By chris conrad
Nathaniel Morris describes himself as the "mad scientist" character in the Discovery Channel's "Weed Country," which premiered Wednesday night.
The reality show follows a group of marijuana farmers and the police officers dedicated to slapping handcuffs on them. The bulk of the six-week show, which airs at 10 p.m. each week, takes place in Northern California's "Emerald Triangle" area, a 10,000-square-mile patch of land that grows some of the highest quality bud in the country.
Morris, who was in Medford doing press for the show, said he's more of a medical cannabis researcher, not a grower.
"I do this for people who need it," Morris said. "I don't grow for dispensaries. I don't need a middleman."
The show also features members of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, including Sheriff Mike Winters, who is interviewed in the first episode.
"Drugs are going to be the downfall of this country, and I'm going to stop it," Winters says to the camera in the first episode.
The first episode shows Winters meeting with seven other sheriffs from the surrounding area at the Jackson County Sheriff's Department headquarters in Central Point. They met to discuss the influx of marijuana from Northern California into Southern Oregon.
Scenes of Winters buzzing over Gold Hill and the Sardine Creek section of Jackson County in a helicopter are shown, along with footage of the sheriff's SWAT team training in the forest.
Winters declined to comment on the department's role in the series. He said he is willing to talk about it after the final episode airs.
Morris, however, is vocal about his participation in the show, which put him in a dicey spot.
"We are committing felonies on camera, there's no other way of saying it," Morris said. "It's either very brave, or incredibly stupid."
Morris, who lives in Humboldt County, said he dedicates himself to helping medical marijuana patients who come to him seeking relief from debilitating diseases.
He is researching a strain of marijuana that won't get a person high but will alleviate the symptoms of epilepsy.
The first episode features a scene with Morris working with the mother of young boy who suffers from severe seizures. The situation puts Morris at risk for arrest, because although medical marijuana is legal in California, the federal government considers it an illegal controlled substance.
The stress of having camera crews follow him around for last year's growing season took its toll on Morris.
"They had cameras on us pretty much every day," he said. "I never got used to it."
The Discovery Channel producers were up front with the risk involved in appearing in the show, Morris said.
"They said, You could go to jail for this,'" Morris said.
Morris said he's willing to pay that price. Though not a fan of reality television, he was willing to use the show as a vehicle for his cannabis activism.
"There are tens of thousands of growers in Northern California, but there was only 10 or so who were willing to talk about it on camera," he said.
Morris has only seen bits of the series and has no plans to watch.
"I'm not a TV guy," he said.
He says he believes the series will tackle the issue of marijuana from all sides and present a fair portrait of the scene.
"After I'm shown helping the woman's child with epilepsy, they cut to a scene of police in masks, shooting guns in the woods," Morris said. "They look like the scary ones."
The Discovery Channel believes there is a wide-ranging interest in marijuana-themed television. The channel is hosting "Weed Country" and a similar show purely from the police perspective called "Pot Cops" later this year.
"Discovery aims to tell compelling stories as well as introduce interesting subcultures to viewers," said Nancy Daniels, the executive vice president of production and development at Discovery Channel, in an email to the Mail Tribune.
If the show proves successful, Morris said a second season could be in the works next year.
"I could finally relax after not having a camera on me, but I'll do another season," Morris said. "But I'm not doing this to be a reality television star. I hope people will be informed by what they see."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.