Boss Weed: How Clay Roueche Changed the Marijuana Game Forever

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It's a balmy January morning in central Florida, not far from the swamps of the Everglades. Inside a sterile, windowless visiting room, Roueche sits a few feet from me, negotiating the plastic wrapper of a hamburger I just nuked for him in the microwave. He makes it clear he's talking only with the blessing of the UN and his associates. To do otherwise could get him killed, he says. After five years in prison, Roueche is ripped, his body chiseled down to nothing but muscle and bone. But in his oversize prison jumpsuit, he seems diminished. He is polite and friendly, with a Canadian accent and an easy, goofy smile – it's easier to imagine him as a bro drinking at a bar than as a ruthless drug lord. Two years ago he lost his final chance for appeal, and he's now pinning his hopes on a treaty transfer back to Canada. In a pending civil lawsuit, he is arguing the wiretaps that sunk him were illegally obtained and that the American and Canadian police conspired to use a form of extraordinary rendition to capture him. At his sentencing, the judge gave him 30 years. "They wanted to make an example of me," Roueche says now softly, recognizing that his helicopter shipments of pot were probably his undoing, a ballsy but reckless move that amounted to a middle finger to the sovereignty of U.S. airspace.

In the year following Roueche's arrest, the gang war that had been simmering for years between the UN and the Bacon Brothers exploded in violence. In 2011, Jonathan Bacon was leaving a casino in the resort town of Kelowna when a masked gunman pulled up behind his SUV and opened fire, killing Bacon and wounding four other passengers, including a high-ranking member of the Hells Angels. The three men charged in the murder have been linked to the UN and other gangs. Canadian police have separately linked UN members to a plot to kill the Bacons. One UN member pleaded guilty in April, and the trial for the rest is expected to begin later this year. Roueche will say little about the Bacons, other than to express intense dislike, because of the case, in which he's named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Regardless of what happens with that trial, the UN has been decimated since Roueche's fall. Two of his closest confidants were killed in Mexico in cartel-related hits shortly after his arrest. Of the original 50 members, 28 are reportedly either dead, in jail or addicted to drugs. Sitting in prison, Roueche seems almost relieved to be here. "I'm alive, for starters," he says. The growers he once worked with say they can no longer move product out of B.C. because West Coast bud has flooded the market. Now that Washington and Colorado have legalized grow ops, they only expect it to get worse. "The whole market shifted to the U.S.," Roueche admits. "Supply is outstripping the demand." Ostrovsky says he hasn't busted a load of weed coming from B.C. in three years.

'We knew we were like those moonshiners out in the boonies back during Prohibition," says Roueche, "trying to make our money before it becomes legal."

His family hasn't visited him in years; the gang he forged exists in name only. He gets so lonely in prison that he once kept a praying mantis called Arnold as a pet. He spends his days working on a book that outlines the Bushido code he lives by, with grandiose chapters like "The Warriors Anthem" and "Training Like a Champion." It's filled with pencil drawings of samurai warriors, flying eagles and Buddhist monks, the sort of stuff he might have drawn in junior high sitting in his dojo listening to Metallica and dreaming of becoming the next Bruce Lee.

As we visit through the afternoon, it becomes clear Roueche sees prison as nothing more than a part of his spiritual path to enlightenment, as if the karmic forces of the universe have put him here for his own good. "I can't change what's done," he says. "I won't make the same mistakes, but what's negative today is positive tomorrow. I'll keep marching forward."

By the time he gets out of prison, B.C. Bud will probably be legal, I suggest. 'Yeah, that's true," he says, his voice picking up. "There might be a business opportunity there."

This story is from the May 9th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

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