At this latitude, 20 degrees and some minutes north of the equator, the attitude toward cannabis sativa has tacked through some subtle shifts in the political winds since the United States outlawed the use of marijuana in 1937. Some 40 years later, those winds blew through an old Plymouth sedan.
The car had begun life as part of Haleakala National Park's fleet of vehicles. At some point, someone had used a brush to give the vehicle a coat of "Maui green" house paint. When the driver of the car pulled over in Pukalani, the rolling relic was a welcomed sight for the young man standing on the shoulder of the road.
In those days, hitchhiking was illegal. The county prohibition was part of an island backlash against the hippy invasion. If memory serves, sticking your thumb out could result in a $500 fine. You could, however, just stand in the light and wait for a kindhearted driver to offer a ride. The wait was never that long, even for an obvious malihini.
The driver was just as obviously an Upcountry local, grizzled and deeply tanned. The hands on the steering wheel were gnarled, mute testimony to a life of manual labor.
"Headed to town?" the driver asked through the car's cranked-down window. "Climb in." Once underway, the driver asked the usual question. "How long you been on Maui?"
"Not long. A little over a year," the passenger replied. "I was on Oahu for five years before I came over. My motorcycle broke down. Don't have a car."
The driver nodded, keeping his eyes on the highway that had been straightened and rebuilt just the year before. As usual, midday traffic was light. The car rolled along at an easy pace. It was easy enough to talk over the sound of the wind through the windows.
"You must have seen a lot of changes growing up on Maui," the passenger said.
"I'm not a Maui boy. Like you, came from Oahu." The driver glanced sideways at the longhaired haole and smiled. "It was either come Maui or go to O.P. You know, Oahu Prison."
The car rolled on. The passenger had no idea what to say next. When in doubt, don't. With the air of a born storyteller, the driver let the unspoken question hang in the air. Hana Highway was in sight when the driver continued.
"My partner and I were doing a little pakalolo farming over Kailua side. Pretty good business. Not so much sell to locals. Soldiers and sailors, especially the popolo kine, pretty much main customers. Partner smoked too much of the crop while running the tractor on a hillside. He huli the tractor. Make die dead. Cops come. I ended up in court. Judge say I had a choice, leave the island or off to O.P. So I went Maui to live with a cousin. That was 30 years ago. Haven't smoked since."
According to more than one story told, there was a time when Hawaii judges routinely kept the prison population down by giving defendants guilty of less-serious crimes the choice of moving off the island.
Then there was the guy who complained about hippies. "Befo' da hippies, I grew 'em in the front yard. After the (rhymes with docking) hippies, had to grow 'em in the backyard."
It wasn't until the island became widely known as the source of "Maui Wowee" that official attitudes changed. One theory was that police officials were embarrassed by the notoriety. Blame the magazine "High Times" for spreading the word. Or, maybe the sea change was due to the amount of money changing hands and radio stations playing "Cane Fire." The lyrics include a plea to "save the children," a not-so-veiled reference to growing dope in sugar fields.
A more recent story: The holder of medical marijuana card grew his legal supply in his backyard where it was easily seen by pot spotters during monthly "Green Harvest" operations. A day or so after the helicopter flew over, there would be police officers at his door. The repeated need to show his authorization for the plants in his yard grew tedious.
"I finally got this full sheet of plywood. Painted it white and in bright red letters wrote my name and medical marijuana authorization. I stuck it on poles, face up, so it couldn't be missed by the copter guys." That ended the official visits.
At one point on Maui, growing and smoking pakalolo (crazy tobacco) was no big deal. Later it was. And, now? Cast a weather eye on the eastern horizon. The winds of change never stop blowing.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.