Flashback Friday: The Secret History Of Sinsemilla

Was David Wheeler the man who brought sinsemilla to North America, using David Crosby as a guinea pig?
Flashback Friday: The Secret History Of Sinsemilla
Andre Grossmann

Writing for the “Brain Damage Control” column, Paul Krassner explored the highly potent strain of cannabis, sinsemilla, in the February, 1999 issue of High Times magazine.

Little did a certain photojournalist in Mexico know what he would be unleashing when he took a particular photo some time in the late 1950s. Nor did a horny 19-year-old who was in the middle of masturbating while searching for bare-breasted African women in National Geographic realize what fate would lead him to when he came upon that photo.

The full-color photo, which accompanied an article about beatniks who had left San Francisco and the Lower East Side, showed a trio of them—Zen guru Tom Newman, writer Lionel Olay and old Pancho Villa war hero Pancho Lepe—sitting around a lush green tropical paradise. They were in Yelapa.

The 19-year-old was David Wheeler. He was looking at this photo of the three grooviest-looking dudes he had ever seen. They were drinking mint tea in front of a papaya tree, and they were obviously stoned on grass.

In 1961 he went to Mexico to find them. In Guadalajara, he traded a ’54 Ford station wagon for four horses with saddles. Then he and an army buddy and their girlfriends took off for Yelapa. It was a treacherous, month-long journey, 380 miles across mountains. Only the two men made it all the way. The rains had beaten the color from their Levis and T-shirts into their skin. Wheeler’s friend was tied over one of the now-rawboned horses because he was practically shitting himself inside out. They were saved by Indians who had never seen white men before, let alone blue ones.

Soon even the men who were in that photo heard about these two gringos riding from Puerto Vallarta down the Mascota River through all that jungle to the coast.

“Hey, kid,” said Lionel Olay, “come and stay with us at Pancho Lobos.”

Wheeler was elated to be invited to the hippest community in the world. One day Olay told him that Juanito would bring something special down the hill—marijuana with no seeds. They called it sinueso. Boneless grass. At a time when you could buy pressed bricks of Mexican grass in San Diego, 100 at a time for $8 a kilo, Juanito wanted $80 for a quarter-kilo. Olay came up with the money fast.

“The grass you’re smoking in the states,” he said, “has about three percent active ingredients. This has fifteen percent. They’re all on the upper end. None of this laying around, drooling on yourself and give-me-more-doughnuts. You’re going to want to do adventurous things.”

It had a sweet smell, like no grass Wheeler had ever sniffed before. He took two hits, feeling like he was about to pass out, so he pressed against a post, hanging on to avoid falling down and breaking his head. Meanwhile, the others carried on their erudite conversation while continuing to smoke those joints.

“Sit down,” Olay warned him. “Watch it, that’s the first time you smoked this stuff.”

A year later, after smoking nothing but that stuff, Wheeler and Tom Newman went to live with the Nahuatl Indians, to live under the glacier with the people who grew the best grass in the world. Then to go up in Michoacan with bigotones—bandits with Zapata mustaches—and their Michoacan green, grown only by the Indians. But how did it get there in the first place?

An 80-year-old Indian told Wheeler a story he’d heard from his grandfather. In 1510, the explorer Hernando Cortez came there with a boatload of Moors, who laid around and drank coconut beer. But 10 of them hiked all the way to Paso de Cortez, between the two volcanos of Vera Cruz and Tenochtitlan. Right there was where that superb grass had been grown.

The Moors had brought their favorite grass, from Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan. They saw the most beautiful apples and figs grown by the Indians, and asked if they could grow this marijuana for them. And that was the introduction of cannabis to the Western Hemisphere.

Bringing Sinsemilla to Another Hemisphere

Newman got up at seven every morning, sitting in his underwear on a serape, meditating and smoking joints for four hours. He asked Wheeler what he wanted to do next.

“Well, I thought I’d become a holy man like you.”

“No, that’s not in the cards for you. I recognize your glands. I see the way you look at women. You’re going to have to go through the whole householder thing, read Gurdjieff, Siddhartha, marry, have kids, then come back.”

“Bullshit. I’d rather have adventure.”

“OK, why don’t you grow a ton of seedless and bring it back to the States? We spent seven months with these two tribes, learning how to recognize and kill the male plants. Why don’t you bring a meaningful amount back to the States and fuck with the main chakra up there? Rattle some kundalini lines, which are dormant anyway.”

It took two years to get it together. First, begging Indians to sell him handfuls of seeds. Then, going down the hill to search for grass traffickers with integrity. Planting a field and trying to explain why he would come back and destroy half the plants. Dealing with a semantic crisis: Killing the machos was a negative symbol to Mexicans. You don’t kill the males—who’s gonna fight?

Finally, a ton. But Wheeler, who thought smuggling would be fun, now didn’t have a clue on how to move the stuff. He sought out an expert called Buckwheat, who fronted him $65,000. And they began to move the stuff—two kilos here, 200 kilos there—teaching people along the way. Their personal stash was four kilos of the stickiest, shiniest, psychedelic grass.

Buckwheat, who was in the music business, gave some to the Byrds and to David Crosby, who announced on stage, “I just smoked the most fantastic grass. It’s called San Simeon, and it comes from right up the coast.” San Simeon, of course, is the name of the William Randolph Hearst estate. Wheeler corrected Crosby. This grass is sinsemilla, and try this here, it’s Michoacan green. Crosby smoked a little, went on stage again and said, “I just smoked the best Michigan green.”

And that was the start of it—at least, according to David Wheeler. However, in Deep Cover, former DEA supervisor Michael Levine writes that Wheeler “was eager to impress me—too eager. He told stones, all of which involved him doing some outrageous, inventive or ingenious feat, usually illegal and usually in the company of some famous trafficker, corrupt politician or Hollywood star—stories, I noticed, that were difficult, if not impossible, to verify.

At times he spoke of things any prudent man—even an informer—would be silent about, such as his father’s alleged CIA work. He even hinted at his own CIA connections. He seemed unafraid to claim knowledge of everything, but was obviously expert at nothing.

“When he claimed responsibility for the introduction of sinsemilla to Mexico, I asked him a couple of questions about what wealth or property he had. Introducing sinsemilla to Mexico, in the drug world, was roughly equivalent to inventing the wheel. He should have earned hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. He spoke openly of taking part in drug deals that sounded as big as a hostile buyout of General Motors.

When I learned that he was broke and that the government [Customs] was now fully supporting him and his two kids, I checked the faces of [fellow DEA agent] Hoopel and the Customs agents sitting around the room listening with rapt attention, and saw not a glimmer of suspicion. He had them 100% conned. But then I had to admit that while his claims were wild, he hadn’t really said anything that could be proven a lie.”

Responds Wheeler: “Everything Michael Levine writes is fiction, but it’s all about him and his exploits. He’s the most famous narc in the US. We did a two-year operation to sustain the governments who were bringing cocaine in. That’s what I arranged, and it drove him up the wall. We used him for three weeks to play a Puerto Rican pimp in Panama. If you read Levine’s book, you’re reading my enemy’s book.”

Incidentally, speaking of outrageous feats, Wheeler claims to have been celibate for the last seven years. Does that include masturbation?

“Less and less,” he says.

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