Boonville, California, the town which provides a home for the Anderson Valley Advertiser — the newspaper you’re reading — has a population of about one thousand people. I know three of Boonville’s citizens: Bruce Anderson, the owner and editor of the AVA; Mark Scaramella, the managing editor and a regular contributor to the paper; and Derek Roseboom, who knows almost everyone in town. Almost everyone knows him. With about 1,000 people that’s not difficult. Derek reads the AVA regularly. “I get the local news I want,” he says. “I like the stories because they’re on a wide variety of subjects by a lot of different writers who have unique styles.”
This story is about Derek, whom I met for the first time at a big, public cannabis confab in Ukiah. Recently, over tacos, Derek told me, “Boonville is a good place to chill.” After a life of excitement, he might need chilling. Derek has a style all his own: long hair, a tweed cap, glasses, trousers that are neither long nor short, but somewhere in-between. Tourists in Boonville might point at him and say, “Look at the hippie.” Maybe he is a hippie. He was only about five-years-old at the time of Woodstock and didn’t have the worries of the adults of the Sixties. “As a kid I watched Scooby-Doo and other cartoons,” he says.
The audience at the big, public Ukiah cannabis confab was mostly made up of rowdy growers who wanted to know what Prop 64, which legalized weed for adults, would mean for them and their cash crop. To the best of my recollection, Mendocino County District Two Supervisor, John McCowen, spoke and like a true politician didn’t say much.
Then Tony Linegar got up and said more than he should have said. Once the Ag Commissioner in Mendo with an office in Ukiah, Tony moved south many years ago and became the Ag Commissioner in Sonoma, with an office in Santa Rosa. From Tony’s point of view, marijuana is an agricultural crop. Farmers ought to be able to cultivate it, he explained that evening in Ukiah, much as they cultivate other crops, including pears and potatoes.
That evening, Tony won the respect and applause of the crowd, along with the admiration of Derek and guys like Oaky Joe Munson. Tony also got into trouble with the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors who tried to muzzle him. To a degree, they succeeded. But Tony found a way to say what he wanted to say. On subsequent occasions, he continued to speak out about the county bureaucracy and the hardships suffered by growers. Now, Tony’s retired and living the good life in Hawaii, though he keeps a hand in all things agricultural in Norcal.
For years, Derek Roseboom has been growing cannabis on the outskirts of Boonville. He has won several awards for the best weed at the Emerald Cup, the cannabis country fair, which Tim Blake started in his own living room in Laytonville. Derek has been with the Cup for 13 years and has been a happy camper. After the initial gatherings in Laytonville, Tim moved the Cup to the Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa where it became a big cannabis circus. “I had one of the top three strains five years in a row,” Derek tells me in the downtown office of the AVA, with its booklined walls, posters and buttons and an American flag.
Derek adds, “Those awards at the Cup have provided me with the truest and most accurate reflection of my achievements as a grower in Anderson Valley.” His weed has had some of the highest terpene profiles in the competition. The terpenes translate into flavorful weed. Sadly, Derek’s awards have not yet led to his fortune. “I’m not dying,” he tells me. “I’m gonna be around for a long time and I’m gonna keep on doing what I’ve been doing. Maybe I’ll get more notoriety and maybe I’ll get a small business going.”
In the beginning, Derek explains, there was no fee to enter the competition for the best weed at the Emerald Cup. Scores of farmers who grew one plant or one hundred, entered the contest, which guaranteed them a free ticket. “I heard that there was a year when they started receiving entrees they felt were put in just to get the free entry,” Derek tells me. “They had to change the rules and add a fee to ensure that only the best weed was entered.”
Also, in the beginning, the Cup only accepted weed grown in direct sunlight, which is the kind Derek has always cultivated. Indoor growers felt left out. What about us?, they cried. The rules have changed. In 2020, indoor licensed weed was, for the first time, allowed to enter the competition. Fair enough! This year, Derek has entered two strains. The pandemic messed with the usual timetable. He won’t know if he’ll win until early April.
Like many marijuana growers in Mendo, Derek is not a native son. Born in 1963 in Portage, Michigan, he graduated from high school in 1981 and soon afterwards came to California, where the weather was better than back home. Winters in Portage could be brutal. A cold wind blows from Lake Michigan. For a couple of years, Derek lived in balmy Mill Valley in Marin.
Also, for a time, he shuttled back and forth from California to Michigan, where the local weed is inferior to the Mendo variety. On one occasion, Derek was busted. Michigan cops found 6.8 grams of cannabis in his possession and ten joints, though when the joints were laboratory tested, the results showed that there was no THC. Apparently the cops thought they had nabbed a bigtime dealer. They had a vivid imagination. Now, Derek can laugh about it.
Back then, he posted bail in Michigan and was released from jail. He returned to Norcal and to pay his bills landed two jobs: one at the Great Gatsby pizza joint and another at a Mill Valley coffee roaster, all the while that he lived in a house on spectacular Mt. Tam (Tamalpais). Every so often he was required by law to appear before a Marin County judge who kept waiting for extradition papers to arrive from Michigan. Finally, they came through. Derek was immediately taken into custody and thrown into the Marin County jail. “A real dump,” he calls it. He languished there for about 30 days. While he was behind bars he was joined by a cocaine dealer who posted bail, got out fast and drove off in his BMW.
“Jail was a risky situation,” Derek says, “A couple of dudes wanted to do something bad to me. I told one of the guards, ‘You better get me outta here before you and I see something we don’t want to see happen to me’.” The guard moved Derek to another cell where he had to sleep on the floor, but at least nothing really bad happened to him. Finally, two retired U.S. marshals showed up, took him into custody, handcuffed him, chained him and tossed him into the back of a van, along with a “crazy man” arrested on kidnapping charges. The marshals didn’t head directly to Michigan. Instead, they drove to the State of Washington, where they took care of more business and then headed East.
One night, the driver nearly fell asleep at the wheel and Derek imagined the worst. He was allowed to use the bathroom at a pit stop on the highway, and, though he was a vegan, he ate a Quarter Pounder from a McDonald's, and lived to tell the tale. Back in Michigan, he was assigned a public defender. “A real piece of work,” Derek says. “The lawyer didn’t even bother to look at the so-called charges.” Derek was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ probation.
The judge also imposed a $3,000 fine to cover the expenses of transporting him from California via Washington to Michigan, where he spent about seven more days in jail—all for 6.8 grams of marijuana and 15 joints that were tested in a lab and that came back with zero THC. Some years ago, Derek’s arrest and conviction vanished, or so his lawyer told him. The law moves in mysterious ways.
Over the last few years, Derek has cultivated THC-rich cannabis and has won prizes galore at the Emerald Cup. If he harbors resentments against the criminal justice system, he doesn’t look or sound like he does. As an independent farmer, he’s happy growing his crowd-pleasing, award-winning cannabis strains, especially one that he calls “In the Pines.” Dennis Peron loved “In the Pines.” A Vietnam Veteran and one of the authors of Prop 215, which provided for and legalized “compassionate care,” Peron presented Derek with “The Green Thumb” Award. “It means more to me than anything,” Derek tells me.
What he doesn’t like are the corporate types who throw their weight around in the cannabis industry. Derek tells me: “They push and shove in places where a little stoner/grower can’t push or shove very much if at all. It goes to show that, with the right people at the right time and right place, you can sell anything, including poorly-grown weed.” Still, he’s ecstatic to be growing primo weed in Boonville. “There’s a unique smell and taste to Boonville weed and the buds are really pretty,” he says. He adds, “I couldn’t have fallen into a better place.”
When Derek described the saga of his run-ins with the law to legendary cannabis activist, Pebbles Trippet, she told him, “Don't worry and welcome to Mendocino.”