As a leading light of the Valley's marijuana galaxy, Christie Bohling followed her own star. Talk to Bohling's friends, many of whom have known her for 30 years or longer, and a portrait emerges of a larger-than-life personality who zigged when the rest of the world zagged, a shrewd businesswoman who had one hand on the pulse of Phoenix's flower child community and the other on a cash register ringing up sales on the other side of the law. In short, sort of a Southwestern version of Janis Joplin, right down to an untamed mane of auburn curls, a taste for booze and a gravelly voice -- a raspy souvenir of a four-pack-a-day Marlboro habit.
And if the highs she received from trafficking in marijuana were more enjoyable to her than those she derived from smoking the stuff, well, don't knock it 'til you've supplied it.
"She was all woman but she loved running with the guys," says one Bohling contemporary who requests anonymity; like more than a few of Bohling's old cronies, the one-time pot dealer has long since turned his business smarts to the corporate world. "I remember unloading planes with her out on the Indian reservation. She worked with all the guys -- and she had bigger huevos than most of them."
According to the pal, the smuggling operation with which Bohling became involved was a high-flying seat-of-the-pants adventure bearing little resemblance to the profit-driven organized crime cartels that now supply most of the country's pot.
Literally operating on a wing and a prayer ("With some of those planes you were really taking your life in your own hands," recalls the source), Bohling and her pals would purchase beat-up, single-engine airplanes, then hire pilots to fly them to Mexican marijuana farms run by their connections. After loading the planes with bails of pot, they'd fly the crates back to the U.S., initially unloading their contraband right under the noses of officials at small airports in Glendale and Deer Valley.
"If the pilot was an older guy who didn't look suspicious, you could load up the van right out on the runway and nobody paid any attention," says Bohling's crony. "By the late '70s, when everyone started figuring out what was going on, we'd land in the desert or out on the Indian reservation instead; then you'd fly the empty plane back to the airport and nobody was the wiser."
Although Bohling made the occasional dope run, friends claim her major role in the operation was overseeing safe houses, including a swanky manse in the Biltmore Estates she leased one summer. It was here the contraband was stored until it could be packaged and distributed, frequently to areas of the country far from the border, where the weed would bring a better price.
"Back then, this was never really about the money," says Bohling's former pot pal, remembering that weed was selling for $55 a pound during the early days of their operation. "In the beginning, people would smoke a little pot, do a little business and everything was fine."
In fact, he says, no one involved in the smuggling business even considered themselves criminals, preferring instead to believe that they were just sort of operating on the fringes of the law.
"I don't think you could compare Christie to your everyday dope dealer on the street." Referring to the violence that in more recent years has permeated the high-price pot biz, he adds "I don't think she'd do the things that you see happening on our streets today. Christie had a conscience."
According to Patrick Lange, Bohling's companion for the past 18 years, it was Bohling's conscience that drove a wedge between her and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an organization that would initially appear to have been her bowl of tea.
Outraged by some spurious claims in pro-pot literature distributed by the group (the propaganda suggested that if pot wasn't legalized, kids would automatically turn to heroin and other hard drugs), Bohling turned down an offer to head up a local chapter many years ago.
"The NORML people told Christie they wanted her to 'come in under their umbrella,'" says Lange. "She told them that if that was the kind of information they were giving people, she'd rather stand out in the rain. That was Christie -- nobody was going to tell her what to do. She loved being on the edge. Living with her was an adventure; you never knew what she'd get into next."