Medical Marijuana Pusher

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Medical marijuana leader Steve Sarich on the cover of Seattle Weekly.  Photo by photographer John Keatley

Medical marijuana grower Steve Sarich in his bedroom.  Photo by John Keatley.

Pot plants.  Photo by John Keatley.

Seattle Weekly gave me a call last month with a cover story, and it was so intriguing and different from what I am used to, I couldn’t pass it up.  The subject is Steve Sarich, and it is going to be very difficult to give good description of him without going on for several pages.  Fifty-nine years old, former Penthouse photographer, used to date Anna Nicole Smith, currently dating a 20 year old aspiring model, medical marijuana grower and seller, and he is surrounded by an entourage of young “volunteers” in their 20’s and 30’s, including a personal cook who is really good!  I photographed Steve at his new home in the foothills about 40 minutes outside of Seattle.  He moved there after a home invasion at his previous residence, where he was sprayed by a shotgun blast just before he shot one of the intruders.

When I arrived at his home, I was greeted by a large pit bull and I honestly thought it was over.  I may have thrown my hands high in the air and yelled something.  Not really sure what holding my hands above my head would have accomplished had I been attacked.  Then, I was mistaken for a “patient” and presented with some options.  After quickly explaining I was the photographer and not a patient, I was introduced to Steve and got a tour of the compound.  I know there are some new laws and marijuana is legal with a prescription, but apparently it is legal to grow and sell it now, too.  Growing up with the understanding that marijuana is an illegal drug is a hard concept for me to shake.  All through the day I found myself wondering, “Could I get arrested if this place gets raided right now?”  Not to mention, guns make me a little uncomfortable.

“Marijuana’s never been on a path to greater acceptance than it is now. But to Steve Sarich, the change just isn’t coming fast enough. With his guns, brash manner, and retinue of followers who look too young and healthy to be in need of weed, Sarich is the enfant terrible of Washington’s medical marijuana movement.

Sarich doesn’t exactly shy away from confrontation. Where many activists believe that a quiet, non-profit model of providing pot to patients will keep them in the good graces of legislators and law enforcement, Sarich’s vertically-integrated enterprise has unabashedly mixed medical clinics with pot brownie sales, and scoffed at the legal limit on plants. And sent taunting emails to cops while he does it.” – Nina Shapiro, Seattle Weekly

The cover shot is a perfect example of his brash attitude and confidence.  I asked him if he had a particular strain he wanted to hold and his eyes lit up.  He had just created a new strain of pot and named it “Alloway 420”.  Roy Alloway was a Bremerton drug cop who is notorious for his aggressive tactics.  He retired shortly after this issue came out, but I’m sure his retirement had nothing to do with this story.

Pretty crazy stuff.  If you want to read more, it’s long, but it is an interesting article about Steve and medical marijuana.

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Awesome man! I love your photos. I have a question...how was the lighting on the first photo?

POSTED BY Alejo on 7-15-2010

I love the photos too and I second what Alejo said: how did you do the lighting on the first photo? It is excellent! Kirk

POSTED BY Kirk Mastin on 7-19-2010

I like Your article about Medical Marijuana Pusher and Your point of view. Very calm lighting, love it. Walter

POSTED BY Walter on 7-19-2010

I don't usually pick up that magazine as I'm more of a Stranger guy. But that cover looked so much more interesting than their usual cartoon covers that I picked up that issue. Once I saw your credit it made sense that the photo drew my attention. Great job!

POSTED BY Maurice on 8-9-2010

This is such a great session. I really like the opener. Fantastic work, Very Classy!

POSTED BY Jorge on 8-10-2010

John was great...and patient. I'm a photographer and I hate (HATE) being photographed. No one really wants to admit how old they're getting, but most photographers hate having their pictures taken. They wanted a "joint" in my mouth, but I don't smoke my medication so we had to improvise with a hand rolled cigarette (and I don't smoke those either). Hopefully I was a cooperative model. In defense of my pit bull....she's a real sweetheart and failed to even take a nibble on John. She's supposed to bark, John! I'm not sure what he means about "being around guns". Maybe he means he was worried about the cops...a fear most of us medical marijuana patients rightly have. The only gun in my house at the time was an antique 30/30 lever action deer rifle that I've never put a bullet in. Nina wanted John to take a picture of me holding a gun....I guess Nina wanted a "gangsta" look to fit her particular spin on me, but I wasn't biting on that hook. I'm not a criminal and refuse to pose for shots that might depict me as one. I also don't own a "wife-beater" t-shirt. That belonged to my roommate who is 100 lbs heavier than I am....but they insisted on the wife-beater look for the photo. If you're ever really famous, John, and I get the chance to shoot photos of you....I'll get you back for that shot. :-) Oh....I also don't have marijuana plants in my bedroom...only because they wouldn't grow very well there. To the person who commented here about me being a "Pusher", I'd just like to point out that I'm 60 years old and I don't have one arrest, let alone a conviction, for drug trafficking....or pretty much anything else. Sorry to burst your ruin your prototyping efforts. Am I "brash"....you bet. I'm an activist...."brash" is required in the field manual.:-) As a side note, I hear that former detective Roy Alloway may be indicted by a Federal grand jury for numerous illegal gun transactions. Hard to tell who the "bad guys" are anymore, right? :-) Roy will never be a "good guy" in anyone's book. Roy didn't retire early based on this story, but may very well have retired because Nina Shapiro was hot on his trail on another story....that died with Roy's untimely retirement. Thanks, John....good job...with a difficult subject.

POSTED BY Steve Sarich on 4-25-2011

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