Weed Wars

Everyone loves Riviera Beach's special bud — except the potheads.

"Of course, we never saw the real thing! We used a lot of pictures," she says, "So it was a lot of trial and error."

Early and her co-designers, all of them quiet parental types who seem to be complete strangers to illicit drug use, had spent their careers designing floral arrangements of decidedly mundane flowers using pre-fabricated silk buds, blossoms and leaves from China. When they were asked to create the marijuana prototype two years ago, they were a little taken aback.

"I thought, 'who in the world would want this?" Early says.

Andy Kozma shows off his company's prize product — handmade artifical pot.
photos by Jake Smith
Andy Kozma shows off his company's prize product — handmade artifical pot.

Not only had Early and her colleagues never seen any real marijuana, they had never designed any plants from scratch.

"We were trying to make something out of something that didn't exist," Early says. "Everything else we buy is pre-made."

But the team of designers persisted, hunting for various leaves and buds of other silk plants that they could jerry-rig into convincing ganja. After a few weeks of attempts, they finally had their recipe. Now, despite her doubts about making a replica of pot, Early is glad to be a part of it.

"It's amazing that there's a market for this," Early says. "I'm thrilled and amazed."

Understandably, Kozma doesn't want to give away exactly which ready-made Chinese leaves and buds constitute his fake pot. But in the Artanica warehouse, when he pulls a box down off the shelf to pull out a fistful of delicate, jagged-edged leaves, the label on the side reads: "Japanese maple."

"See this plant?" Kozma says, opening another box full of long reed-like fronds. "We make the pot buds out of these. But they're a completely different plant. They take them apart entirely, paint them, and glue them together again in a different shape. You can't get that kind of detail from a machine."

On the floor in the back of the warehouse, next to a long table covered with clotted glue, is a pile of wooden boughs, on their way to becoming marijuana stems.

"Maple boughs," says Kozma. "It's gathered for us by woodcutters in Ocala."

"It comes in straight, and needs forks," says Vladimir, Artanica's tree-builder. A Cuban immigrant who says he used to fly fighter jets, Vladimir now glues the leaves and hand-painted buds to the maple boughs waiting in their moss-covered baskets.

Kozma insists that all this attention to detail has paid off.

"Sometimes I think I have to put a big sign on the product: DO NOT SMOKE," he says.

But White and Kozma do acknowledge that their pot isn't perfect. A horticultural association in California returned an order, for example, complaining that it wasn't realistic enough.

"It's not an exact replica," says White. "It is very, very difficult to replicate nature." He and Kozma promise that they're working on it.

In the meantime, for another opinion, New Times consulted the DEA's Fort Lauderdale office.

"Would I use that as a training tool?" said the DEA agent on duty. "Not really." Pointing to a photograph of a marijuana leaf in a thick reference book, he showed how Artanica's pot seemed to have extra leaf sections. "If I used this for training purposes, the first thing I'd do would be to cut off the tip of the bud, and snip off these. But that reddish tint..."

FAU's Dan Alexander, meanwhile, is amused that some law enforcement agencies are ordering the not-so-faithful renderings of cannibis.

"This is the stuff police use to teach themselves? I think it's kind of funny," says the NORML chapter president. "They're really throwing themselves off."

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