As cannabis decriminalisation finally looms as a political possibility, Don Rowe tracks down an ex-dealer to get a look into the black economy – and asks whether they’d consider going legit.
A wheezy sigh of relief was heard yesterday as Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne indicated the possibility of finally loosening his bow-tie stranglehold on the legality of marijuana in New Zealand.
Interviewed on RNZ’s Morning Report, Dunne told Guyon Espiner he was “open to reviewing evidence” around decriminalisation, as well as shifting towards a health-focused rather than punitive approach to drug policy.
“Given the focus is on health rather than other matters, it’s not unreasonable to expect an approach that’s more tolerant in that regard,” said Dunne.
It’s good news for cannabis users in New Zealand, a diverse and varied demographic who have been suffering through a drought of late. But it’s dealers who have the most to gain, with their occupation potentially turning from criminal to legit in the not-to-distant future.
I spoke to one such dealer last night. University-educated and pulling in well above the average wage at his day job, Steve (not his real name) stopped selling weed at the end of last year, leaving his supplier, his customer base, and the profits and problems that came with them. I wanted to know what it was like to operate in the black economy – and whether he’d consider rejoining were the law to change.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
Why did you start selling weed?
Just because of easy access to a supply, really. Something opened up on a regular excursion out of the city and it made sense.
How much product were you shifting?
Last year it would definitely vary, but on a high month I might have sold 10 or so ounces, worth about $6000, plus me and the boys would have smoked a bunch on our own.
Sales were increasing, too. I was supplying a pretty niche market, but I definitely saw an increase in demand. I think weed is becoming a far more acceptable part of society, there’s less stigma around it, so more people are trying it out. Plus it was a pretty chill scene we established. Everyone was pretty friendly and low-key. There were no rats.
Describe the weed you were selling.
I sold a few different types. Mainly, it was really skanky indoor. A really strong indica strain, like the dude’s own tried-and-true recipe. They were really dense, thick nuggys, with little orange hairs all over, you know? It smelt really strong, and a lot of the time it would just get you so stoned you couldn’t really talk or do much, like all good indicas.
How were you sourcing the product?
I was getting the weed from a source in a different city, more than four hours drive away. Sometimes I’d do a day run, boost up during the day, but often I’d make it a weekend sort of thing. Go away for a night every month or so, pick up anywhere from like 5-10 ounces, and head back. We’d get them for $300, then divvy them up: half as .9g tinnies and the other half as 50 bags, somewhere around three grams each.
How were you moving it?
I would take the weed and put it in a big bucket, like bigger than a paint bucket, wrap that in a blanket and chuck it in the boot.
What market position did your supplier have in comparison?
He was a big dog, eh. He was definitely supplying to other people, I was basically just his bit on the side, pretty much his smallest customer. He’d just give me whatever he had left over. But he was moving a lot. Pounds and pounds every month.
What did you do with the cash?
Well you can’t bank it, which sucks, so a lot of it inevitably went on recreational things like beer, and other drugs. Or on things like car repairs, roadies or a new surfboard.
Ten ounces is something like 300 tinnys a month, or a hundred 50’s. What were the inconveniences of trying to shift that much weed?
Where I was, it was pretty easy really. There basically was no inconvenience apart from random people rocking up to my house, but that’s about it. Selling weed is less lucrative than selling other drugs like ecstasy or LSD, especially on a small scale, but it’s much safer too. You also get less people coming around at four in the morning banging on the door.
I still got robbed twice though. I came home and, even though everything was already pretty messy, I knew straight away that all the drawers had been rummaged through and there was a bunch of cash gone. Rooms had been tipped over and shit. Whoever did it knew there would be cash, and they knew which specific rooms it would be in.
Afterwards, I definitely considered security. I talked about getting cameras and stuff, but never ended up getting around to it.
Were you ever worried about someone else bursting in like, say, the cops?
Nah, not really. I never had heaps of people texting me or anything, people would just drop in. Nothing was ever done over txt or Facebook, it was all word of mouth, and so it was all very low-key. I wasn’t worried.
I fly under the radar though. I don’t even know of anyone who’s been busted personally. Although I did hear of a guy getting caught last year at the polytech in Dunedin. He was buying and selling stuff off the Silk Road I believe and got snapped by customs.
There were also some young guys who lived down the road who definitely weren’t being low-key; they had the Mongrel Mob rock in and basically stand over them. Freaked them right out. They went to the cops about it, and the cops said “Well, we can’t really do anything about that.”
They told the cops the mob stole the weed they wanted to sell?
Yea. They were that scared. They were shitting their pants. I even freaked out a bit at that point and cut it off for a while. I was definitely less worried about the cops and more worried about the gangs.
Both are problems that could be avoided with legalisation. Do you think weed should be legalised?
Definitely. It’s a natural plant for one, and it’s stupid to have that illegal while we smoke other things like tobacco. I also think weed is pretty harmless so long as kids aren’t smoking it at a young age and becoming drop-kicks. Although they’re probably destined to be drop-kicks anyway.
What issues could you see developing as a result of legalisation?
Well, who knows if there could be some kind of backlash from the gangs, maybe they’d start pushing meth more, making that a bigger problem, but it’s hard to say. I don’t think there’d be harm to any other part of society.
If weed was legalised, there would be a rush to establish a legitimate industry around cultivation and supply while the illegal market crashed. Would you consider getting involved?
I would definitely consider being involved from a distance while also keeping my day job. Actually, depending how lucrative it is, I could see myself completely investing in the industry. To grow enough indoor to make it worthwhile you’d need a lot of room and a lot of electricity. Outside would be easier, but then you’re dealing with bugs and all the usual things that farmers have to handle. But it would be a pretty cool lifestyle, particularly because I do quite enjoy smoking it too.
If you didn’t go down the commercial route, what would be your involvement in NZ cannabis culture?
Oh, I’d definitely grow a hobby garden. Maybe five or so plants. Just for personal use, you know? Even now I only want it for personal use. I don’t have the same captive market that I used to, or the same source to supply it, so I’m only interested in personal use.
It’s just too much of a hassle otherwise.