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Colombian marijuana symbolized the sprawling, commercialized 70s drug culture that would eventually lead to notorious cartels and an awesome Netflix series called Narcos. Back then though, marijuana was under critical attack for the violence that accompanied its trafficking. The pale to dark green pot with the unmistakable smokey taste and aroma had become the staple moneymaker for a Ford Motor Company sized illicit industry, Colombian marijuana was the Big Mac of the weed world.
When Colombian grass first started becoming available—and then only to insiders—in the late 60s, its head blowing potency was a revelation. "I didn't know what high was until I smoked Colombian," marvels one 60s veteran. "We'd smoked pot more as a political gesture than to really experience its consciousness-expanding effects, Mexican marijuana was never that good. Few people kept a regular stash, because what was the point? Then a friend turned me onto What he called potent "Colombian Pale"—I thought he was talking about a bucket. It was psychedelic—time and space distortions and the whole bit. People started getting stoned every day and really enjoying it; It became a central activity in our lives." Now all this makes you realize that in Season 2 of Narcos on Netflix that Pablo Escobar was smoking a lot of weed as the shit hit the fan in his last few months alive. If it was the best Colombian weed, then Pablo was tripping when he thought he had a shot at surviving.
Colombian always delivers an admittedly pungent smell and taste. Columbian Gold marijuana strains have such a unique smell that it makes it very difficult for dealers to pass off another strain as the real thing. Connoisseur smokers know when they fire it up that this is the real McCoy, an authentic Colombian Gold marijuana strain, and that their cash was well spent.
There are said to be 26 naturally different strains of marijuana found in Colombia, but the pale gold-colored breed is peculiar to the Sierra Nevada mountains that ring the small Caribbean coast city of Santa Marta. Substantial quantities of the pale marijuana are also grown in the Guajira peninsula, the wilderness region east of Santa Marta that borders the Venezuelan frontier.
La Guajira, at any rate, is where the tons of Colombian Gold ticketed for The States are collected for loading onto smugglers crafts. Local marimberos, or marijuana traders, explain that a surprisingly large amount, perhaps in loads of half- and one-ton, are picked up from the Guajira coast by Americans piloting small yachts, sloops and other relatively light sailing craft.
Beware of Pirates
Sailing a load of Colombian Gold really takes big cojones. Not only is the sail from Santa Marta to the US eastern seaboard a 1,000-mile haul directly into the prevailing winds all the way, with no possibility of rescue in the event of sinking or hijacking, and naked vulnerability to government surveillance. The intrepid small-craft pot runner must also contend with real pirates (yes, like the movie Captain Phillip with Tom Hanks). There really are pirates out there, and not the kind you see on STARZ's Black Sails. They infest the coastal waters of Colombia and the cut-throat dealers on shore.
The dealing scene on the coast has gotten about as nasty as you can imagine. Large-scale buys are rigidly controlled by the local cartels, which metes out pistolero justice to any supplier, especially gringos, ambitious enough to offer Colombian Gold marijuana strains at less than cartel set prices.
Literally millions of dollars a day are being pumped into the pockets of thugs who five years ago didn't have a pot to piss in, with most of the bucks being fronted by every multi-national crime conglomerate including, according to local rumor, the CIA and other sovereign nation's intelligence agencies. None of the parties to this highly-organized, strictly-disciplined structure are about to see it muddied up by a bunch of freelance independents.
Still, there are those gringo sailors skilled, daring, and lucky enough to make it through the pirate blockade and the marimbero monopoly, exchanging flashlight signals with the beach before 50 lb bales of pressed Santa Marta buds are chugged out on launches or floated out on the tide.
When Colombian Gold marijuana strains first started becoming available in the late 60s, its mind blowing potency was a revelation. “I didn't know what high was until I smoked Colombian,” marveled one 60s veteran. “We'd smoked pot more as a political gesture than to really experience its consciousness-expanding effects; Mexican marijuana was never that good. Few people kept a regular stash, because what was the point? Then a friend turned me on to what he called 'Colombian Pale,' a Colombian Gold marijuana strain. I thought he was talking about a bucket. It was psychedelic time and space distortions and the whole bit. People started getting stoned every day, and really enjoying it; It became a central activity in our lives.”
For some unknown reason, the Mexican marijuana which then dominated the weed smoking culture had a quality of often leaving its smokers wondering if they were really stoned. Thus there was not a big business in it. Some people supplemented their incomes by dealing ounces of Mexican, but few were making fortunes and you were counted a big dealer if you moved more than a few pounds. When significant shipments of Colombian started making their way north in 1972, the staggering profit potential of marijuana became clear.
“A friend of mine blew into Columbus with 10 pounds of Colombian on a day when there was a rock concert at the arena—in fact, a gay rights rally,” recalls one Ohio State University alumnus. “He rolled up about 20 or 30 joints and we passed them out to people at the event. Passersby must have thought the whole OSU student body was gay, from all the partying that went down on the Oval that day. The guy offed the whole ten pounds within the afternoon at what was back then $50 an ounce, which was then a very high price. Inflation really didn't kick in for pot until the 1980s."
At about the same time it became increasingly obvious how really defenseless US borders were against smuggling. Instead of the 2,000-mile air border with Mexico, there are 5,000 miles of lightly patrolled coastline open to clandestine air and sea shipping from Colombia. Many Navy and Air Force vets found an immensely profitable way to put their large-scale logistical training to use. Comparatively large—one or more tons—shipments started getting through regularly, because they were coming into populous, urbanized Florida, a distribution network quickly sprang up to handle the high-ticket weed. The marijuana business ignited like the stock market before the crash of 1987.
“It was a classic dealing pattern,” comments one early tradesman. “People would keep coming back, asking for more. Ounce-dealers became pound-dealers; pound-dealers started moving 10 pounds, then 20, 30, 100—putting layers of smaller-level guys, who were themselves moving up, between them and the street. And everybody was trying to make enough to bankroll a smuggling scam, which was where the real money was. People made millions, until they either got busted or retired; There just seemed no limit to it during the 1980s.”
But as the 80s rolled on, a new breed of Colombian dealer/smuggler emerged. Due to hard economic times following the stock market's crash in 1987, few young dealers could raise the increasingly huge amounts of cash necessary to pull off a big smuggling deal. The Colombians were now demanding more money for their premium product, too. Those who could produce the money were businessmen and professionals who were locked into their local power-structures enough to get away with the crime. These people were more inclined to resort to gunplay to maintain discipline within their own ranks, eliminate competitors and informers, defend against double-crosses or hijackings, or bring them about.
The geometric progression of the marijuana business had a similarly destructive effect on Colombia's society. Even with the payoff being made through Bahamian banks, the Americans wouldn't even send a man down there until the Colombians gave them a hostage. Do business with a non-cartel Colombia, to get a better price and you're both dead. The quality of street-level Colombian had grown progressively poorer. This is another consequence of the phenomenal expansion in trafficking, the remunerative marijuana. When a typical shipment is five tons or more, it stands to reason that a great deal of it will be poor quality. On such a scale, to provide the individual care and attention once lavished on Colombian pot plants would require a level of manpower and equipment that would make the country's rugged, mountainous growing regions resemble Detroit. As it stands there is already a huge infrastructure creating massive logistical issues.
Even the sneered at "commercial" Colombian packs a healthy stoning punch. Many users consider Colombian well worth the extra money, but they have to concede that the patented Colombian high isn't the same as it used to be. “It's more harsh, almost hard-nosed now; less make-you-fly and more beat-you-to-your-knees,” as one regular smoker characterizes it. “Smoke a joint of Colombian and you feel like you want to lie down and let the party come to you.” A longtime smoke connoisseur explains this effect: “There are 26 different varieties of Colombian Gold marijuana strains grown in Colombia. But because most of the smuggling activity is centered in the northern, coastal provinces, the kind grown there is what most often shows up in the US. It's cultivated at a relatively low altitude, and with marijuana as with coffee, the best kind is mountain-grown. Now if they could just infuse my K cups with THC, that would be something."