“Guerrilla planting:” how some pot activists make a statement

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The capitol buildings of Vermont are guarded by surveillance cameras and the Capitol Police Department.

On July 4, thousands of people stood on and around the lawns to celebrate Independence Day. The following week, while the legislature was not in session, a tourist alerted an officer that cannabis might be growing in the flowerbeds.

“We absolutely believe they were intentionally planted,” says Matthew Romei, chief of the Capitol Police Department. The state legalized recreational cannabis in 2018, but it still prohibits people from growing the plant in public. Officers expected to find one stray plant, but they dug up more than 30 immature stems.

Romei says it would be nearly impossible to find a perpetrator in the surveillance footage. “They could have literally walked down the sidewalk and sprinkled seeds,” he says.

Deviant planting—called “guerrilla planting”—is one method of protest for pot activists. Some guerrilla planters secretly lay seeds on fertile public land because they actually want to grow plants to consume, and these people return to the site to water and cultivate their plants.

I went on a hike, and I found a location that was very rich in soil

However, in the case of Vermont, police suspect someone was simply trying to make a statement. Cannabis seeds do not necessarily grow on public land without a person tending to them, but activists sometimes call for more liberal cannabis policies through the clandestine sowing of seeds.

“We spend a lot of time making sure voices can be heard—that is an American tradition, is to seek redress of the government for your grievances,” says Romei. “And if someone wants to make a statement about cannabis, okay, cool.”

Guerrilla planting has also been happening in Canada. Michael Gallagher, an activist in the Niagara Region of Ontario, says he planted seeds in the lawn of the courthouse in St. Catharines, Ont. before legalization.

“I put seeds in the flowerbeds and watered them. They knew I was taking care of them,” says Gallagher. Although he says the city dug them up, “I think the act of cultivating is a form of protest in and of itself.”

Leading up to Mother’s Day, around the year 2010, Gallagher drove to Walmart and The Home Depot and browsed the hanging flower pots. He carried loose seeds in his pocket and deposited two seeds in each hanging pot.

“I would think some people kind of got a nice surprise in their Mother’s Day gift,” he says.

Capitol Police was dispatched to inspect the garden (pictured above) and front lawn when a visitor notified staff of a plant resembling cannabis sprouting among the flowers. CNN

Gallagher also used the guerrilla approach to grow his own supply. When he first grew cannabis in 1975, he chose a site in a provincial park at the border of Alberta and British Columbia, he says. He would go back every two weeks to check on the plants, careful not to break many branches or create a detectable path.

“I went on a hike, and I found a location that was very rich soil, nutrient-rich soil and (near) a glacier-fed creek,” he says. “Most guerrilla growers will look at places where there’s very rich soil and a supply of water.”

In Vermont, the police chief suspects the cannabis plants thrived because the gardeners frequently water and fertilize the flower beds, while the cannabis stems were likely too small for the gardeners to immediately sight.

“You could plant a piece of lumber out there, and it would probably grow a tree,” says Romei. “If we allowed marijuana or hemp to grow out here, it would be a logistical disaster for us because, next thing you know, people would want to grow corn.”

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