Names and certain minor details have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.
Demian lives in a rustic house in a rural part of Dutchess County. Selling weed is his side-hustle; he has a legitimate job that takes up most of his time and passion, and selling is a way for him to pad out his income and smoke for free. He is a “dubber,” selling small amounts of weed to consumers. He picks up four ounces — about $900 — of weed every two weeks and sells it off in eighth- and quarter-ounces.
He displays his current crop to me, unscrewing the lids of two giant Ball mason jars and encouraging me to smell.
“We have two different strains of Blue Dream,” he says. “One is a straight Blue Dream, and the other is Amber crossed with Blue Dream.”
He describes the Blue Dream as a more active, clear-headed high, “not in-your-couch, like Kush is known for,” he says, referencing another strain.
Demian has been selling pot for about seven years. He picked up his girlfriend’s business when she was overseas and continued selling once she got back.
Demian has never been robbed and has never had any run-ins with the law — he knocks on wood when I ask him this — which he in part chalks up to being cautious of who he sells to. He’s subtle enough that even his housemate doesn’t know the situation.
I ask him if anything about the trade makes him nervous.
“The most nervous I ever am is…after picking up, when I have everything with me, because otherwise I’m not typically ever driving with that much,” he says.
Being caught with four ounces of weed in New York State is still considered a class A misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in jail.
When picking up weed, or “re-upping,” Demian texts his re-up about wanting to hang out, and they decide on a time for him to come over to his source’s house.
“It’s like going to your local brewery and seeing what beer they happen to have in stock and on tap. If there’s some I might want to try…I can usually do that too, and through my own preference in type of quality and quantity, I pick what I like,” he says.
Like many dealers, Demian began by having his product fronted to him by his re-up, paying back the re-up when he sold the weed off and needed more. At this point, Demian pays up front.
Demian says some things have changed for the better and some for the worse since he started selling.
“More people feel comfortable with the fact that they enjoy smoking pot and they don’t have to be so secretive about it any longer, even in the states that — like NY, where it’s still not legal,” he says.
The negatives are more complicated.
Pot farms out West sell to both legitimate dispensaries and black-market dealers, but the former could always offer money up front, and larger amounts, Demian says. This, at least in theory, drives the prices up for the black market, though Demian admits this is more something he’s told to be cautious about then he’s actually experienced.
He reflects on the strange logic of the patch-work laws that regulate weed in the country, where a legitimate dispensary in Colorado might buy from a farm in California that also sells to black-market distributors, and where in states like Massachusetts, it’s legal to smoke pot, but there’s nowhere legitimate to buy it.
Pot farmers were concerned about taxation and regulation in the face of legalization, he said, but there were national positives to legalization.
“Look at Colorado, they just had that huge surplus of revenue from [the marijuana tax],” he said, referencing the unexpectedly high $66 million in tax revenue the state collected after legalization in 2015. ”If you’re going to be, as our country seems to be right now, so job-oriented and revenue (oriented), how can you ignore that?” he asked.
Demian, who says he gets 25-30 percent of his income from selling weed, would consider a job as a legitimate pot seller, but only if it were able to maintain its place second to his legitimate job.
The biggest thing Demian says he learned in his trade? Generosity pays off.
“It might be worth it to throw in another half a gram — which is not really going to affect my pockets that much — and take a little bit of a hit in that kind of way [and] it might further make you appealing to your customer base…being generous will come back to you,” he says.
Noxon lives in a semi-urban area near a college in Dutchess County and counts many college students as customers. He sells much more weed than Demian, picking up three pounds — about $9,000 worth — every couple weeks..
Although Noxon is a dubber like Demian, this is mixed with second-tier sales, wherein a dealer sells to other dubbers. Noxon makes the majority of his income from the pot trade, but has a legitimate job.
“You have to have a job or else you’ll just sit around playing Grand Theft Auto and not doing anything,” he says.
Customers contact Noxon via cell phone, but he demands they’re subtle. He gives me the speech he gives to every new customer he gets.
“Don’t say anything, just ask me ‘are you home,’ and I’ll know why you’re asking me if I’m home,” he says. “I’ll assume that you’re not going to come over and be like ‘hey, can we talk?’” he says, affecting a gushy, emotional tone. “You don’t have to be like, ‘can I come over for three and a half grams of marijuana?’ Just say, ‘hey are you home?’ and I’ll say yes or I’ll say no, and when the answers yes, come over, if [the answer’s no], if I’m not home at the moment, I shall let you know when it’s yes.’ In those words exactly.”
Demian says he uses drop points to re-up.
“We have a pretty good system worked out…we have a drop-off point [and] a pick-up point,” he says. “It’s pretty seldom we see each other, but, we’re good friends. It’s not all business.”
Unlike Demian, Noxon has had legal troubles due to his trade, and has been robbed.
“By a heroin addict,” he says. “Somebody put them in contact with me one day, and I really tried to get them to not try to get stuff from me [and] create a narrative for them that I don’t sell weed …Then [she] walked in one day and grabbed a jar when no one was looking.”
Noxon’s girlfriend was drying her hair in the bathroom when it happened, and chased the thief through their yard in a towel, but was unable to catch her. Noxon and his girlfriend had the last laugh. Noxon’s girlfriend ratted the junkie out to Child Protective Services, resulting in her getting her kid taken away.
Noxon has been selling weed for about four years. He knew someone who had weight and someone who was desirous of weight, and put the two in touch, receiving a quarter-pound for his troubles. He started selling this to his friends, then re-upped with his own cash and began selling regularly.
Police worry him more than thieves, he says.
“Police are thieves, they’re just legitimized, and they tend to have guns more than most people I know…they fucking take everything,” he says. “Somebody robs me, they tend to just take the drugs, they don’t take the money.”
When asked what made him nervous about the trade, he skipped past cops and robbers and landed on a surprising issue: “The corporate novelization of medical marijuana.”
Licenses in New York were going to “multi-million dollar fuckin’ corporations,” Noxon says.
“It’s definitely just completely eliminating the opportunity for anyone in the state to create an entrepreneurial base like they have in Colorado, and to a greater effect, Oregon and California, because there, it’s more in the hands of the people and private local farmers and the people they hire,” he says.
The situation in New York gave him job security, however, since he believes pot won’t become widely legal in the state, and not enough people will be able to acquire medical marijuana prescriptions to put him out of business.
Noxon has a similar philosophy to Demian about selling.
“I don’t worry so much about people robbing me just because I try to be really cool with people,” he says. “I try to be generous with what I have — overly generous with what I have.
“A little bit of hospitality goes a long way, more than being intimidating…goes a lot farther than any other security tactic, I think anyway…and then if you have friends around all the time, people are like, ‘oh god, I’m not going to do this in front of a ton of people,’” he laughs.