Meigs Gold is a kind of illicit treasure rolled in a blunt or packed into a bong. Instead of 49ers digging into mines, however, Meigs County has pirate horticulturists planting seeds next to a neighbor's row of corn.
Across the Ohio University campus and around Ohio, the marijuana seed strain known as Meigs Gold has become a cult legend.
Some are convinced MG was the Grateful Dead's marijuana of choice when they toured Ohio back in the day. If it wasn't Jerry Garcia getting high, supposedly Willie Nelson would toke up with the local produce. In Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Meigs Gold purportedly won the Cannabis Cup.
Because Meigs County, just to the south of Athens, is among the poorest in the state, land is cheap and local law enforcement battles a shrinking budget, sources say that it's easy, cheap and relatively safe to grow marijuana in Meigs County.
"The saying goes, if you want to kill somebody, you do it in Meigs County because you'll never get prosecuted," said Margaret Parker, longtime member of the Meigs community and president of the county's historical society.
As for Meigs Gold, while it has local renown, its reputation apparently isn't that well-traveled.
"No one in California is buying to get Meigs County Gold," said Steve Hager, editor in chief of High Times magazine.
Some of the stories glorifying Meigs Gold are apocryphal, too.
For instance, seed entry from Ohio into the Cannabis Cup, the annual marijuana seed competition held in Amsterdam, is as fictional as a talking dog. The Academy Awards for marijuana cultivation is reserved for major seed-manufacturing companies, sometimes from the United States since some states permit medical marijuana, Hager said.
If Hager, the country's leading marijuana activist and founder of the Cannabis Cup, needs to search Google to become familiar with Meigs Gold, he said, then the marijuana was probably never internationally or nationally acclaimed.
Hager guessed that MG's reputation is mainly local or regional at most. It's not uncommon for an area to have a dominant strain of pot, he said, but cultivation is totally illegal in Ohio, unlike the 12 states where medical marijuana is legal under state law.
"Peter," an OU junior who asked not to be identified for obvious reasons, said he thought Meigs Gold won the 1994 Cannabis Cup, but it never made sense to him because the stories he heard also said the high point of the county's marijuana came in the '70s.
"I always heard rumors," said Peter, who went to an area high school. "You always heard rumors that you could just walk around Meigs and run into it."
Peter doesn't grow his own marijuana, but he said he has a friend from Meigs who does.
"One day he went to his dad and tried to buy an eighth (ounce)," Peter said. "He knew his dad had been growing it. He told him if he wouldn't sell it to him, he would just go somewhere else. Eventually, his dad showed him how to grow it."
Neither Peter's friend nor his father agreed to be interviewed for this article.
Despite Meigs's regional reputation, Ohio marijuana remains on the back burner.
Ohio is not among the 11 states listed by the National Drug Intelligence Center as a leading producer of marijuana. Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia (only a bridge away from Meigs) are on the list, but Ohio's estimated 48,250 cultivated plants in 2005 does not compare to the over 2 million in California, half of the country's estimated total.
However small the amount when compared to other states, a respectable amount of marijuana does grow in Meigs County, county Sheriff Robert Beegle, DEA agent Tony Marotta and Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation agent Dennis Lowe all confirmed.
Lowe said the number of plants is high enough that it's not credible to assume the marijuana grown in the county is strictly for recreation.
In 2007, Ohio saw 51,093 seized plants, 9,000 more than the previous year, but Lowe attributed that to better eradication efforts rather than more pot growing in the state.
Stricken with budget cuts, the sheriff's department does not pay as much attention to marijuana as other illegal drugs.
"We don't get the marijuana," conceded Beegle, a member of the sheriff's department for 50 years, who recalled several drug raids but few convictions. "People will tell you about it, but not when you can do anything about it. No citizens will step up to testify against anyone. People's values have changed here, that's for sure."
The drugs the department pays the most attention to now are methamphetamine labs, prescription medication abuse and cocaine. Cars have been broken into so people could steal prescription medication, Beegle said.
The marijuana reputation affects not only the growers and law enforcement, but also the residents of Meigs County. Margaret Parker has lived in Meigs, or on the border of Meigs and Athens counties, for more than 60 years. She can remember when the stores of downtown Pomeroy, the county seat of Meigs, remained open on Friday and Saturday nights making the town a vital center for commerce.
Now, when Parker drives to another county, she said, people read her license plate and ask her if she has any Meigs County Gold.
But she'll never leave Meigs. Once she moved to Columbus, hated it and moved back. It's a trend in this scenic, rural southeast Ohio county. Those who don't stay for their entire lives often come back to buy a lot of land, retire and avoid the chaos of big city living.
As for Meigs Gold, some stories never die.