonia cleaning vapors floated happily out of the back as the door was raised thanks to the small but potent amount we left on the mops and as residue in the buckets. Any chance of a human smelling weed was impossible. This method has been Arizona tested for days on end in 100+ degree weather and has still passed the olfactory test. Finally, we packed the herbal goodies extremely well inside of cardboard moving boxes, with games, clothes, and plates inside. The herbal bundles as well as the boxes received plenty of strong tape and extra plastic, too. We never, ever used telltale fabric softener sheets like Bounce that many herb movers packed inside their boxes to disguise the odors. That trick was old, old, old. In fact, it’s possible that it had actually become part of the New Mexico State Highway Patrol’s profile because both of the previously mentioned brothers, whose drivers got nailed, used copious amounts of Bounce in every load they shipped cross country. They swore by it and now their drivers could swear at it too.

You might ask, finally, what if a trained dog sniffed in the back of the truck? Dog barks = probable cause. It’s extremely difficult to say. I wouldn’t want to test it, would you? I know of some guys who trailored a Baja dune buggy behind their truck down to Mexico and back. At a customs checkpoint coming back into the US, a dog sniffed the frame, barked, and the customs agents searched the truck and the basically empty dune buggy. They found nothing so they cut a piece or two out of the welded roll bar frame and low and behold the dark, powder goodies that they found within were very illegal. I read a forensic expert’s opinion on this event and he said no dog can smell through a welded compartment. What was most likely was that someone in the welding crew had smoked a joint, lightly rubbed their resin-covered finger on the frame or steering wheel, and the clean looking drivers fell victim to forces beyond their awareness and control. In this world, what looks like a fluke or coincidence rarely is.

Bruce Schneier is one of the finest cryptographers and security experts in the world. He has advised the US government on hackers, post 911 terrorist threats, and the multitude of internet security concerns that grow daily. His monthly newsletter, Crypto-Gram, is certainly worth reading if you value your personal security or simply want to know who might be messing with you. He’s an old-school genius who uses his brilliant mind to approach any and all security issues in a common sense way.

In March 2008 Bruce wrote a nice essay on the “security mindset”. I resonate with his viewpoint and recognize my affinity to this way of approaching the world. Back in the 70’s and 80’s weed world I used to get flak from some of my buddies for worrying too much or planning too deeply. They believed in winging it much more than I did and though I realize that you can’t plan for every contingency, you can do your best. You can also heighten your awareness to pay attention to signs from the Universe. It never lies if you want to know the truth.

Here are a few excerpts and a link to the entire essay:

Security requires a particular mindset. Security professionals — at least the good ones — see the world differently. They can’t walk into a store without noticing how they might shoplift. They can’t use a computer without wondering about the security vulnerabilities. They can’t vote without trying to figure out how to vote twice. They just can’t help it.”

“This kind of thinking is not natural for most people. It’s not natural for engineers. Good engineering involves thinking about how things can be made to work; the security mindset involves thinking about how things can be made to fail. It involves thinking like an attacker, an adversary or a criminal. You don’t have to exploit the vulnerabilities you find, but if you don’t see the world that way, you’ll never notice most security problems.”

In college Judo class I used to ask my instructor, “What if the attacker does this when you do that?” and he would patiently show how to counter my projected countermove. Then I’d say, “What if when you do that he does…”. You get the picture. I became known as “Professor What-If”. Needless to say my wife and adult children still get a laugh out of my approach to things dark and dangerous. Call me paranoid but if you really knew me you would never believe that this is how I roll. I am relaxed with the whole scene…it’s second nature. I don’t have to worry. I take in all into consideration, then, like a warrior, I leap.

Another example: I don’t leave young children in parked cars, especially if the motor is running. Why allow any possibility that your kids could be hurt if you can avoid it? Where I live now I see young mothers doing exactly that. I looked into a car yesterday at the quick stop gas station and a 2-year old toddler was in the driver’s seat holding the wheel while his 4-year old sister was in the backseat yelling. The windows were up, air-conditioning on, and the motor running. Recipe for a disaster I’m thinking. One pull on the shifter and they’re launched. While discussing this scene with the female clerk at the checkout counter I was told by her that she does it, too, only she takes special precautions against her kids being kidnapped, which is her biggest fear. She makes sure to lock the car doors, too. How is it possible that these mothers are so unaware? The Darwin effect in action, for sure.

When my kids were 4 and 6, I took them to A&W for some delicious root beer floats. I went inside to order instead of using the drive-through. Their friend Manny was along for the ride and just had to play with the steering wheel and gear shifter on the column while I was gone. My girls knew not to mess with anything – I had taught them peacefully what would happen if you slip a car into neutral or what could result if you take off the brake. “What’s neutral, papa?” So I’d show them in great detail, park on a slope and slip it into neutral. I’d show them how the brake works and how it may or may not hold if you shift the gears into neutral. I believe that young children are bright and typically remember much more than which we give them credit. You’re also wise to make them responsible for an increasing amount of their own survival mission starting when they’re young.

Anyway, a guy came dashing into A&W as I stood in line and said, “Does anyone here own a big Buick Electra?” I said yes and he added, “I just dove through the driver’s side window and pushed on the brake because the car was rolling into traffic and I didn’t see any driver”. My heart almost stopped as I ran out the door to my car. Little Manny had slipped it into neutral and the car had been rolling downhill toward serious traffic on Highway 89A. That kind young man had seen it and saved the day and probably had saved my girls and the other drivers in the highway traffic as well. I secured the vehicle and went back inside to thank the man. He was gone, but like Superman, I knew he was happy with his save. So was I, so was I.

I got in a lot of trouble for scolding little Manny and telling him that he had seriously screwed up and should never touch these car things when grownups aren’t around. I kept my cool, yet I let that 6-year old know the truth of the situation. Both of my daughters swore that they told him not to. I believed them, they already knew. In truth, I was actually at fault because I left an unknown entity in my car full of precious cargo. His mom got really mad at me later and called me a “disciplinarian” for the stern feedback I had given her son. I took that as a compliment. That’s the security mindset in a nutshell. That’s how you approach today’s weed world. You have to think about what could go wrong and at least pretend it did and figure out how to safely respond to such possibilities. You look at how to break your system. You push all the bad buttons and let go of the brakes. And you especially don’t count your dollars before you see the green.