Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy

Dealin’ Through the Years 

Two dealers spanning generations compare the pot business in the ’60s with the illegal weed industry of today

Ted was what he calls a “back row kid.” He hung around the older kids who preferred smoking weed to studying in high school. In fact, Ted’s attendance was so spotty that by the time he reached senior year, his school had asked him not to return. This didn’t faze Ted. He did what any smart juvenile delinquent in the 1960s would do: get a GED, work at a foam rubber factory, avoid the Vietnam draft and score as much pot as possible.

A retired Eugene professional using a pseudonym for this story to avoid notoriety for his weed dealing past, Ted sat down with Eugene Weekly to talk about his glory days dealing illegal pot in Southern California as well as how the business has changed. We also spoke with Jim, a present day black market weed dealer who likewise seeks to keep his identity hidden to compare and contrast the state of the cannabis industry then and now.

 Ted grew up in Seal Beach, a coastal town near Los Angeles, where weed was easy to come by. Mexico being a mere road trip away made buying weed in bulk and selling it an appealing business opportunity to a group of young men who were tired of clocking in at the foam rubber factory. Ted says it started out as just meeting up at “the spot,” because back then every town had a “spot” where you’d drink and smoke and get drugs.

Ted’s local spot was a parking lot. Some people had acid. Some people just had beer to give, but Ted and his friends liked weed. They found a “more sophisticated” friend that sold kilos of marijuana and decided to go in on buying a kilo together. They smoked some of it themselves and put the rest of the dried leaves in little baggies that they’d call “lids” — measured in ounces. He quickly realized that selling those lids at the spot every Friday night made him way more money than foam rubber ever could. He and his friends quit their jobs, and his career as a full-time dealer began. 

Ted, now gray-haired, says there were various methods of scoring pot then. Some people would just buy kilos from someone like Ted’s “sophisticated friend,” others would go straight to Tijuana and get the kilos themselves. Those who operated at “the highest of sophistication” would buy a clerical collar to wear while crossing the border. In the early days, Ted preferred giving money to the boys dressed as priests or Boy Scouts and letting them deal with customs agents. 

“Me and my friends back then would all sit around stoned out of our minds every day and just come up with the craziest ideas,” Ted says. 

Ted’s version of the That ‘70s Show doobie circle resulted in schemes beyond what Eric Foreman could ever get up to. Ted’s drug-induced think tanks with his friends led to their manufacturing boats to sail to Mexico, police raids, Mexican drug cartels and what Ted calls “the truly stupid thing.”

The Truly Stupid Thing

Ted had a friend a few years older than him who had taken two years of Spanish. “In the world of dealing, this guy basically had a Ph.D.,” Ted says. This friend was particularly interested in selling old, crappy American cars right on the border of Mexico and then using that money to buy kilos of weed. The crew packed into a van, and off to Mazatlan they went. One night in Mazatlan they set up camp with some friends they had made — one of those friends being a fugitive running away from the American police. 

“One of my friends, he was a real paranoid,” Ted says. “This friend of mine got so paranoid he thought he heard the fugitive say he was going to attack some girl he was seeing when he really just said he was going to go get her — and he shot him.” The crew dropped the fugitive off at the hospital and went straight to Mexican prison. The misunderstanding led them to becoming “American Assassins,” according to the headlines, and after two days behind bars the crew got bailed out by a Mazatlan weed dealer who would become their main contact for kilos.

The Ship of Fools

After a falling out with the creator of their former makeshift boat, named “Ship of Fools,” Ted and his friends scrambled to find a new means of transportation for their drug operation. They had their eyes set on a sailboat. 

Ted’s crew did not have the funds to purchase said sailboat, so they did what they always did when they were strapped for cash: sold more weed. They made a deal with their Mazatlan dealer to buy 200 kilos that would need to be smuggled over the border by the Mazatlan dealer’s people, since they were now without their means of transport. 

“We get a call later that the operation got busted,” Ted says. “Well, we had already prepaid for that weed, so I went down to Mexico and decided to be a tough guy.” 

Ted told his dealer that “This would not stand. We paid for the weed to be brought across the border. You have to make this right.” 

The dealer brought Ted to his boss: Chato. Not Chapo. But like Chapo. Standing tall with the confidence of a freshly turned 18-year-old drug dealer, Ted told Chato the same thing he told the other dealer: “You owe us.”

“The other dealer is shaking his head at this point going, ‘Oh, no’,” Ted says. “So, instead of killing me, he [Chato] goes, ‘How much can you sell?’ Me, being an idiot, said, ‘All you got.’” 

Chato and Ted made a deal: Ted would sell approximately two tons of weed and give Chato a cut of the earnings so that he could use that money to buy back the kilos that Ted wanted. 

Ted brought his crew back to the border to help deliver all the weed. Chato paid off customs agents to drive across the border with the weed and bring it to parking lots where Ted’s friends would pick up the cars and bring them to a hotel room. Ted, being the mastermind behind the plan, stayed in a separate hotel room, where he watched all of the cars filled with weed go back and forth between parking lots and the hotel. 

“A car pulled up near my room and I could hear the police radio broadcast saying, ‘Alright we have them in sight,’ and I realized, holy crap, we’re busted,” Ted says. 

Ted rounded up his crew, got in his car and booked it to Tucson. Knowing they were being followed by the feds, Ted warned his other friend, who had a rental car, to just ditch the car at a random parking lot and meet up with them later. “He wanted his deposit back or something. I don’t know, but he drove this rental car back to the airport like an idiot and so the police followed him. There was a KFC across the street from where we were, and to make sure he wasn’t being followed he walked into the KFC and walked out and thought, ‘All right, I’m good.’” Ted and his friends were arrested shortly after that, ending Ted’s drug-dealing career.

Ted’s lawyer thought that under the Youth Corrections Act he would only have to serve 60 days in federal prison and take “a bunch of tests to prove I wasn’t some psycho.” Those 60 days turned into two years at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc.

Two years in prison didn’t break him. In fact, Ted says at that time most of the prison population were draft dodgers and hippies. Upon being released, Ted went on to join the white collar world, earning a few degrees and becoming the director of a legal aid organization that provided bail money for those who were busted for pot. He doesn’t smoke grass much anymore as, he says, “The new stuff is way too strong,” but from time to time he and his wife have indulged in joints with a THC percentage lower than 10 percent. 

The New Stuff

Ted is right; the new stuff on the market is strong. Dab pens, tinctures, edibles, resin and wax have levels of THC that put Ted’s bricks of flower to shame. A 2020 study conducted at the University of Bath shows that THC concentrations have increased by 2.9 milligrams every year, and weed’s legalization in 23 states has made the drug more accessible than ever before.

Present day weed dealer Jim — also a pseudonym, given the illegal nature of his business — says that the strongest and best grass is sold on the black market. His black market shop looks a lot different than the sketchy parking lots and parties Ted sold pot at. He sells his weed from the comfort of his home in Eugene. While Jim certainly has his fair share of weed paraphernalia, the house is too clean and put together to even closely resemble a “trap house.” Inside the basement, meticulously clean bongs, dab rigs and pipes line the bookshelves like trophies. He says that having nice equipment is a key part in gaining respect in the weed community — and they’re just pretty to look at. 

Jim is in his mid-20s but has been selling weed since he was 16. Dealing was never a full-time gig for him, but more of a way to make some extra cash and maybe cover some bills. He says, “It was like ‘Oh man, I’m buying all this weed and people ask me for weed; I’m just gonna buy more weed and then sell that,’ and then you’re just making enough to smoke for free and then you start to meet people and those people have friends and you just realize, oh shit, there’s money!”

Jim got his start as a dealer in Texas, where he was a self proclaimed “QP warrior” because he would buy quarter pounds of weed and would then break that up into smaller amounts for selling. He got his weed from a “plug homie,” and he wasn’t always sure where it came from. “Sometimes it was from warehouses in Houston; other times someone was driving it to Texas from other states,” Jim says. “It was probably all grown here [Oregon].”

What Jim was selling back then was, in his words, “shit.” 

“When you get weed from a place where it’s not legal, you never really know what you’re getting,” he says. He remembers in 2018 there being a wave of dealers cutting costs by replacing THC wax usually used for smoking out of dab pens or rigs with “random crap” that resembled real THC wax. “A lot of people were getting sick, and nobody knew what was in it,” Jim says. The increase in demand for THC wax, combined with how easy it was to hide what was in it, made ripping people off relatively easy. Stems, seeds, trim and bugs would all get thrown in the wax that people would end up vaping. 

Now, Jim either buys flower from friends who have illegal farms, or he grows it himself in his bedroom. He currently has nine plants sitting in a black temperature-controlled tent that takes up most of his room. Oregon rain makes growing outside more of a risk, so Jim prefers an indoor set-up.

He likes buying from the black market or growing his own because the weed is simply better. “There’s no chemicals, flies or any shit that you might find in dispensary weed.” Black market weed can also be stronger than dispensary weed, especially in terms of creating wax for dabs and dab pens. When Jim makes wax out of the bud he purchases or grows, he breaks up the buds and freezes them in a bag. 

From there, he puts the bag in ice cold water and swirls it around, which strips the most potent parts of the plant off of it. Finally, he places the wax in a teabag and heats it up with a blow torch to around 160 degrees so he can press it into a golden wax. Jim wasn’t sure of the THC percentages on his wax, but one of his customers, who would describe himself as a “seasoned stoner,” told Eugene Weekly that Jim’s dabs were “too strong” and made him “nonverbal.” 

Jim’s dabs aren’t for every stoner, but for some suffering from serious medical issues, Jim’s dabs are the potency they need to live without pain. “I have customers who have cancer and tell me that my weed is the only thing that allows them to sleep at night, because the pain medications the hospital provides aren’t enough,” Jim says. “Those stories make me feel good about dealing.”

Now that Jim lives in Oregon, dealing weed has gotten “exponentially better.” He’s able to avoid getting bud from dealers who cut corners, has little to no fear of getting arrested and, for the most part, he doesn’t even have to deal with his customers directly. Back in Texas, Jim says he used to meet customers in a random parking lot and exchange money and weed, but those deals were risky. “In Texas, I was robbed at gunpoint once while dealing,” Jim says. “That was scary.”

Today, Jim almost exclusively mails his weed. He triple vacuum seals the bud and ships it through the U.S. Postal Service. Jim says, “If they want to open the package they have to get a warrant from the judge; they’re probably not gonna do that.” 

He primarily ships his weed to Texas because of how many connections he still has there, but has also shipped to other surrounding states. 

 The best part about dealing weed for Jim, though, is getting to bring back the grass he’s grown in Oregon to his hometown friends in Texas. “I used to think growing your own weed was just the coolest thing, and so getting to come back and show my friends — ‘Look I did it! I grew this!’ — that was really cool,” he says. Jim doesn’t deal full-time these days, but makes enough “to cover some of the bills.” Mostly, he deals weed because he has an appreciation for the culture surrounding the weed black market. “I like supporting my friends’ farms and learning from them,” he says. “You know where it’s coming from and it’s good quality.” 

Ted, on the other hand, says of his past as a weed dealer, “I went along with it. It was the adventure we were having at the moment. There was a war going on, and I didn’t want to be in it, so that’s what I did instead.”

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