Tufts: Clearing the Smoke Surrounding the Cannabis Economy
Editors’ Note: Reggie Hubbard is a pseudonym employed by Tufts students and marijuana users who, in order to protect their identity, request to remain anonymous. Reggie writes a weekly alternative culture column that explores and reports on issues and stories concerning marijuana.
BY “REGGIE HUBBARD”
Many of the facts presented in this article were gleaned from interviews with regular marijuana users and sellers on this campus. Due to the illegal nature of what is contained, every effort has been made to protect the identities of everyone involved. Many people will object to the way that I have presented information. In order to address such objections and to facilitate dialogue, I will answer all questions e-mailed to me at email@example.com and posted on my blog: http://reggiehubbard.blogspot.com. Please be aware that responses will be posted on the blog.
Depending on whom you ask, there are five to ten pounds of marijuana smoked at Tufts every week. At an average of $60 per eighth (3.5g), that’s somewhere between $38,400 and $76,800 of retail-priced marijuana consumed on this campus every week. At a price ranging from $300-$400 per ounce when brought onto the campus, this leaves around $15,000 or over two pounds of marijuana in profits to those who sell cannabis on or around campus.
Over the last two months, I have been gathering this and other data. I’ve met and interviewed all manner of people involved in the Tufts marijuana market, from the freshman consumers to small-time dealers, all the way up to three individuals who were once or are currently responsible for the importation of pounds into the campus sphere. These people agreed to talk to me because they trust me.
The sizeable margin of error in my estimate comes from the secrecy and uncertainty that inherently accompanies any black market good. A similar uncertainty obscures national marijuana figures too, which are made on the highly questionable assumption that the government stops five to ten percent of all cannabis before it can reach users, resulting in an estimated 500 thousand to one million pounds per week of US habit. You can doubt the words of dealers, but it’s bound to be better than the government’s estimation of its own efficiency. The ability to guess the size of what many consider to be America’s largest cash crop is so imprecise that the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment admits, “No reliable estimates are available regarding the amount of domestically-cultivated or processed marijuana.”
Still, the Tufts campus numbers may seem a little high, but considering that we are a top-tier, New England university with a sizeable concentration of wealthy students in a state that just reduced cannabis possession to the severity of a parking ticket, that half gram of herb per undergrad per week seems a lot more reasonable.
The marijuana community is really a collection of overlapping social groups, within which there is plenty of marijuana smoking and, when you really think about it, a lot of trust. In almost every social group, whether based on a sports team, fraternity or sorority, club, dorm, acting troupe, or just an assemblage of friends, there are bound to be a fair amount of pot smokers, and, like anybody who shares a habit, they bond and form cliques. It’s no different than the way in which the heaviest drinkers, gamers, or cyclists find one another in the midst of a larger social milieu.
No stoner is an island—every extended stoner group knows a “guy” or two. Regardless of whether you help a buddy obtain the phone number of said “guy,” or you pick up O’s to split amongst friends, this is drug trafficking. In the college bubble however, the lines between helping out a friend, distributing, and dealing get blurred and forgotten. Eddie Einbinder, author of How To Have Fun And Not Die, notes, “It’s always the kid starts dealing pot because he’s buying too many eighths a week, realizes why aren’t we buying an ounce and just smoke for free and maybe make some cash.”
Of course, sometimes people plan on selling drugs.
Frank had an ambitious plan of making $50,000 by selling weed all throughout college. Jake wanted to pay off his own toking habit that he picked up senior year in high school and if the alcohol bills got covered too, all the better. Frank told me that that he estimates at least 15 lbs. per week were coming in back then; he was responsible for distributing five of them. Weed then was markedly worse, selling for $35 or $40 per eighth, which probably explains the hike in the amount circulating. Jake stopped selling when he came back for his sophomore year and made the decision to stop smoking; when he tokes up these days, he pays with clean money. Frank made $20,000 his freshman year. Things got sketchy and he called it quits while he was (way) ahead.
The obvious question for people like Frank—students bringing enormous quantities of cannabis onto campus—is, where do they get it and whom do they get it from? It comforts me that there is no single answer to this question. Marijuana seems to sprout from just about everywhere: ex-hippies who have sold to Tufts kids since the 1970’s, young townies, people in Vermont, Maine, New York, Western Mass. And various people associated with serious Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs as the DOJ calls them).
The wide range of sources for marijuana is one of the facets of the trade that interests me personally. Today, the majority of crops originate from a handful of operations that disseminate via standardized shipping routes. In fact, the five plants per person limit in place in the Netherlands coupled with the majority of consumption by tourists has resulted in an illegal international trade of highest-grade herb from North Africa. Even in Amsterdam, reefer has illegal roots.
The fertility of the pot market is one of the main reasons Pat Buchanan is now a fan of legalization. “There are two sure ways to end this war swiftly: Milton’s way and Mao’s way,” he comments, “Americans are never going to adopt the Maoist solution. For the users of drugs are all too often classmates, colleagues, friends, even family. Indeed, our last three presidents did not deny using drugs.”
“I make money because I have a connection.”
Anyone interested in selling marijuana needs three things: capital, a scale, and somebody who trusts them enough to sell them some grass.
I might point out that not a single person I spoke to has sold marijuana consistently for two years straight. One might assume this trend is due to high-risk stresses on cats like Frank, but small-timers fluctuate in and out of the market depending on schedules, availability, social situation, and the need for weed. At another point on the spectrum is Hank, a junior who is friends with someone who sells ounces. Once every week or two Hank will pick up a bag and weigh out six eighths that he gets rid of over that time period.
Still, the market for pot faces natural shocks like any other, most often at the beginning of semesters. This January, as often happens, many of the big distributors decided to stop dealing without passing on their connections to the next generation. This left a void in supply and high demand. Within weeks, many entrepreneurs, freshmen and sophomores especially, were arranging to bring in small amounts ranging from an ounce to a quarter pound. This recent shock also had the effect of escalating the acceptable price range towards a very heady $60 to $70 an eighth.
I have witnessed the distribution of three pounds in twelve hours following atwo-day drought. The pot market is a well connected, grassroots network.
This is why part-time smokers can transition into big-time sellers overnight when they run into special, one-time deals. In February, in the midst of the high-quality headies-only market, Jim—a sophomore who doesn’t normally sell marijuana was offered a half-pound of mid-grade marijuana from a local friend for $1000 ($15.63/eighth). In no time, Jim had nothing but a thousand dollars profit and a batch of weed brownies to show for it.
Most dealers are motivated by the prospect of free marijuana. John, asenior, claims that he doesn’t make a dollar from selling weed, although he manages to provide up to a quarter pound a week. John smokes weed for free. But, being the philanthropist that Tufts expects him to be, he estimates that he inhales no more than a third of his personal ganja since he shares generously with friends and visitors to his merry abode. Perhaps unsurprisingly, of all the dealers I spoke to, John seemed the happiest to be selling weed. He truly loves it and being an upperclassman, doesn’t live with the fear of repercussions that often come from being involved with freshmen or other loose-lipped souls. John began dealing only this past year during a lull in October when he had a friend who moved to the area. John’s lack of business motivations is driven by his love for the good herb and his humble understanding that he, too, can only “smoke everyday for free because [he] knows somebody.”
Others who sell larger amounts are inspired by the need to pay for other drugs or alcohol. As Jake put it, “the black market is incestuous.” Most of the profits from the pot trade pay for marijuana, but, for thosewho can make greater profits, marijuana sales can pay for more expensive drugs like cocaine, opiates, and all sorts of prescription pills I never bothered to learn about.
Some people sell marijuana as a full time job; Bryan sells between a QP (quarter pound) and HP (half pound) a week in eighths and quarters to maximize profit. Hepays for the rent of his off-campus apartment with the proceeds and is still left with some spending money. But dedicated involvement takes up time. “You gotta answer phone calls, and you gotta be available,” Bryan told me, “Stoners have no loyalty, they’ll go to whoever can get them weed.” Still, that work ethic pays off; the day before I interviewed him, Bryan made an easy $100 in an hour by walking down College Ave.
One motivation that is not usually noticed by dealers until they have been actively selling for a long time is the improved sense of business acumen. Running any business is tough, but running one in which you must negotiate marketability with privacy, profit with friendship, and potiquette with The Law, is as tough as it gets. Without question, I would trust an ex-reefer jockey as my banker over some quantitative economics major who might just cause the 2037 interplanetary financial meltdown.
What I call pot dealers, Jack Cole, a 26- year veteran officer who spent years as an undercover narcotics agent before becoming founder and Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), calls “accommodating friends.” Still, for participating in the market, if caught, they could face prison time or at the very least expulsion, a permanent note on any school records, and a news story outing them on the eternal Google machine.
Jack Cole and the others at LEAP have a saying: “You can get over an addiction but you can’t get over a conviction.” What former Lt. Cole is saying is that it is possible to get over an awful addiction, but, once the legal system has you at all, they have you by the short and curlies. It’s why most schools already know better than to turn over students to the actual police for drug offenses. In school, it is much cleaner and easier to deal with such situations than if lawyers get involved and a student is left with a criminal record that might prevent them from getting a job (and eventually donating money back to their alma matter). It’s also a lot easier for a school to not have to defend a possibly illegal search if the only punishment is expulsion.
Even if Johnny Q. Law doesn’t get involved, punishment in the drug market can affect a student irrevocably. Even for very minor dealing, most schools will expel a student. But an equal or greater danger is campus media coverage and, as I have mentioned, Google. The Daily, reporting on an incident in September, printed the names of three students. Those three people, barring a change in name, will forever turn up on the Internet as drug dealers. For allegedly providing a commonly traded and appreciated good and due to journalistic indiscretion, these three have been branded.
The probability of getting caught grows with time as more and more people smoke the original dealer’s weed and as his name become casually (and mythically) associated. Bryan notes, “You can’t get your name out of people’s mouths 100%.” This is why any time Bryan takes on a new client, he asks: “If you’re caught and the cops say ‘just tell us where you got it and you can go.’ What do you say?” A wrong answer means you might not even get to know Bryan’s name (hint: it’s not Bryan.) Bryan also doesn’t sell to girls most of the time because, sadly, “girls talk too much.”
As mentioned briefly above, marijuana sales often fund “harder” drug habits. Aaron Houston, the only full-time marijuana lobbyist in Washington comments, “When you have the black market, there’s encouragement to engage in other black market activities.” Eddie Einbinder adds to this, noting, “College kids can get rich and that could possibly lead to other problems with drug abuse.”
This happens at Tufts. One dealer, who funds his Oxycontin habit with pot sales, confided in me that, like himself, some dealers fund and nurture harder drug habits. Even barring new experimentation, the ability to be high 24/7 for free allows many dealer to go through college in a stoned haze.
What I have described happens on every college campus in this country (perhaps barring military academies and a dozen special cases). Those who fear for the well-being of the Tufts student body should console themselves with the knowledge that what transpires here is more muted and less dangerous than the goings on at many schools. Also, for most students here, drug use gets no more extreme than reefer or maybe the once-a-year psychedelic.
The demand for marijuana by students will continue to drive massive amounts of the population towards drug dealing. By DEA estimates, 900,000 teenagers in America are selling drugs (so juniors and seniors aren’t included).
This article comes out on April 20th, 4/20: the unofficial holiday that we stoners have claimed as our own. Today, at least half of the undergrads here and at schools across the nations will spend the day smoking weed and hanging out in massive, extended acts of illegal protest. All this pot came from somewhere in the US, Canada, or Mexico, from loving home growers and industrial scale grow “ops.” For most of us, the sack in hand will have gone through five or six intermediaries, the last two of which were probably fellow students.
The government is, in their own words, at “War” with you. No one is benefitting, and a vanishingly small few continue to support such as war. Still, the pot you might smoke to celebrate 4/20 is illegal.
If you are so inclined, go out today, smoke some civil disobedience and keep supporting change we can breathe in.
Peace, Love, and Bowls,