Another take on history of Overgrow.com by High Times author Chris Bennet:
THE RISE AND FALL OF OVERGROW
THU MAY 18, 2006
By Chris Bennett
It was the bginnig of February when they first started washing up on different cannabis forums around the Internet, like so many shipwreck survivors reconnecting on shore, searching for answers:
"Any other Overgrowers here?"
"I am, do you know what happened?"
On Jan. 31, Overgrow.com, the Web's most popular cannabis-bassed Web site, disappeared. As what was first thought to be a one-day scheduled maintenance interruption stretched into days, speculation began to spearead like spidermites through the online marijuanna community. Started as Weedbase in 1999 by a coalition of international activists with cyber nicknames like OT1, Angrydyke, NL 420, and Foolgirl, this computer-based cannabis cabal was joined by master coder Shabang sometime around 2000. Later, controlling interestes were sold to an anonymous seed seller known only as "RC", who maintained the site up until its sudden disappearance.
By the time of its demise, overgrow had grown to more than 100,000 members. In fact, the cost of operating such a high-traffic web site caused some to suggest that its disappearance was due to the incredible fianancial burden of hosting Overgrow, rather than any legal reasons. But as RC's other sites, including Eurohemp, Cannabisworld and Heaven's Stairway seed Company, followed Overgrow into the Web abyss, rumors of arrrests and seizures quickly took precedence. As a result, and untold number of growers and breeders who frequented the site decided to pull up their roots and close shop.
At a time of unparalleled political and legal pot persecution, Overgrow was the meeting place of an outlawed society, bringing the wisdom of expert growers to novices, and the politics of cannabis ativists to recreational users, all in an onine world of information and photo galleries that helped in turn to fertilize popular features on Overgrow was the Strain Guide, which traced the genetic history of hybrids such as Northern Lights X Jack Herer or Shishkaberry back through the different strains from which they'd been bred. The Overgrow photo the state-of-the-art commercial and personal growrooms that sprouted them. Threads like "Wanna ask the old farts" brought together wet-behind-the-ears novices and master growers who had perfected their techniquis after years of guerrilla gardening. And for those who took the time to look, the all-encompassing FAQ answered almost every basic quesiton likely to face both fresh and experienced growers, a valuable resourse that has been particularly missed by the community. Overgrow also proved an ideal forum for cannabis-seed selers eager to advertise their wares to the growing public, a gray-market force that generated much of the income that Overgrow required to stay financially self-sufficient as it expanded.
Considering the number of people who had traded information as well as sent in pictures of the gardes and harvests, it's not surprising that the sudden disappearance of such a huge resourse sen shockwaves throughout the global cannabis comunity. As the days turned into weeks with no official word as to what happened, that anxiety understandably increased.
Some were all to eager to exploit the accumulating fears and assume the worst of the mysterious RC... Vancouver-based magazine publisher and marijuana activist Marc Emery, who's flamboyant nature had made him the subject of much criticism on Overgrow, was among the first to report on the situation posting what he alleged to be RC's real name and contact information, and suggesting that Overgrow's overseer had bought land in Greece and then "took the money and ran" due to fears over the possibility of a crackdown by Canada's new Conservative government. Later, Emery - who currently faces life in a US prison for marijuanna-seed sales from Canada into America - speculated that RC had cut a deal, telling a mainstream reporter: "it seems to me if [RC] was facing the same thing [as me]. he might have started cooperating if they offered to drop the invesitgation in the US and keep him in Canada."
Other major players in the seed scene, such as Gypsy Nirvana, a stout British martial artist who once had a bit part in a Jean Claude Van Damme flick, were more hesitant to jump to such harsh conclusions before all the evidence was in. The forums of Gypsy's ICMag soon became the main landing bay for displaced Overgrow members.
At first glance, from the sudden traffic spike on the ICMag forums, it seemed as thought Gypsy Nirvana's Web site would be the new permanent home of the diplaced overgrowers. But this handsome burden was soon lifted, as Gypsy found himself thrown in the fray by a vengeful ex-employee, who spread the seeds of a rumor that the whole Overgrow bust story was a scam meant to divert attenion from a swindle. Outraged, many posters jumped ship immediately and moved on to planetganja.com, where the conspiracy theories continued to flourish on a number of fronts, until they became the biggest herb opera the internet has ever seen.
By the last week of February, Gypsy Nirvana's disgruntled ex-employee, known online as Plural of Mongoose, was posting stories with wild, unsubstantiated accusations involving Gypsy, RC, and others. Plural of Mongoose [PoM] claimed that he had gained a controlling inerest in Overgrow, and that through Shabang he had acquired the rights to the computer code that ran the site. PoM strung along thousands of hopeful Overgrow refugees with the story of how he was in the midst of negotiating with RC for Overgrow's return, portraying Gypsy as a hostile competitor motivated by a desire to gain business for his own seed sales by taking over Overgrow's traffic.
Posting on Ganjaland. PoM weaved together a complex web involving all sorts of intrigue:
"I don't doubt that RC was raided, and I don't doubt that his home and business were searced, In fact, I have confirmation they were. He was not arrested, He was at home when I called him, and he has since shut off all contact with anyone... So, I'm gonna say it - and lemme tell you, this ain't easy, but now it's time to face some hard facts. Richard Baghadadlian is cooperating with the authorities to save his own ass, at the expense of breeders, clients, and tens of thousands of members on his sites. Anyone who had any financial transactions with RC in any was is at risk." - PoM
Around that time, I heard from Steve Hager, who informed me that he was back as editor-in-chief of HIGH TIMES. Hager offered me a position as a Canadian correspondent, with the Overgrow story as my first assignment. Unlike other cannabis-news sources, the crew at HT had been holding back on publishing speculaiton, but by the time they brought me into the story, they'd already talked to RC, obtaining an arrest number that could apparently verify the bust. After hours of phoning different departments of the Quebec court system, and despite the language barriers, I finally received confirmation of the arrest shortly before the close of that business day. That's when I broke all the rules of journalism and inserted myself in the very story I was hired to report. Having tracked the many threads about the fate of Overgrow, and having watched with shocked dismay as the whole thing morphed into a monstrous melodrama that threatened not only the safety of the tens of thousands of pot posters that frequented Overgrow also looked likely to topple a number of high-profile seed companies [or at least destroy the reputations of those behind them]. I decide to post the first solid information about what had actually happened to Overgrow in more than a month. Taking on the pseudonym of Deep Toke and opening myself up to the the typical batch of forum flamers, I felt the only way to kill all the dangerous speculation was to post verification of the bust, so I "leaked" the case number on planetganja.com. Unfortunately, as I had received confirmation of the arrest at the close of business on a Friday, my comments only served to inflame the speculation, at least for the weekend. With eyes glued to my computer screen, I watched the debate I had unintentionally sparked spread online.
Following the forum posts like a kid reading a serial comic, I began to see more and more eividence that Overgrow and the PoM debacle were two different stories, and that PoM was using all the hype around the disappearance of Overgrow for his own vengeful agenda. Confirmation of the arrest helped to disconnect the stories that megabyte megalomaniac PoM weaved about Gypsy Nirvana, RC, murder plots, embezzlement, coporate greed and other sinister criminal activity surrounding the disappearane of Overgrow.
PoM was like a puppet master, and it was eerily intriguing watching him pull the strings on the forums that made people dance in the real world: Business transactions fell apart, people retired nicknames and dropped from view, court dates came and went - but when the chance arose to interview PoM, I decided to pass. By that time, I had it from a reliable source that PoM deposited things on people's PCs via e-mail that gave him access to thier personal desktops and files. Frankly, PoM scared me, and I didn't consider him a reliable source of information anyway. So why feed his fire?
I've always been a powerful figure in the scene but the last 11 days have made me realize just how much power I wield it is quite a burden but I bear it with pride--PoM
By Monday afternoon other sources were able to confirm the arrest number leaked by Deep Toke including Marc Emery who's Web site quickly scrubbed posts alleging RC had fleeced devotees and fled to Greece finally acknowledging the arrest and then going on to post not only the names of the people involved but also their home addresses.
Confirmation of the arrest also revealed once and for all that LEO-the generic code name used online to describe law enforcement officials had in fact been keeping an ever-watchful eye on Overgrow and other cannabis web sites.
LEO finally showed his face in the form of a press release sent just a day after the information confirming the bust spread across the Web and around the globe, breaking a month of official government silence following RC's arrest.
THE RCMP DISMANTLES AN INTERNATIONAL DRUG DISTRIBUTION NETWORK ONT HE INTERNET
MONTREAL, Tuesday, February 28, 2006 - The members of the Marijuana Grow Operations Enforcement Team of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police concluded their first major operation when they uncovered a Montreal-based criminal organization involved in the trafficking importation and exportation of cannabis seeds, as well as in conspiring for the purpose of cannabis cultivation via the Internet... The organization processed approximately 30 orders of cannabis seeds a day averaging $100 each. The seeds were sent to the clients by regular mail...
Seven people are facing 49 charges under the controlled drugs and substance act and the criminal code of Canada. Richard Hratch Bahdadlian was the instigator, head and main beneficiary. The offenses were committed in Quebec, Canada, North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world between march 12, 1998 and January 31, 2006...
Searches led to the seizure of 200,000 cannabis seeds, more that $183,362 in US currencies and $14,000 in Canadian currencies, both in cash and postal money orders, three one-kilogram gold bricks, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a Mazda RX8 and many purchase orders.
Although computers, along with almost 300 seed-order envelopes were seized in the raid of RC's home it has been confirmed that confiscated equipment did not include the Overgrow servers,which are apparently still housed off site in their original location where they are likely being watched carefully by LEO.
interviews with both long time Overgrow moderator Old Pink and site owner RC confirmed that IP addresses were not logged through Overgrow as many had feared . RC also commented on Marc Emery outing his identity and posting his residential address, saying "I guess that's why they call him Narc Emery."
Ironically, it may turn out that Marc Emery will benefit the most from this whole ugly scenario, as it may fortuitosly affect the US-based case against him and two employees, Greg Williams and Michelle Rainey - an extradition effort that could see the trio tried in America for seed sales and related crimes. Prior to the arrest of RC, no one had been charged in Canada for cannabis-seed sales in close to a decade, and the last person convicted received a fine of only a few hundred dollars. After the US-led raid on Emery Seeds, a private citizen attempted to place Canadian charges on Emery, which would have taken precendence over American Charges for the same crime, but those charges were stayed by the Canadian government - a move that made it clear to all parties involved that the high test levels of the Canadian Justice Department wanted Emery's trial to remain the in the American justice system, where the one-time Prince of Pot could be sure to garner a much harsher punishment. Now with RC charged in Canada, this legal contradiction may provide an effective card for the defense to play in Emery's upcoming extradiction hearings.
The implications for the rest of us, however, are far more ominous. For one think, we know the LEO was and is watching, paying close enough attention to the developing story on the internet to know he could hold his tongue until a month after the original bust before even acknowledging that it happened - an admission clearly spurred by his awareness that confirmation of the arrest had been posted on a number of cannabis Web sites
Mean while, the 49 charges against RC and his associates (including members of RC's own family) could bring prison sentences of up to 10 years, and they ominously involve not only charges related to the sale of marijuana seeds but also conspiracy charges related to information on Overgrow that taught people how to grow marijuana and hide their activities from the police-an attack on free speech with wide-ranging implications for not only the online cannabis community but for the internet as a whole.
So does it seem possible that Overgrow will ever emerge from the web abyss. Not to me and if it ever did I would have a hard time believing that the sites security hadn't been compromised in the process. A view that would be shared by many of the members who once frequented Overgrow's forums. And while other sites have been quick to pick up the slack and provide new homes for countless Overgrow refugees these remaining communities and their members to act at all times as if LEO is watching, collecting data, and planning his next move or else risk learning this difficult lesson the hard way.