Grow Girl

An Interview from Identity Theory

Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of Growgirl

By Matt Borondy | Published: April 18, 2013

9781592407040 Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of <em>Growgirl</em>At the age of 34, Heather Donahue meditated for a few days, then burnt the remains of her acting career, which included starring in The Blair Witch Project and the Steven Spielberg miniseries Taken, to begin a more organic life growing medical marijuana with her new boyfriend in Northern California.

Growgirl: The Blossoming of an Unlikely Outlaw is Heather’s very funny memoir of finding her way in the hippie pot-growing community and inventing a more enlightened, post-Hollywood identity out of smoke and ashes.

In her interview with Identity Theory, the writer formerly known as The Girl fromThe Blair Witch Project talks about ideal marijuana legislation, misunderstandings about pot farmers, and the future of her writing career.

Mike Doughty said in our 2006 interview, “I’d like to get weed recognized as a drug that people can become seriously addicted to and wreck their lives with. I don’t judge drugs—I stopped doing ’em, but I love ’em. But this nonsense that weed is some kind of light non-drug is pure fiction; a major problem in our society.” What is your response to that?

Just because something is powerful, doesn’t mean we need to take it away from people. From children, sure, but not from the grownup among us. I don’t think that anybody is suggesting that cannabis isn’t a powerful plant, it clearly is. That’s why there’s all this political and economic hubbub around it. It’s like the Force, Luke. You can use it in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have the opportunity to choose responsibly. Free, right? That’s the best of our national brand. America: Home of the Babysat. Just doesn’t have the same ring.

In the year-plus since Growgirl was released, major transformations occurred in the marijuana policies of several states. Going forward, what does the ideal pot policy look like at the state level?

It doesn’t really matter all that much what happens at the state level until there’s a Federal change. However, I think Colorado is on the right track. Let legalization happen, let there be enough regulation to protect the consumer. Let’s make sure there aren’t pesticides in there that trump the medicinal value of cannabis, but let’s also allow people to grow their own. That’s what legalization means. You can grow your own, freely. That is absolutely not what they’re getting in Washington State. The policy that they’re working on estimates 3 tons of weed produced a year. They will be awarding (and I use that word deliberately) 200 grower permits. That’s like handing a golden ticket to the highest (sorry) political bidder. Ick. It won’t go like that in California. The industry here is too big and folks are finally starting to unite to protect their livelihoods. I think true criminality in the Cannabusiness would be taking it away from the people who built it. Not the cartels–like any big business they can and will and do diversify. I’m talking about the family grower, the single mom, the artist, the musician, the writer, the small town whose economy depends on everyone having their little slice of the pie. Cannabis is the only high-value commodity whose resulting wealth is distributed at the mom-and-pop level. It provided opportunities for entrepreneurship during the crash of ’08 and beyond, especially where I live in Nor Cal. I think the small grower and dispensary entrepreneurs should be considered in any legalization discussion.

What’s the most common misconception people have about pot farming?

I think people don’t see the families who grow. I think they don’t see the grannies whose pensions aren’t cutting it. I think people don’t understand how entire towns that lost industries like logging are have become not ghost towns, but thriving, diverse communities. It’s not all cartels and guns. In my experience, it’s not like that at all.

A character in a novel I just finished reading invents a program that eradicates all online mentions of famous people who want to be anonymous again. Would you have used such a service to start over after leaving Hollywood at 34 if it were possible?

It would be really tempting, but it would also be disingenuous. I am all of these stories, made up of all of these events. The stories I tell myself about those events and how they shape me, even those are fluid. “I am not I” and all of that, because to say “I” is to assume some kind of solidity. Writing Growgirl made me think a lot about that. The rather more diaphanous off-the-page story that I tell myself about myself constantly challenges me to reinterpret my relationship to big, internet-permanent events like Blair Witch, and without that challenge I would be a lesser person. I’m always changing, always growing up and out of what’s come before. Blair Witch repeats on me constantly, like cucumbers or chili, all the better to make peace with it.

Growgirl was your first book, and you’re still quite young. Do you plan to continue to work mostly in personal nonfiction, or are you going to transition to other forms of writing?

I’m working on a novel called Bounds right now. It’s an erotic black comedy about a trio of cancer researchers. The theme is love and other consumptive malignancies. At the same time, I’m launching a business called Prettywell. It’s a mix of herbal and lab-tested ingredients for whole bodies. My first four products, about to fledge the nest, are Lift, Feed, Mojo, Buff, and Hump.

Your dog Vito was one of my favorite characters in Growgirl. How’s he doing now?

He is the planet’s finest creature. Intelligent, mellow, with uncanny comedic timing. He’s five now. He does a lot of this:

heather donahue vito 1 500x375 Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of <em>Growgirl</em>

And also this:

heather donahue vito 2 500x333 Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of <em>Growgirl</em>

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Growgirl Book Trailer!

My publisher paid for the trailer. Which was very nice of them. They are good people and are just trying to put books in the world while maintaining the dignity of their venerable brand.

Perhaps that dignity/venerable part explains why there appears to be some hesitation from said publisher about posting this trailer openly on their youtube channel. Presumably because it has boobs. And pot plants. The book has all that too, and more. Be sure to enjoy that Burning Man chapter!

But I digress. I need you to help me share this. It’s fun and gives a good sense of the book’s tone. My amazing friend Kate McCabe directed and Moises Jimenez animated it like some kind of rockstar.


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The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot


This is the sweet spot. This is where I meditate. Not everyday, I’m not that disciplined, but definitely today. The San Francisco skyline makes a pretty nice altar. It’s quiet in the sweet spot, except for the constant arrythmic thrum of tires over rumble strips on the Bay Bridge. It never stops. And while I’m in the sweet spot at least, I never stop paying attention. A river of people between A and B all funnelling into the skyline. Sometimes when I sit here, I can’t help but think about all of them. They remind me how tiny we all are. This might seem like a limiting thing: I’m so tiny so what impact could I possibly have? Or: I’m so tiny, why would I not risk?

My book comes out in about a month. It’s mostly a memoir about finding my place in the world, but that happened while I was growing pot, which is federally illegal, which makes me lose sleep at night. There’s a few weeks left before it’s out. This is also the sweet spot, a tightrope time where there’s no failure or success yet, only possibility.

I’ve wanted to write books since I was a little girl. When I opened the box with my books inside and they actually smelled like books, I cried. Making long-held dreams come true is a dangerous proposition, no matter what they involve. Dreams happen in your head, and so they’re perfect and intimate and sealed up and yours, and so they are engines of faith. Out in the world, solid in the the open air, they get touched and tarnished. The shape is always a little off, not quite the dreamed ideal. Dreams are always in motion. The words in my book aren’t moving anymore and the covers are hard and it’s everything I wanted and so what next? Every interview so far closes with that. What next? Um, can I please enjoy this for a second? Wait–since when do I ask for permission? Yes, I can enjoy this. Yes, I will. Enjoy this. No shit yet on the fan. The spot is sweet for shortness.


Please join me again next week, when I’ll be feeling less pensive.


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Weed Wars: Is the Cannabiz Ready for its Close-Up?

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.


As a former pot grower, I took a particular interest in the premier of Discovery’s new reality show, Weed Wars last week. As is typical of the pot business, when it comes to the main players, it’s a sausage fest.

There’s no central female character, except there is: The plants themselves, the ones that produce seedless and valuable sinsemilla are all female. Despite what you see, Harborside is the house the Girls built. The gents of Weed Wars serve the Girls’ evolution and dispersion, and in return their family business grossed $21 million in sales last year. That’s some good medicine in this economy.

Because the medical marijuana trade in California is obligated to be non-profit, all excess money made at Harborside goes into patient services and charitable donations, which makes it seem less like criminal enterprise and more like a model of sustainable, community-level capitalism. Putting this into greater perspective is Jon, one of the growers featured on the show, who worked for a mortgage company before he tried his hand at the ganja trade, “My real job, ” he says, “was attempting to scam people out of their life savings to get them into homes they couldn’t afford.”

Unlike the industry that exploited that avenue for accumulating wealth, the Cannabusiness is not in need of a bailout. It’s one of the few growth sectors in a still-struggling economy. Its growth was so explosive in Los Angeles, that the city council stepped in to shut down dispensaries as numbers mushroomed into the high hundreds.

Steve DeAngelo, Harborside’s CEO, who looks a bit like Willie Nelson in a Don Draper costume: suit, hat and long gray braids, says, “I was one of these lucky people who finds out at a young age what it is that’s important to them.” He’s both impish and sincere when he says, “I’m an agent of change, working to bring the truth about the cannabis plant to the rest of the world.” Like any good protagonist, I’m rooting for him to win, but what that might look like is up for grabs. Does a victory for Steve mean legalization across the board? It’s hard to imagine Harborside holding up to that, which is probably why his brother Andrew, a former theater guy and current general manager, said on Bill O’Reilly said that he doesn’t support the recreational legalization of cannabis. The premiere episode of Weed Wars does nothing if not point up the very gray area between medical and recreational that some patients occupy.

Steve explains: “Whether or not they realize it, most regular cannabis users are using cannabis for the purpose of enhancing their wellness. They may be using it to spark their creativity or their libido or to get a longer night’s sleep. All of those things are legitimate wellness uses.” I agree. My doctor’s recommendation is not for any of those things, but I’ve used the pot purchased via that recommendation for all of the above and more.

The medicinal/recreational question is interesting because it raises the question of how we define medicine. I once got a doctor’s recommendation at HempCon for $50 and a record-free claim of PMS. Is that gaming the system? Or is that providing my uninsured self some relief? Should insomnia be a qualifying condition? Anxiety? How about an acute giggle deficit? There’s a reason for the saying “laughter is the best medicine” and marijuana is indisputably a laugh-bringer. The very real danger of playing this semantic game is, of course, the potential loss of hard-won ground for patients with debilitating diseases.

Moderate recreational use shouldn’t be seen as a denigration of the medical marijuana system — nor should the millions of dollars that Harborside brings to the City of Oakland. The making of money and the provision of medicine are not mutually exclusive. They can both contribute to the well-being of the patients, the growers and the communities in which they are neighbors. Or they can cross the Rubicon and become corrupt. I look forward to this Thursday’s new episode of Weed Wars to watch which way the DeAngelo’s are headed.



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