Mary Jane Girl

The life and high times of Phoenix cannabis crusader Christie Bohling

Fortunately for Christie Bohling, that burgeoning field was still wide open to counterculture capitalists like herself when she returned to the United States in 1971.

Following a shaky start as the state's first waterbed franchisee (the mattresses all leaked), Bohling kept her head above water at Clouds, a boutique she opened across the street from the defunct Liquid Giraffe. An upscale version of her earlier store, the hippie emporium also carried whatever Bohling happened to interested in at that particular time.

"You walked in there and you could buy anything from a hash pipe to a $3,000 gold ring," says a musician friend named Tucker, owner of the McNasty Brothers' Ranch. "God, man, Clouds had everything."

Pioneering head shop owner Christie Bohling is hassled by the fuzz, 1967.
courtesy of Patrick Lange
Pioneering head shop owner Christie Bohling is hassled by the fuzz, 1967.
Christie Bohling as budding hemp entrepreneur, 1990s.
Malcolm MacKinnon
Christie Bohling as budding hemp entrepreneur, 1990s.

Of course, not all of Bohling's inventory was on the shelf.

By the bicentennial year, she'd established herself as one of the town's most legendary pot smugglers, a shrewd maverick whose operation closely paralleled that of Johnny Depp's character in the earlier reels of Blow. After hooking up with a trio of well-heeled young smugglers from Texas, Bohling began importing loads of pot from small Mexican farms via cars and planes. Although her initial function was to oversee a distribution center in Phoenix while others were on the road, the self-styled "designer drug smuggler" eventually put her own personal stamp all over the operation, right down to the silk-screened labels that adorned her kilos.

The business agreed with Bohling, and vice versa. Playing the role of the outlaw entrepreneur to the hilt (friends say she frequently referred to herself as "The Queen of the World"), Bohling ruled her kingdom in high style. Yet despite her love of the good life -- ignoring the pervading hippie ethic of the day, she flaunted her affinity for designer clothes, expensive jewelry and fresh manicures like a well-heeled rock star -- Bohling rarely wound up with anything to show for her illicit activities.

"She never wound up with much money herself," says Patrick Lange. "She was always funding some clinic, putting up money for someone who was trying to start a business or helping one of her friends who was in trouble."

One of the McNasty Brothers puts Bohling's philanthropy in more succinct terms. "All of Christie's pot [business] really takes a backseat to the other stuff the lady did," says Tucker. "Compassionate? She has literally taken care of thousands of people on the edge of whatever. Her whole left tit was heart."

By 1980, the bloom was definitely off the bud. Move over, Alice B. Toklas; here comes Scarface.

And for that, one of Bohling's buddies blames a spiraling chain of events triggered by the Mexican government's efforts to quash pot smuggling in the late '70s by spraying the country's marijuana fields with paraquat, a toxic herbicide.

"When the paraquat came in, the pot traffic from Mexico came to a complete stop," says a one-time member of Bohling's smuggling team. "That's when the Colombians moved in and the price of pot went from $55 a pound to $350, $450, finally all the way up to an all-time high for then of $800 a pound. Then they started smuggling cocaine in, too, and suddenly the whole business changed. People started packing guns; people were doing too much cocaine and becoming paranoid. People were wigging out and doing things they shouldn't do. That's when the old-timers like me decided it was time to retire."

As many pot historians have noted, the spraying of Mexican fields backfired, introducing smokers to a Colombia's higher grade of marijuana and conditioning them to pay steeper prices for weed, which turned out to be a status symbol in some circles.

Unwilling and unable to compete with organized crime cartels and a business that was now completely foreign to her, Bohling reportedly took her leave from the dope trade.

Although Christie Bohling had been out of the trenches for years by the time President Ronald Reagan and his wife launched their anti-drug blitzkrieg in the 1980s, her reputation came back to haunt her when she was one of 23 people named in a 24-count conspiracy to distribute 18,000 pounds of marijuana smuggled in from Mexico. By the time the case was over (Bohling was one of only five defendants who were actually tried), a jury found Bohling guilty of the smuggling charge, as well as of possession 100 pounds of marijuana and two counts of possession of half an ounce of cocaine.

In the appeal, which dragged on for two years, Bohling's attorney, Walter Nash, argued that the entire case was a "dry conspiracy": "They never seized a pound of pot," Nash told New Times in 1985. "It was totally dependent on an informant's word."

Despite a jury verdict, which could have meant a two-year prison stretch for Bohling, the judge ultimately gave her credit for "time served" awaiting trial; as a result, Bohling spent less than three months behind bars.

One might assume that this incident, along with a social climate far different from that of the '60s, would have seriously dampened the torch Bohling carried for her beloved bud.

One would be wrong. Instead, the mainstreaming of marijuana (currently a guilty pleasure of everyone from professionals to skate punks, the bud has long been stripped of any mystical trapping ) only fueled the flame in her belly. By the early '90s, Bohling was at the forefront of the national hemp movement, trumpeting the use of marijuana by-products in everything from clothing and beauty aids to surf boards and hack-sacks.

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