Reason.tv: Heather Donahue on Growing Marijuana, Life After 'Blair Witch,' and the Beauty of 'Grey' Markets

"To me, the 'canna-business,' it's a great example of community-level capitalism working well," says Heather Donahue, Hollywood actress-turned-marijuana farmer and author of the new book Grow Girl.

Donahue sat down with Reason.tv's Tim Cavanaugh to discuss why she left acting only a few years after her iconic role as "Heather" in The Blair Witch Project and how she ended up cultivating marijuana in a small Northern California community known as "Nugget Town."

Although Donahue favors legalization of marijuana and acknowledges the terrible toll that prohibition has taken, she also thinks that California's medical marijuana market has flourished in the legal "grey area" that currently exists.

"By creating this grey area, you're actually creating a system that works," says Donahue. "This is a system on a human scale, and that's part of why it works so well."

Approximately 9:43 minutes. Interview by Tim Cavanaugh. Shot and edited by Zach Weissmueller.

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  • ||

    I thought this girl just disappeared after Blair Witch.

  • MJGreen||

    She was in that miniseries Taken, and did a pretty terrible job.

  • cathrine||

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  • flafim||

    Who buys a $31 bag of weed? What's the extra dollar for?

  • rather||

    taxes?

  • Paul||

    It's the donation to the Make a Wish Foundation.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    What's the extra eleven dollars for? Let other people buy the "good shit" and smoke you down.

    I'm guessing "legit" suppliers can charge for "brick and mortar" overhead right now.

  • jacob||

    "Extra" $11? Most 1/8th's that cost $20 aren't worth smoking. Most, perhaps not all, but most.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    I was thinking 20 a gram and change, in a region of plentiful homegrown. So, you're paying less than I do would if I ever bought a gram.

  • Paul||

    "By creating this grey area, you're actually creating a system that works," says Donahue. "This is a system on a human scale, and that's part of why it works so well."

    Imagine how well the market would work if it were more, you know, black and white? Like Marijuana is legal, full stop.

    This is a bit like saying, "look how well companies do in this highly regulated market... those clever people always find a way!"

    Well... yeah...

  • robc||

    Of course, but what she is claiming is that if fully legalized, it will be more heavily regulated.

  • Paul||

    I uhm... ok, I haven't watched the video yet because I can't turn the sound up... but how is a product which is so heavily regulated it can only exist in the gray, going to be more regulated if it's legal in the same way that post-it notes are legal?

  • robc||

    It wouldnt be legal in the same way post-it notes are legal, but in the same way that say, alcohol is legal.

    Actually, could be worse than that, as the FDA doesnt get involved in alcohol. The worry is the FDA or USDA will get involved.

  • robc||

    *mostly, the FDA isnt involved in the alcohol industry, but there are some exceptions. Like gluten-free beer.

  • Paul||

    It wouldnt be legal in the same way post-it notes are legal, but in the same way that say, alcohol is legal.

    I used the post-it notes as hyperbole. But yes, alcohol would be the more realistic analogy. I see marijuana legalization in a much better light when I can buy it at safeway.

    Actually, could be worse than that, as the FDA doesnt get involved in alcohol. The worry is the FDA or USDA will get involved.

    It will get worse if we keep going down the medicalization track, because the FDA will get involved. They're living on borrowed time when people keep insisting that marijuana is a viable pharmeceutical with serious medicinal properties, now please let us produce it in our basement.

    From how I read the blogpost, she's playing right into that.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Actually, could be worse than that, as the FDA doesnt get involved in alcohol. The worry is the FDA or USDA will get involved.

    Wrong. Instead of enforcing prohibition, a legalized marijuana would have a DEA regulatory wing.

  • Zeb||

    Well, I suppose it depends on what you mean by "regulated". I wouldn't say that prohibition is regulation, tough I understand why you might. I think that it is a valid point that in many ways, under the type of legalization that is likely to happen, the market in cannabis will probably be less free. I don't see legalization happening without huge amounts of regulation of whatever industry is allowed to exist, which will inevitably lead to rent seeking and the big players working to use regulation to keep competitors out of the market. So in a sense, it is freer now. Especially in CA where you are very unlikely to get in trouble for it. I'd still take legalization of whatever kind because of the sheer immorality of locking people up for their choice of drugs, but even as legalization looks like it might be coming, it is definitely not going to be any sort of libertarian ideal when it happens.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    The government would argue that prohibition is the ultimate regulatory action.

    I would argue that prohibition is willfully choosing to NOT regulate it.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    On another note, it's terrible that in order to be free to even possess the stuff, one need subject themselves to a massive regulatory scheme. That's not freedom.

  • Heather Donahue||

    NO BECAUSE GOVERNMENT CREATED MONOPOLIES IS GOOD BECAUSE LOCALISM

  • Dekedin||

    I think she's claiming that the gray market benefits from a lack of regulation, and once it's legalized there will be a ridiculously high tax like cigarettes. Right now there are no rent-seekers like Philip-Morris to screw everything up, basically.

  • o3||

    sin taxes are popular

  • Sudden||

    The irony is that she likes the current system not because of its deregulated nature, but because of its regulated nature.

    Were cannabis legalized on a federal level, even assuming no onerous FDA/USDA regulatory oversight, large corporations would simply be able to develop the necessary economies of scale to produce a high quality product at a lower per unit price point. Her insistence on "community level capitalism" is essentially her masked way of saying what she's in favor of. She likes the small farmer in the emerald triangle and his family being the gatekeeper of the market and is scared as all hell of genuine competition for fear that it will ruin the cozy bidniz model they currently have that benefits a handful of northern california growers much more than the larger population.

  • Jeff||

    Exactly. It wasn't even that masked. Her main point seemed to be, "OH NOEZ TEH CORPERASHINZ!!!1" Kinda hard to miss it.

  • Paul||

    Hence my comment about buying weed at Safeway. I strongly suspect that that's precisely the atmosphere she's trying to avoid. The legal gray area keeps the business boutique. And I agree that yes, it does indeed to exactly that.

  • Zeb||

    I think she is silly to worry about the corporations, if that really is her position (I haven't watched the video yet). Really top quality stuff is quite labor intensive and takes a lot of care and attention. I don't think it would be so easy to industrialize the real top quality stuff. Northern CA growers already have essentially corporate competition from Mexican cartels who have a much cheaper product, and they do just fine. Also, a lot of the market is the same crunchy crowd who go out of their way to buy local/organic/hand crafted stuff. They aren't about to switch to Marlboro brand joints or something.

  • shamalamadingdong||

    exactly! Fuck Heather Donohue "I am OK with ruining people's lives because it gives me local capitalism".

    Fuck that. Legalize the goddamn plant, and let the best producer win.

  • Watoosh||

    That's not what she said, douchebag. I think the point is pretty clear - when pot becomes legal, it's the government that's going to swoop in and fuck things up by taxing and regulating the shit out of small-time producers. It's not that legalization would be a bad thing, but that in this economic system the marijuana industry might well become yet another bullshit government-controlled rent-seeking market like the tobacco industry.

    Really, I've seen many libertarians make this argument before, and nobody's had a problem with it before. On balance, I think aligning with "tax-and-regulate" liberals is a good idea if it helps end prohibition, but the "tax-and-regulate" part of that deal is still a problem that needs to be addressed.

  • Heather Donohue||

    But, i might lose my jerb.

  • shamalamadingdong||

    "It's not that legalization would be a bad thing..."

    My, how generous of you.

    Legalize it and let the free market decide who is the best producer.

  • shamalamadingdong||

    Fucking threaded comments!!!!!!!!!!

    That was a reply to Watoosh.

  • Paul||

    Right now there are no rent-seekers like Philip-Morris to screw everything up, basically.

    Wait, what? Rent-seeking is precisely what they're ending up with in California:

    [Chris] Wilson says he's a small-time grower who ekes out a living cultivating medical marijuana for himself and a collective. "It's borderline legal, illegal, gray-area stuff," he says, "breeding high strain, high quality, high medicinal marijuana in a sacred way."

    Wilson says Proposition 19 would put him out of business. He wouldn't be able to grow enough to supply himself , much less the collective. And he'd have to pay taxes and fees to operate.

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/10.....tcontainer

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Right now there are no rent-seekers like Philip-Morris to screw everything up, basically.

    Perhaps not. But one could easily argue that the medical marijuana industry is actively lobbying to keep wide-scale legalization from happening because it screws up their monopoly. And it worked with Prop 19.

  • David Spade||

    She's developing 'Grow Girl' for television?

    I liked this show the first time I saw it.......when it was called 'Weeds.'

  • Zeb||

    Yes, every show involving weed is the same. There can only ever be one show on any given subject.

  • ||

    Fuck Showtime. I don't give a god damn if 'Grow Girl' is an exact copy of 'Weeds', so long as it is not on a premium channel. Broadcast TV or Youtube, don't put it on OWN or some other bullshit.

  • anon||

    I agree; I'm not paying 13 bucks a month to watch literally 2 shows a week.

    That's what torrents are for.

  • ||

    Even though prohibition is despicable in every way, I'd be sad if the current rent seekers were driven out of business by more corporations that could deliver a more consistent product at substantially reduced prices.

  • Paul||

    The most important thing about this blogpost is the advertising I'm getting in the sidebar. "BBW Romance, Start Searching Now!"

    What's the connection?

  • Jeff||

    Although this chick is kind of a BBW version of Renee Zellweger, I suspect it's actually related to your browsing history.

  • Paul||

    Yeah, I'm on a work laptop that I keep as clean as a whistle. Translation: Reason.com is the edgiest thing that gets browsed on it. And I'm on a test user with a profile that just got created this morning.

    So it ain't my browsing history.

    Had it been on my home computer... anything goes.

  • ||

    Reason never ever asks THE pertinent question: is she single?

  • robc||

    imdb doesnt answer that question.

    It does mention that she got $4M as her cut for Blair Witch.

  • Paul||

    $4m? Wow... I thought those small-time indy actors got a fixed salary. That sounds like she got points.

  • anon||

    How much did Blair Witch gross? It sounds like she robbed herself in the contract.

  • ||

    iirc, blair witch had the highest gross/money spent ratio of any movie ever made

    paranormal activity might have since beaten it. have no idea

    but at the time, it was THE highest

  • Mainer||

    You Grow, Girl !

  • Tim||

    Next on Reason.tv: Heather Donahue on twenty years to life in the Federal prison system.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    She was in an early episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, claiming that Charlie fathered her monster child. "I will smash your face into a... into a jelly!"

  • ||

    she;s smarter than all the idiots who decry medical marijuana, in a perfect is the enemy of the good kind of way

    medical mj has done a lot to help move the cause of outright legalization forward, it has helped many legitimate patients get the MJ they need, it has helped many others get the MJ they want by pretending that they need it, and it has helped normalize pot for millions of americans.

    win/win/win/win

  • anon||

    Except half of America smokes or has smoked pot. The pretense needs to be dropped; nobody cares except WASP's in DC.

  • ||

    except prior to medical MJ, not a single legalization initiative came close to passing iirc

    now, that is a reality, AND several more (including in my state) are on the ballot

    LOTS of people who tried/experimented/occasionally smoked pot were still anti-legalization

    many more old folks, etc. who have never even SEEN pot will now vote for legalization after getting medical MJ and/or seeing that people can get it legally w/o the collapse of society(tm)

    it used to stagger me how politically inepty and unreealistic so many are, but when ideology , and especially a niche ideology, is adhered to, it makes it nigh impossible to be pragmatic.

    so, i have some empathy for those who decry medical mj. but they are still woefully wrong

  • ||

    I really liked Ms. Donahue's comment calling it a business of the People, by the people and for the people.Brilliant! If the Government would get out of the incarceration business,and reschedule cannabis and hemp,the peoples business would overgrow the World in a very small period of time.Without a doubt.

  • ||

  • Jason S.||

    By creating this grey area, you're actually creating a system that works," says Donahue. "This is a system on a human scale, and that's part of why it works so well.

    She's right.

    This is exactly what needs to happen with alcohol. It's about damn time we think of alcohol as medicine. It's not a recreational beverage. It's a spiritual roborative.

    Legalize cannabis full-on, and give alcohol medicinal status. Or let's bring back prohibition for both. And make tobacco illegal, while we're at it. No more monkey business.

    The beast of Babylon is not a winged creature with fangs. It's booze and pot, ya geezers.

  • Jason S.||

    Seriously, I understand where Donahue is coming from -- but what about growers in northern California who make similar arguments for keeping cannabis fully illegal? Just as long as the War on Drugs targets big Mexican growers, they're all for keeping cannabis on the black market.

    The Eureka-Times Standard wrote something about it a couple months ago, and had some figures from Cato Institute

    It's a thought (legalization) that strikes fear not only into the hearts of pot growers but also the owners of local car dealerships, restaurants and boutiques. It's money that's spent for child daycare, to buy real estate and to start local businesses.

    Sounds pretty hypocritical or something.

  • Jason S.||

    And why don't we restrict alcohol production? Who rules most of the alcohol market? Busch, Coors, Gallo? I don't really know, but doesn't Donahue's plan work for alcohol as well? That's what the Rasta family said. I believe it.

  • Deutsch||

    Except half of America smokes or has smoked pot. The pretense needs to be dropped; nobody cares except WASP's in DC. many more old folks, etc. who have never even SEEN pot will now vote for legalization after getting medical MJ and/or seeing that people can get it legally w/o the collapse of society(tm)

  • ||

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