Part 10. Building the Kingdom of Legal
For me, the problem as cannabis dealer was always supply.
I was an engineer, not a social-type. Don’t “know” a lot of people. Most of my working day consisted of sitting alone in a corner with a robot, trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Not much human interaction. You don’t have to talk to a robot or remember its name to fix it; don’t have to be adept at social cues. I wasn’t good with “The Talk:” never identifying yourself on the phone, except by, “Hey…it’s me.” That kind of stuff. Had no real connections to the marijuana underworld, so buying pounds or half-pounds, to sell in ounces or half-ounces, was always the difficult part. I just wasn’t a natural at scoring weed, so buying in bulk was always the challenge for me.
A lot of people buy pot from old high-school buddies and such, but buying larger quantities is a different world. Glenn Frey’s* Smuggler’s Blues gives a good feel for it: Not only is every name an alias, in case somebody squeals, it’s always somewhere else, in case somebody steals. Seller cannot report theft of product to police, so seller cannot disclose the location of the store to buyer. Typically, once you find a seller, you go to their apartment, hand over a large sum of cash, then wait with their girl-friend, toddler and 3-month old baby, while your “connection” takes your money to the person or place where the pot really is, or another go-between, so that the real location of the marijuana is never not known to nobody. By the time your connection finally returns with the goods, after what seems like forever, you hesitate to weigh it to make sure it’s all there.
What are you gonna do if it’s not?
Eventually, I “hooked up” with a dope-dealer of some experience, who for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons will remain unnamed. We’d usually buy a pound and split it. Occasionally, if we both had a lot of cash, two pounds. His catch-phrase, when he’d successfully scored, was, “The Eagle has landed.” It’s a bit of an exaggeration to compare scoring a pound of weed to landing a man on the moon, but in both endeavors, a lot of things can go wrong.
Selling after the monthly meetings became a time-honored tradition. It goes without saying that some people attend NORML meetings not to further the cause, but hoping to score weed. I did not disappoint. After the meeting was adjourned, we’d gather in the parking-lot around the trunk of my car. People would fire-up; I’d sell an ounce or two; maybe a few quarters. It was refreshing, very refreshing, to sell and partake without all the fear and loathing. Although I never bought a vendor’s license from the city of Tempe, so technically, I was still breaking the law.
The more things change, however, the more they remain the same. Although I had found a “loophole,” the powers-that-be looked at it as merely an oversight, to be fixed. Police all over the state continued to make dozens of marijuana arrests every day. The thought of a brick-and-mortar dispensary was unthinkable…although we dreamed of it. And yet while nothing changed, we felt the mood had shifted, just a little bit. If the spirit moved us, carrying a tax-stamp “just in case,” some of us would light-up joints at outdoor cafes, where people were smoking cigarettes, and nobody said anything.
In the event someone reading this isn’t experienced in the matter, marijuana cigarettes produce a powerful aroma. Since pot is so expensive, there’s a perennial debate about the most judicious way to get the precious THC into your bloodstream: joint, pipe or bong? Now we have vape-pens and dabbing. But almost everyone agrees that a joint produces the strongest odor. It’s impossible to not-notice. No Smoking Aloud goes the faux warning-sign. A lit marijuana cigarette in public counts as “smoking aloud.” Of course, that was back-in-the-day, when lighting up tobacco in restaurants and bars–in designated smoking areas–was still tolerated.
At the same time, among the things that didn’t change, was human behavior. Marijuana arrests made up a quarter or more of all felony cases. The judges, lawyers and narcotics detectives were not pleased at the prospect of losing a big part of their reason-for-existence. Not only do pot cases make up a good chunk of their duties, pot cases are the easy ones; the gravy-train. Think about your job. You probably have some easy tasks, and some that are not-so-easy. Now imagine we took away all the easy stuff; left you nothing to do but the hard stuff. How would you like that? Arizona law-enforcement felt the same way about losing the marijuana bonanza to the tax-man. The bumper-sticker they feared most was SCHOOLS not PRISONS.
Plus, drug cases they were accustomed to winning. Of the thousands felony marijuana arrests in 1996, Arizona prosecutors had won convictions in all of them and I had marred their otherwise perfect record. They’d been batting an immaculate 1.000 in battling cannabis. Now their average stood at 0.999 for the ‘96 season. This was intolerable, like a gravy-stain on Donald Trump‘s tie. They could not let it go. The state soon filed a motion in appellate court to reverse the dismissal.
Be sure to tune into next week’s exciting episode, to find out whether prosecutors won their appeal.
*Writing precedes publication by some time; that was writ the day Glenn went from out on the border…to over.
–Peter Wilson was a leader in AZ4NORML during the turbulent 1990s