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Inside the Marijuana Mineshaft

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Conceptually, marijuana and global warming share a few things in common. Both have been the subject of controversy for decades, polarizing everyone from politicians of the same party to members of the same family. Also, both have been distorted by those with a political agenda, whether it’s the supposed dangers of pot or the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.

We really are a bunch of complainers. We get stuck in traffic, our airplane flight gets delayed or canceled, our cable TV goes out, we can’t get a signal on our smartphone. We gripe regularly about how getting through the day in 2014 has become soooo hard. But to the people who lived only 150 years ago — and for centuries before that — our 21st-century life would have seemed like Eden.

Not so very long ago, figuring out your life wasn’t a quest for self-fulfillment; it was a matter of survival. Governments offered no social-safety nets like welfare, unemployment, food stamps or Social Security. On the other hand, Social Security wasn’t all that necessary: The average person didn’t live past 45. So it’s hardly surprising that the average American living in the mid-1800s might dream, futilely, of a better life — or, fancifully, of getting rich.

When wagon trains started traveling the Oregon Trail, the 2,200-mile route stretching from Independence, MO, all the way to the Willamette Valley, pioneers began to envision new lives for themselves rather than just dream. But luck was needed: Of the half-million who traveled the trail, 10 percent died. Still, it must have been inspiring to view the Rocky Mountains on the horizon after weeks of crossing the Great Plains. Hopes must have soared.

A lot of pioneers got no further than those mountains. They were the miners. Some continued west to the gold fields of California. Others struck out for Idaho. Colorado had made its ore discoveries too. A brief gold rush occurred there in 1859. CBut it hardly compared to the silver boom of 20 years later, which transformed the state, increasing both its population and its wealth.

A flood of miners pushed into the rugged elevations, convinced they could make their fortune with just a little bit of luck. But if life had been difficult before, the mining profession proved infinitely tougher, what with mountain storms, frigid cold, crushing fatigue and loneliness. You found a mountain gully and began to dig, dig, dig — and dig some more — and prayed that the next time you swung your pickax, the earth would yield forth its riches.

Fast-forward to 2000, the year when Colorado voters legalized marijuana for medical patients.

Suddenly, with a doctor’s recommendation, a resident of the Rocky Mountain State could possess up to two ounces and cultivate up to six marijuana plants.

High in the mountains, one Coloradoan pondered this new law. His small house occupied a swath of flat ground at 8,500 feet, but his 900-square-foot residence offered no room for an indoor grow, and his rocky property was hardly conducive to sowing an outdoor garden. A few hundred feet from his front door, however, another possibility presented itself: the long-sealed entrance to an abandoned silver mine, over 100 years old.

The mine still had a small access hole. If you had the nerve, you could crawl through it into the mine itself — which is exactly what the owner of this small alpine estate found himself doing one afternoon.

Once inside, he whacked at the walls of the mineshaft with a rock hammer to see if he’d get lucky and unearth any silver that those bygone miners might have missed. He wasn’t expecting to get rich quick: When you mine silver, a whole lot of minerals come along with it, especially lead, which means that it has to be processed. His afternoon of prospecting was an idle exploration and, needless to say, fruitless.

He paused in the darkness to smoke a bowl. As stoners know, it’s not unusual for a good toke of great weed to unleash a torrent of creative energy. Suddenly, it dawned on him: “If I had enough resources, I could grow weed in here!”

Ah, yes, resources: They’re always necessary, but the will to do it has to be there — especially when you’re proposing to convert an abandoned mineshaft into a marijuana garden. It also helps to have some construction skills — plus a little help from your friends.

Fortunately, the resources existed!

The next step was renting an excavator and enlarging the entrance of the mineshaft. Then, very visibly so that his neighbors could see, the landowner and his workers made a big show of closing up the mine. When asked what they were doing, they explained that they were sealing up the mineshaft for good so kids wouldn’t be tempted to explore inside.

In truth, a heavy, intricately locking disguised door was being constructed — one that nobody but members of a “miner co-op” would be able to pass through.

The landowner waited for his neighbors to go on vacation so he could dig a trench secretly from his home to the mine in order to run water and power lines — including the installation of a router for Internet capability.

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