Cannabusiness
 

Mr. Rims drives an '84 tan Escort with glistening gold rims that cost more than tuition at SF State. "It's meant to be a joke," he explains--a very expensive joke. "Oh, I have something for you," he says suddenly, reaching into his letterman jacket. He pulls out two hand-decorated lighters, one white with an airplane collage and one bright blue and adorned with little 40's and gold chains. "I give these to my clients, like a business card.
Just a little something to help them remember me." He then checks one of his two phones an eighth time and says apologetically, "This will probably keep happening."

What would inspire a weed dealer, a twenty-four-year-old with parents paying his rent and DJ gigs knocking at his door almost as often as girls, to have craft hour with magazine cutouts and Mod Podge?

The business is getting darker for marijuana dealers whose pockets are getting light. The popularity of pot clubs is emptying the wallets of illegal dealers, making trafficking financially unviable. The black market now comes complete with silver linings and shades of grey. Some dealers are closing up shop or selling to shops and finding a way to hold the hand that usually holds them down.

Take Mr. Train, who scaled down his operation a few years ago to his home's garage. Previously, he could be found rerouting ventilation and electricity for a sea of green. His girlfriend is stoked that they can park their cars in their garage, though, now that he has shut down his grow room.

The condensation and disposal of Mr. Train's operation was hardly a result of mere domesticity. He, like others in the green business--the old, underground one--has abandoned ship as the illegality of marijuana stands on cracking ice.

A crash course in the politics of pot: possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor. No arrest or imprisonment is allowed for one ounce or less, which is punishable only by a maximum $100 fine. Medical patients and their caregivers may possess and cultivate, but not distribute or sell, marijuana under Prop 215 if they have a physician's approval.

And California laws are continuing to bring "under the table" to the light of day. State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano recently announced measure AB 390, legislation that would tax and regulate recreational marijuana use in the same way as alcohol.
So Mr. Train's business dwindled with the proliferation of medical marijuana clubs. "I definitely saw the effect," said Mr. Train.

With the demand high, he notes that people got really good at growing, which bred righteous crop and picky stoners simultaneously. "I would have someone tell me they got this top-notch Trainwreck (a varietal of weed) last week," said Mr. Train. "And I would be like, 'Well, this is the Trainwreck I've got. Just shut up, put it in your bowl and smoke it. It will get you high. I promise.'"

The handful of dealers he dealt with was buying less because of the club competition, and the clubs, oversupplied, were driving down his prices. Mr. Train could sell a pound to his dealers for $3500, while clubs could drive his price per pound down to three G's.
It was a headache for Mr. Train. He packed up the hydroponics and now opts for growing daffodils instead of dank.

Conversely, Mr. Smiles utilizes the club scene. A consultant, grower, broker, smoker, and self-professed "cannaisseur" (a connoisseur of cannabis- who knew?), he is a reefer renaissance man. Preparing to go to law school, he says he is in a rare 2 percent of dealers. His relationship with weed is not necessary--it is a romance.

"It's not like I am some high school graduate from up north and this is all I know," Mr. Smiles says. "If those people get busted, it doesn't really matter. They are just going to go through the system and start growing again." With his hands in the dirt for the past six years and parents without a clue, Mr. Smiles says he has a lot to lose.

And it's risk management that keeps Mr. Smiles dealing with the clubs.

He opens up his wallet--California ID, Safeway club card, credit, credit--and pulls out his Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Collective (OCBC) card.

Mr. Smiles slips the card back into his crisp, leather wallet with his clean fingernails.

"Getting a [club] card is easy as fuck," he says, the smile on his face matching the picture on the card.

Unlike Mr. Train, Mr. Smiles doesn't sweat his name floating through lists. He says that with a state card, one's name lies on that ever-elusive "list" and is likely to sink into the grey hole of state law versus the Drug Enforcement Administration. OCBC is a private institution, and Mr. Smiles says, "I know that they would rather go to jail than act as an informant."

One note from a primary care physician saying he had chronic pain and three hundred dollars later, he was able to walk away with the law on his side, renewing for $125 each year. Granted, he has suffered from severe migraines since he was young, but Mr. Smiles makes no argument against his recreational use. He says, "I have always been a heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy" (that's six "heavy"s) "smoker," evidenced by his daily four- to seven-gram consumption. "I don't even get high anymore," he says, admitting a certain amount of hypocrisy to it all.

The evolution of the club scene has not hindered his business, but rather legitimized it. As a consultant, Mr. Smiles helps clubs set up grow rooms and walks new growers through the hydroponic ropes. He doesn't have a business card (or dole out lighters), but experience has yielded him kind, conscious bud that could be likened to the art of the heirloom tomato. With each inhale of cash flow, he exhales back into clubs, giving meaning to a functioning cooperative. "I don't nickel and dime it, though," says Mr. Smiles. "I can see how the clubs might be killing the middleman standing on the corner...Do you want me to get the next beer?" he asks. "You're just a student; I'm the drug dealer."

Trying to find that middleman is as easy as finding the SFSU's library annex, which is to say, it's damn near impossible. It's as easy as trying to see your own ear- you know it's right there, but try as you may, you're never going to get a look. After four hours of knocking on the tinted windows of Lexuses in the Lower Haight, you'll still be standing in the rain, just twiddling your thumbs.

Until then, there is Mr. Boots. A long-time Lower Haight dealer, Mr. Boots prefers not to work with the clubs. "It's supply and demand like anything else," he explains. He goes on to say that clubs get so many offers that they drive down the prices. As a result, he keeps his quality bud at a price slightly lower than the clubs.

"Stoners are lazy," chuckles Mr. Boots. "It's a matter of convenience." He's had friends that have taken two buses and waited in the rain for an hour for a twenty-bag out of desperation. But the propagation of weed in San Francisco fuels the quintessential stoner persona, he says, and it is this that allows him to sell within his hood to those whom it is a hassle to go get a card--or even get off the couch.

Mr. Rims will deliver your weed right to your door, and as a bonus, he has begun to provide his clients with hash cookies: a little baggie of three crusty, green cow pies to each buyer. They seem to be a strong incentive: as he enters a bar, a fortyish woman who resembles a rave rendition of Glinda the Good Witch strokes the back of Mr. Rims's clean neckline and pleads, "Can [my husband] and I have some cookiiiiieeees?"

A non-cardholder himself, Mr. Boots sweats the repercussions of possession in transit, but says he "plays the upper-class white guy card" and has no trouble talking his way out of incidents.

Likewise, Mr. Smiles recalls pulling the same hypothetical card. He and a friend were pulled over with over one hundred plants in the car--so many plants in garbage bags that they wouldn't all fit in the trunk of the new Mercedes they were speeding in. "I actually had to shove over the bag on my lap to get to my wallet," says Mr. Smiles, grinning.

In Redlands, one can't drive a car on the city streets unless someone is walking in front of it with a lantern. In Walnut, one has to get permission from the sheriff to be a cross-dresser. But these days, it's no harder for a lady to pocket an eighth of BubbleBerry than it is for her to don britches and a bowtie. Perhaps marijuana is destined to be another outdated law. Mr. Rims says it's worth examining. "It's a business like any other," he says. "It is a microcosm of what is going on."

Was it the combination of the polite, white kid in the passenger seat and the new car leather smell that made the fuzz let Mr. Smiles go, or is it the looseness of law? Is it the coercion of girlfriends or the consensual nod of the government that is fueling the new San Francisco corner store? Tolerance and Ammiano will tell, but undoubtedly, a whole new club scene has bred a new kind of dealer.


*Pseudonyms were used for this story, as sources are currently unwilling to add the DEA as a friend on Facebook.


contact: sgab@sfsu.edu | As a girl, Shari Gab dreamed of being a pirate, a superhero, or a writer. She chose to be a writer because it was the most unrealistic.

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PHOTO
Jason Rosete | staff photographer
A San Francisco-based drug dealer displays his latest package of marijuana. The marijuana will eventually be weighed and sorted for distribution among his customers.

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