Fake-marijuana business tries to give weed new image
By Adam Gorlick
By Adam Gorlick
GREENFIELD, Mass. — Joseph White's home office is like a modern-day hippie hangout.
Books on Buddhism and yoga mingle with business planners and a laptop computer. An acoustic guitar rests next to a shuffle of sheet music for "Mr. Tambourine Man," just across the room from a fax machine.
And then there are the marijuana stalks. Towering 6-footers. Pint-sized plants for personal medical use. He even has a few ripe buds kicking around on a desk, not far from his cell phone.
His stash is for sale, but it won't get you stoned. These lifelike botanicals are made of silk and wood.
Behold, counterfeit cannabis.
During the past two years, White — a trim 51-year-old with thinning hair and a small stud in his left earlobe — has rolled his pro-pot activism and business savvy into New Image Plants, a startup company that sells the make-believe marijuana online.
"The business name reflects exactly what I'm trying to do — create a new image for these plants," he said. "They're beautiful plants and people should be able to enjoy them without fear of arrest."
White won't say whether he smokes pot or has in the past. But he began pushing for marijuana legalization about seven years ago after talking to one of his sons about anti-drug advertising.
"He wanted to know why adults were talking down to kids and trying to scare them," White said. While he doesn't condone the use of marijuana by minors, White rebukes the notion that pot is a harmful drug that inevitably leads to the use of harder drugs.
"Kids know those claims aren't true," White said. "So when they hear an anti-drug message like that, they just discount it."
So he started a nonprofit group in 1999 called Change the Climate, which advocates for the legalization and taxation of marijuana and better education about the drug.
"My vision was that I needed to tell the truth about marijuana," White said.
By getting his artificial plants into private residences and public spaces, White is betting that more people will start appreciating the natural beauty of the real thing's jagged, seven-point leaves, lithe stems and robust buds instead of thinking of marijuana as an evil weed.
His early customers were people looking for gag gifts, party planners in search of unique decorations and law enforcement agencies needing replicas for training missions.
Then Hollywood came calling, and New Image Plants hit a financial high.
In April, White received an order for 355 plants from "Weeds," the Showtime cable television series about a single suburban soccer mom who deals marijuana to support her family.
Julie Bolder, the show's set director, needed to concoct a grow room stocked with what would look like $1 million worth of marijuana. She called White after stumbling onto his Web site.
"I looked hard to find somebody to make us good weed, and Joe did the best job," Bolder said. White's pot will make its television debut in the show's second season, which airs in mid-August.
"All the weed you see on the show is Joe's weed," Bolder said.
The order brought in about $40,000, about five times what White said his company had earned since it sprang up 18 months ago.
Suddenly, the business became bigger than he expected — or needed.