How Washington’s Illegal Pot Dealers Feel About the State’s Marijuana Legalization

You can now buy recreational marijuana in Washington. But the state’s illicit salesmen aren’t freaking out”“yet.

The highly-rated strain of medical marijuana 'Blue Dream' is displayed among others in glass jars at Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market at the West Coast Collective medical marijuana dispensary, on the fourth of July, or Independence Day, in Los Angeles, California on July 4, 2014.
National Journal
Matt Berman
See more stories about...
Matt Berman
July 8, 2014, 9:50 a.m.

Leg­al marijuana is of­fi­cially on sale in Wash­ing­ton, mak­ing the state the na­tion’s second to sell pot for purely re­cre­ation­al pur­poses to cus­tom­ers 21 and over. Tues­day, then, should be a very good day for Wash­ing­ton state’s pot afi­cion­ados, des­pite the reg­u­lat­ory chaos that has res­ul­ted in just one store open­ing in Seattle, and a po­ten­tially tiny sup­ply over­all.

But there’s one group of people who stand to lose out on pot leg­al­iz­a­tion: the deal­ers who have been selling pot il­leg­ally in the state for years. If there’s a new leg­al mar­ket where you can get pot, you could reas­on­ably as­sume that buy­ers will shift away from the il­li­cit mar­ket.

Right now, that’s not how ac­tu­al deal­ers see it. “I don’t think the il­leg­al pot mar­ket will be dir­ectly af­fected, at least not yet,” a per­son fa­mil­i­ar with selling il­li­cit drugs in Wash­ing­ton state told Na­tion­al Journ­al in an email. “People pur­chase things based on qual­ity, trust and rap­port! The same es­pe­cially ap­plies to medi­cine, I would as­sume!”

“I don’t ex­pect my day-to-day life to change much,” he said. “We’ve already been trans­ition­ing some­what by net­work­ing. I think things will be fine for every­one who sells…. We are more wor­ried about the long-term ef­fects, over the next two years.”

As you’d ex­pect, it’s not the easi­est thing in the world to get a full sur­vey of drug deal­ers op­er­at­ing il­leg­ally in Wash­ing­ton state. But speak­ing with people as­so­ci­ated with the trade helps give a sense of just what in­creas­ing marijuana leg­al­iz­a­tion is do­ing to our coun­try’s il­li­cit drug deal­ers, and how they’re think­ing about the rap­idly chan­ging en­vir­on­ment.

“I’ve worked for Star­bucks too, and view it the same way. In both cases, I sold drugs to bleary-eyed people to put my­self closer to my goals. One was leg­al, one wasn’t. Maybe I was lucky, but for the bet­ter part of a dec­ade, I couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence.”

Be­low is a slightly ed­ited e-mail con­ver­sa­tion I had with a sep­ar­ate per­son in­volved in Wash­ing­ton’s drug trade, a guy who op­er­ates out of Seattle. He’s worked in il­leg­al pot for the last sev­en years, split between Cali­for­nia and Wash­ing­ton. While he’s been com­pletely re­li­ant on selling for his per­son­al in­come in the past, he now is oth­er­wise em­ployed, and marijuana sales rep­res­ent about a quarter of his total in­come. He says that he spe­cial­izes in par­tic­u­larly high-qual­ity pot.

Matt Ber­man: Why do you sell pot?

Seattle Deal­er: Without dis­miss­ing mor­al/cul­tur­al ar­gu­ments, my in­volve­ment with the marijuana trade is fin­an­cially mo­tiv­ated. When my friends and I began con­sist­ently us­ing, I of­ten found my­self in the po­s­i­tion of ac­quirer due to my con­tacts. I quickly saw the fin­an­cial ad­vant­age of buy­ing in bulk, though took no profit when dis­trib­ut­ing to close friends. As those close friends star­ted re­fer­ring ac­quaint­ances, I real­ized the pos­sible busi­ness ca­pa­city.

I moved to Los Angeles just after the ad­vent of the med­ic­al-marijuana le­gis­la­tion, which ef­fect­ively al­lows bulk sales to cre­den­tialed Cali­for­nia res­id­ents. As uni­versit­ies are typ­ic­ally com­prised of many non-res­id­ents, there was an ob­vi­ous con­sumer base. Al­though I nev­er ap­plied for a med­ic­al-marijuana li­cense, the pre­val­ence of marijuana dis­pens­ar­ies and co­oper­at­ive li­cense hold­ers made ac­quis­i­tion easy. At the same time, I began il­li­citly grow­ing and har­vest­ing vari­ous plant strains, which even­tu­ally provided me with a high-qual­ity, and con­sist­ent, product.

When I re­turned to Seattle, the polit­ic­al setup was very sim­il­ar to that in Cali­for­nia, and I re­sumed selling us­ing all of the prac­tices I’ve learned. I’ve lately stopped grow­ing, in ex­change for a 9-5.

“In my ideal world, marijuana would be clas­si­fied along­side al­co­hol, to­bacco, and all oth­er re­cre­ation­al drug use. Per­haps hy­po­crit­ic­ally, I would also see such use of all drugs, al­co­hol in­cluded, com­pletely pro­hib­ited and ab­ol­ished from our so­ci­ety.”

MB: How do you feel about marijuana leg­al­iz­a­tion gen­er­ally? What does your ideal reg­u­la­tion look like, and do you think Wash­ing­ton is mov­ing in a pos­it­ive dir­ec­tion?

SD: In my ideal world, marijuana would be clas­si­fied along­side al­co­hol, to­bacco, and all oth­er re­cre­ation­al drug use. Per­haps hy­po­crit­ic­ally, I would also see such use of all drugs, al­co­hol in­cluded, com­pletely pro­hib­ited and ab­ol­ished from our so­ci­ety.

But that’s not gonna hap­pen.

So in our cur­rent le­gis­la­tion, marijuana should be sched­uled at the level of al­co­hol. Spe­cific­ally, har­ves­ted products (flowers) should be equated to beer/wine reg­u­la­tion and dis­til­lates (hash, oils) equated to dis­tilled spir­its. In this sense, Wash­ing­ton seems to be headed in the right dir­ec­tion, but there is still sig­ni­fic­ant am­bi­gu­ity as to how it will un­fold with time.

MB: How have you been plan­ning for leg­al­iz­a­tion? Do you ex­pect much in your life to change?

SD: I’ve ra­tion­al­ized Wash­ing­ton’s pro­jec­tion on Col­or­ado’s re­sponse to leg­al­iz­a­tion. The two ob­vi­ous factors at play are ac­cess­ib­il­ity and price/qual­ity. Leg­al­iz­a­tion in­creases ac­cess­ib­il­ity, as phys­ic­al stores are much more re­li­able than mo­bile deal­ers. On the same coin, sig­ni­fic­ant over­head and tax­a­tion have caused Col­or­ado’s leg­al prices to in­crease up to $18 for a gram, with little dis­count in bulk. For com­par­is­on, I usu­ally pay $7 a gram when buy­ing 1 ounce, down to $4 a gram per pound.

Leg­al stores are es­pe­cially at­tract­ive to grow­ers and dis­trib­ut­ors, and most street deal­ers would ap­pre­ci­ate the con­sist­ent paycheck. The il­li­cit trade will keep cer­tain priv­ileges, namely price and dis­cre­tion, and those who have grown up call­ing a con­tact will likely con­tin­ue. But for new and cas­u­al users, it’ll be much more con­veni­ent to stop in the loc­al shop.

MB: What’s next for you? Do you think you’ll be able to con­tin­ue selling pot il­leg­ally, or would you try go­ing leg­al or stop deal­ing al­to­geth­er?

SD: Ul­ti­mately, I’ve worked for Star­bucks too, and view it the same way. In both cases, I sold drugs to bleary-eyed people to put my­self closer to my goals. One was leg­al, one wasn’t. Maybe I was lucky, but for the bet­ter part of a dec­ade, I couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence.

If its been this way all along, what’s left for leg­al­iz­a­tion to bring? I think I’m done selling weed. It’s a gig bet­ter suited to the stu­dent life. I’ve got a good job in my chosen field, and it’s way bet­ter.

But I am look­ing for­ward to build­ing an­oth­er green­house.

Note on sourcing: The people in­ter­viewed for this story would only talk if they were al­lowed to re­main an­onym­ous. Be­cause. You know.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
35 minutes ago
NATIONAL JOURNAL AFTER DARK

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Source:
STATE VS. FEDERAL
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”

Source:
×