themselves, biscuit. You ain’t shit.”
— Heylia James, Weeds
I know a guy named Frank. Frank is pretty cool and even sort of a gentlemen. Frank likes to refer to himself as a “procurement specialist,” a bright enough guy in his mid-20s who saw a local opening for dealers with a slightly above-average degree of professionalism. He’s been in the game for a few years now, and he’s earned his many loyal customers through a natural love of weed and a willingness to move it from place to place. It’s also because it’s hard for him to offend most people, even though drugs and hookers are two of his favorite things to talk about.
It takes an amiable nature to sell weed successfully in a small college town. The gig is not hard to get, but dealing is a tricky career path that requires a rare combination of characteristics. Frank is decent, and somewhere at his core sensitive and generous, but don’t kid yourself; he will definitely kick some ass.
Frank doesn’t offer dime bags. He’s annoyed by the people who buy them as well as by the people who sell them. As he puts it, “trying to count out singles and quarters is extra pressure that a professional just doesn’t need.” He’s also only recently come around to trusting black people again, after that guy he hired jacked eight ounces from him a couple of years ago. But he’ll sell an eighth to anyone with $50, no matter what age or color they are. Once a potential customer has been declared “solid” by a reputable reference and once they show him their cash, Frank will gladly hook them up: Cash is king, whether he likes you personally or not.
Like many professional smokers, Frank is a talker. For instance, he hates the metric system: “I always need to get out my phone, and oh man, have you seen this app that does conversions for you?” He’s very proud of his ability to eyeball a quarter-ounce, though, he says, “I’ll pull out my scale if somebody asks, but people don’t have to ask.” He likes to talk about the weird new sativa blends flooding the state market lately, and how he might need a new local hookup because all the in-town guys are complaining about a bunch of excess manure getting into their product. Frank has an attention to detail that you just don’t see very often, in any profession. Sometimes, in his haze, he’ll insist to me, “Dude, have you ever really listened to The Band? Garth Hudson never gets the credit he deserves, and dude can blow … ” Otherwise, he might just jaw on about this crazy movie he stumbled onto last night on Netflix, about—well, it doesn’t matter, since neither of us is going to remember the conversation anyway. It might have been Red State.
Conversation gets dealer and customer comfortable with one another, even if Frank sneaks in the occasional come-on here or there. It’s always fine, though, because he genuinely seems like a harmless if slightly crude guy who goes out of his way to be nice but who would never really hurt anyone. And then, one day, Frank showed me the small arsenal of weapons that he keeps in his unusually nice apartment, in the event that the black guy he fired ever comes back to jack him again. There are a couple of large hunting knives in his desk drawer, a 9mm handgun in the nightstand, and a double-barreled shotgun that lives behind the bedroom door. He casually mentions that there’s more firepower in the closet. Frank has only been robbed the one time, but it made him a more cautious man, one who recognizes the nature of the industry where he makes his living.
And it’s some living.
He moves around 10 pounds a week. I’m still not exactly sure how he does it, but Frank and his guys sell to over 120 clients a day, every day of the week, including all major holidays. If 30 percent of them purchase an eighth for $50, and the other 70 percent buy a quarter for $100, that’s over seven grand of business daily, with nearly $50,000 in revenue by the end of the week. If he’s making a 15 percent profit, that’s about $7,500 of takehome. What he does with his money is nearly as fascinating as how effortlessly he seems to earn it.
Wait until he tells you about the prostitute with four nipples and the three-way he had in Albuquerque. But let him smoke you out first.
Despite the stoner stereotypes, Frank is a consummate pro. He is no shirtless teenager dealer asking for cash and promising to be back in an hour with the product. Frank insulates himself by keeping a minimal quantity of pot at his place, and holds most of his product in a safe house across town, the owner of which he obviously pays in weed. It isn’t until you see what a “minimal” quantity looks like that you recognize just how successful he has been. We’re talking about anywhere from two to four pounds. This is what he plans to move over the next couple of days, almost entirely from the comfort of his couch.
Frank takes the time to know what he’s selling, and he doesn’t waste quality smoke on the desperate, on the guys who promise to get him the other 20 bucks next week if only he’ll just front them a bit, or on the chicks who offer sex in exchange for a couple grams. He’ll take any of those deals, mind you, but he knows not to squander his best.
The guy is a smoker first, and his primary success is being able to blaze whenever he wants. He usually waits until he’s done taking orders for the day, often around 11 p.m. There’s always a special occasion worth celebrating, and he always likes to try out his newest pickup before he sells any, like a cross strain of Blueberry Bud and Purple Haze he was after for months.
Business is always booming since Frank lives in a part of Florida where both the supply and distribution are simple to arrange. He can drive a few hours in any direction and find whatever he needs. The size of his base endears him to suppliers, and it helps that he deals in a college town where there are plenty of reliable buyers.
There’s something that distinguishes Frank, something about him that separates him from your average dealing loser: He doesn’t let being a pothead make him lazy. The guy is pure hustle, even with blownout pupils. No matter how chill they seem, hustlers all have a tell. Frank’s tell is his cell phone.
His cell, complete with an unlimited texting plan, lives in his left hand, and when he’s smoking, in the left pocket of his basketball shorts. As he puts it, “What good is a dealer too lazy to answer the phone?” But don’t ever call him. He refers to the guys who call him as “needy bastards.” Shoot him a text instead, and ask if he’s at home or if he’s got anything interesting this week. He answers within 30 seconds every single time, even if he’s out of town or mid-coitus.
He keeps buyers loyal because he’ll be there no matter what. He offers particularly devoted guys a chance to make a little cash or score some free green for hooking up the rest of his clients while he’s away, with tasks like watering his plants. These guys camp out in his one-bedroom apartment, eyelids sagging as they struggle to count out change from two $50 bills. But they know not to screw up. Maybe it’s the guns, but it’s probably that you wouldn’t want to disappoint the guy who sells you weed. You have to come through for your dealer, because he always comes through for you.
It’s worth considering what will happen to Frank and others like him if U.S. drug policy gets even slightly more reasonable in the near future. What happens to him will affect a lot of people at every level of the transaction line: buyers, distributors, and growers.
It seems unlikely that the United States will see complete legalization right away, though it’s undeniably on the horizon. Voters have so far generally been more receptive to the idea of legalizing the use and the manufacture of marijuana than the sale of it. The “dealer” is the guy who stays bad in our imagination long after the growers and buyers are off the hook. Our legislators imagine that all drugs, even pot, are inherently representative of a deviant underworld, a substratum of society filled with the dangerous and criminally dysfunctional. Maybe it’s the guns.
The statewide legalization now playing out in Colorado and Washington will present us with a fascinating case study, though it’s hard to tell how quickly or effectively this will scale to the rest of the country. Even if they’re not much on voters’ minds, it’s worth asking what decriminalization would do to reliable suppliers. What will become of the Franks of the world when they have to compete with folks who have business licenses and pay income taxes?
Though Frank has legions of loyal buyers, there’s a lot of vulnerability in his model. One day in the future, federal lawmakers and their state-level counterparts will vote to make smoking weed legal. Soon after comes the legalization (and aggressive regulation) of the sale of cannabis.
Given past prohibition efforts, and experiments-in-progress regarding legal marijuana distribution, it’s clear that pot smokers in the U.S. will have a choice to make. Though it’s still largely unknown how distribution will be regulated—and there will probably be a number of experiments—users will be able to forsake relative anonymity and the freedom to buy in their quantity of choice that a local dealer offers, in favor of totally legal weed whose growth and sale will be controlled and monitored by the authorities.
What if government pot smokes the way that “government cheese” tastes? Might we be required to present our driver’s licenses to purchase tightly restrained amounts of shake weed at higher prices to cover the sales tax? Given our track record with cigarettes and alcohol, and the way control over those markets is exerted by the Big Three tobacco companies or the Anheuser-Busch conglomerate, there’s a clear potential for monopolization. The enterprising, shirtless, teenaged stoner dealer only a text away could disappear entirely. And what then will happen to the culture of weed smoking, as it evolves from something wholly outside the law into something available at your local gas station?
But whether it’s bravado, experience, or the combination of the two, Frank isn’t worried: “Well, I guess it would kill a lot of the fun in getting a buzz if you could just buy it at a store. There’s something cool about your first pickup, meeting a guy in a parking lot and having him jump in your backseat. I don’t think I’m too worried, though. Good business won’t get run out by new business. You’re only in trouble if the new guy is better than you. And there’s not really a lot of business, at least here, that’s better than me. That’s not arrogance, it’s just the truth.”
Danielle King cooks, codes, tutors, & shoots, when not inundated with political science. She prefers two wheels to four unless it’s raining. Reprinted from The New Inquiry (April 2013), a website and PDF magazine dedicated to the promotion and exploration of ideas.