Everybody in southern Oregon knew James Bowman. That was the problem.
A lifelong grower who’d been cultivating cannabis in multiple states since he was 16, the 57-year-old Bowman and his “High Hopes Farms,” in unincorporated Applegate in Jackson County, boasted of serving more medical marijuana patients than any other cannabis farm in Oregon.
He’d been growing there for 11 years, just a few years after Oregon legalized medical cannabis. Maybe he was right. Either way, that reputation was one big reason why Bowman was raided in 2012 by federal agents. Feds seized his entire 800-plant crop and 400 pounds of processed cannabis, the supply intended for 200 Oregon medical marijuana patients.
Undaunted—and buoyed by the fact that after a two-year “investigation,” he wasn’t charged with a crime—he rebuilt and welcomed state legislators (as well as the media) to tour his new 40-acre farm, in order to see what a “model… medical marijuana grow” looks like.
As Oregon legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, Bowman also made plans to transition to commercial cultivation for the adult-use market.
Nonetheless, despite all the press and the notoriety, Bowman was broke. His new venture, BlueSky Gardens, was so cash-strapped that at night, Bowman was left alone with the plants and the processed pot. As long as he had a good harvest, all would be well.
He was feeling better when he went to bed on December 16, 2016. As the Mail-Tribune reported, he’d spoken earlier in the day to a potential investor.
He was finally drifting off to sleep around 2 a.m., when he heard the front door open. Into his bedroom barged seven intruders, wielding guns and wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles masks over their faces. One pulled a pillowcase over Bowman’s head. Another started hitting him over the head with a handgun.
Over the next five hours, the intruders subjected Bowman to sustained torture worthy of a cartel initiation rite. They zip-tied his hands and feet and beat him with firewood and a crowbar. They burned him with a butane torch until it ran out of fuel. Then, they found a drill and drilled into his hip until the battery died. All this to get Bowman to tell them where the money was hidden. Since the harvest was still coming in and being processed, there wasn’t any.
The ordeal ended after the stick-up crew stole all the marijuana Bowman had harvested and coerced him to tell them where his video-surveillance equipment was stored. After destroying the visual evidence, they tied Bowman to a chair, stripped off his clothes and doused him with cold water, leaving him to shiver for five hours until his workers showed up the following morning.
In the meantime, the attackers had loaded up a moving van with Bowman’s marijuana—worth as much as $400,000, authorities later estimated—and made their getaway. They didn’t get far before their moving van got stuck in a ditch on a neighbor’s property, which led sheriff’s deputies to be dispatched to the scene, but the assailants still managed to escape the day undetected.
Who would do such a sick and twisted thing, the first “violent robbery” of Oregon’s experiment with legalized marijuana, according to the Oregonian newspaper?
Stupid people: Authorities made an arrest in just over a month, after discovering text messages on a cell phone one of the turtles had left behind at the scene of the crime.
Desperate people: According to results of an investigation, most of the attackers had all traveled great distances to Oregon to raid Bowman’s farm.
And oh, despicable, evil people. At least one of the masterminds behind the raid was one of Bowman’s colleagues: Frank William Foremski, who ran a nearby operation called Meadowlark Farms.
Foremski had met Bowman, he told the newspaper, back in 2015, when Foremski was considering investing in Bowman’s farm. According to court records, Foremski sent a text message to the attackers advising them to cut cables powering security cameras at Bowman’s property.
Foremski is not believed to have been present at the attack, but has nonetheless pleaded guilty to burglary and theft.
So far, “most” of the eight identified suspects in the attack, who range in age from 16 to 39 and hail from Pennsylvania, California and Georgia, have been arrested.
Bowman is not whole. Far from it. It’s July, and he has no plants in the ground. He’s suffering pain and post-traumatic stress disorder following the attack—and now, unless he can find another investor willing to write him a check to cover an upcoming balloon payment coming due, he may lose his farm.
Already behind, the violent attack wiped Bowman out entirely. He’d grown 2,000 pounds of marijuana last year, and what he was able to sell—minus what was stolen—fetched mostly $300 a pound, tops (despite it being sold for $300 an ounce in local stores later, the newspaper reported).
Now, he has no plants in the ground and appears ready to exit the marijuana business for good.
“I’ve gone from high hopes to the death of a dream,” he told the Mail-Tribune. “I would say, at this point knowing what I know now, that I’d prefer it was illegal. It’s very bittersweet in the end.”
You could forgive him for much more virulent animosity, given the trauma he’s just suffered, but his problems with Oregon’s cannabis industry are mostly with regulation.
It’s the same story everywhere regulated pot can be found: Strict rules make it difficult for small-time growers to compete with operations backed by big money. Helpfully, the executive director of the OLCC, which regulates weed in Oregon, recommends having a “strong staff presence 24 hours a day at grow sites,” a luxury small farms operating on a shoestring can’t afford.
The moral here, if there is one, is to keep everything locked down. If you can’t afford to do it, find someone who can—or exit the business entirely. That isn’t exactly heartwarming—but neither is business in for-profit America.