IT IS EVERYWHERE, and there is little trouble finding it. Once a person knows what the plant looks like he can take an autumn ride and check out the places where he threw his seed that spring. Once a person has lived in a town for a year, and smoked for as long, he knows who usually has it for sale, and contacts him casually.
But for the non-smoker, copping is difficult, and nearly impossible if he doesn't know another person who regularly smokes. A reporter seeking a sensational story may be able to make a buy, as will any other person who really seeks some pot, for there is always a smoker who will carelessly sell to a stranger—and frequently get arrested in the process.
A pot smoker turned loose in a city where he knows no one, seeking a can of stuff, will be able to make a buy before nightfall, providing he can think his way around. Contacts with strange people are usually put at rest by the language and knowledge of marihuana by the seeker, and a buy is treated today as an inevitable, casual event.
Handling marihuana is called "action." Thus, buying a small container might be called "bag action"; next is the can, or "can action"; and when a pound is considered, the term is naturally called "pound action."
Volumes are usually fixed all over the United States, but prices are subject to change depending on the season, locale, arrests in the area, and demand. The term "bag" means a small amount, usually the volume that will fit into a penny match box. The price for a bag is from $5 to $10—also called nickel or dime bags--and will yield 20 thin cigarettes. Next in line is the "can." Sometimes called "tin," the can is a tobacco can, usually of the Prince Albert variety. There are shorts and longs, meaning the marihuana is poured into the can for the short, or is packed tightly into the can for the long. Can prices range from $15 to $30. A pound ( actual weight ), can be divided into quarters and halves, but is sold whole for $100 to $250.
A bag is sometimes called a "B" or "box." An ounce of marihuana has around five B's to it, and is usually the equivalent of a long can. If a person is able to buy an entire pound, he can divide it up into smaller segments and sell them at the going rate, make back his investment, still having some marihuana left over to smoke.
Let us follow an example of how this might be done, if the pound sells for $200. It can be easily divided into cans, or ounces. Since there are 16 ounces to the pound, if the seller managed to sell all of them he would receive $20 for each of the 16 (ounces) ) or $320, a profit of $120 from his original investment of $200. If he were to sell the pound in smaller quantities, i.e., in the B, he would make a substantially greater profit. Since there are 5 B's to an ounce, there are 5 x 16, or 80 B's to the pound. If every one of these containers sold for $10, the seller would make a profit of $600 over his original investment of $200 ( 80 B's x $10 = $800 ). It is very difficult to sell eighty small bags of marihuana, however. Theoretically, if the seller were to "off" his pound in cigarette fashion he would be very wealthy soon: there are twenty cigarettes to a B, and the average price for a cigarette is 750 ( cigarette prices range from a quarter to a dollar ). He would make $15 from every B; since there are five B's to an ounce, he would make $75 from every ounce; or $1,200 from every pound. A nice business!
Today selling marihuana is dangerous, however, from the standpoint of penalties. After a person has been selling marihuana for a time, he usually becomes known to the police, and is eventually caught. Most smokers realize this, and stay out of the selling business altogether. If a person does decide to sell marihuana, however, he, does not follow the regular criminal pattern of selling it until he gets caught. He follows an entirely different pattern. Some sell it until a stranger asks them for some ( a very bad sign ), then they stop. Others sell it for money that is badly needed for one reason or another, and then stop. Others sell it for the pure adventure of selling it. Only a small number of people in the United States make their living from marihuana sales alone.
The first buy from a stranger is by far the most dangerous of them all. If the stranger has been recommended highly by a close friend the risk is hardly lessened. The reasons for this are multiple, but the most important one is the fact that there are too many stories exchanged in smoking circles about how so-and-so got busted ( arrested) by a guy he knew all his life. The risk of penalties means that to play safe one assumes each stranger is a cop until he absolutely proves otherwise. This accounts for the paranoia that many pot smokers have, a state of mind nourished by fear and suspicion.
Contacts between buyer and seller, friend or stranger, are usually made by telephone and the details are discussed later in person. If the deal is satisfactory to both parties, the date of transaction is usually described by the seller vaguely, with such phrases as "sometime next week" or the like. The buyer is instructed to get the agreed amount of money together, and the actual time of exchange is left unknown. "Next week" the seller calls the buyer, gives him an address, and says to meet him right away. If the buyer delays, the transaction is postponed or called off altogether.
For large deals the places of exchange are varied. They range from elegant apartments to slum houses. The only requirements are a table and chair, but even these are sometimes done away with in favor of an automobile interior. Almost all large quantity marihuana business is done at night. By an unwritten rule, if the exchange is in the home of another person, which is common, the home-owner gets a portion of the marihuana for making his home available. The seller is responsible for this, but the buyer is expected to add to it,-particularly if the buy is a large one ( in which case a scale is often available to the buyer ).
As part of the mechanics of exchange, the buyer is expected to sample the merchandise. This ritual is watched closely by the seller ( and the home-owner, if one is present) because it helps to identify the buyer. The dexterity with which the buyer rolls his cigarette, the way he talks, his actions in general are of vital importance to the seller, since these actions are the only real way to identify the buyer in terms of familiarity with the product. Agents and policemen generally lack both the vernacular and ability to roll a good cigarette or discuss pot as a "fun thing." Often a word of caution from the observer can call the entire transaction off. Examining the marihuana closely, smelling it, observing the amount of seeds, stalks and the like, with appropriate comments, are extremely necessary for the peace of mind of all concerned.
After the buyer has examined the marihuana and rolled a cigarette, he will taste ( smoke) it, and is expected to roll another cigarette for the seller. If the seller accepts, the buyer is further expected to roll a cigarette ( from the quantity he is about to buy) for the other person present, if there is one.
What is rolled is then smoked, one cigarette at a time. This is also observed closely, but the atmosphere is more relaxed if the prior fundamentals have been seen to. Now the quality of the marihuana, becomes known, and it is important for the buyer to pay particular attention to the potency ( or weakness) of his cigarette. It's all a big game of put-me-on, since the strength of the marihuana is usually stable, consistent, and predictable. Usually the intoxication will not differ much from one cigarette to another, even when all the variables, such as cigarette size, smoker's receptibility, and so on are taken into consideration. ( Although it gets you high, the marihuana generally available in the United States is uniquely mild compared to other varieties of Cannabis.) But the buyer may nod his head sagely and say, "Man, this is mellow!" meaning the pot is strong, or he may say that there's nothing special about it. Either way, the show must go on, and it does. When an exception comes along, it is a fine day. Perhaps someone will have some Acapulco Gold or Panama Red, and if that's the case, then comments are reserved for afterward.
After the cigarette or cigarettes have been consumed, the buyer is expected to speak of the value of the marihuana, with particular reference to potency and price. Questions concerning the original source of the purchase, the amount in possession, and names of people who deal in it are strictly avoided at the first meeting. In fact, they are sometimes never discussed at all. If the buyer shows what appears to be a more than natural curiosity, the seller must re-evaluate the buyer in terms of a possible police set-up, and, depending on his feelings, will speak freely or not. Other topics discussed usually center around marihuana, such as how much was seen growing in Mexico, different brands, new techniques of smoking, and occasionally on arrests in other locales.
Bargaining is permitted prior to an agreed price. Cash is given to the seller in bills not usually larger than $20. Arrangements to meet again are largely indeterminate, such as "in a couple of weeks." Marihuana business is the same as many other business transactions, except that no contracts or papers are signed, usually only cash is exchanged, and both parties know that what they are doing is quite illegal. They therefore mix their courtesy with caution, and end their meeting with an attempted "cooler than thou" attitude.
Both buyer and seller try to remain anonymous, shunning undue attention and staying as far away as possible from the eyes of the law. As for outside habits, they blend into society quietly—many participants hold regular jobs, and some buyers have been known to attend church regularly.
Large quantities of marihuana are wrapped in newspaper, put into plastic sacks, carried in a makeshift box or sack made from tin foil, stuffed into manila envelopes, put in coffee cans, or dumped into a compartment of an attache case. In small quantities, it is carried in aspirin bottles, placed between book pages, stashed in snap-off topped plastic bottles, compact cases, make-up kits, cigarette packages, tin medicine bottles, metal film containers, and in a countless number of other devices.
As quoted by Lindesmith, a discussion of the prospects of marihuana business in the 1930's went like this:
"The gangster remarked: 'Marihuana is the coming thing.' 'But,' I protested in surprise, 'marihuana is not a habit-forming drug like morphine or heroin; and besides, it's too cheap to bother with.' "He laughed. `You don't understand. Laws are being passed now by various states against it, and soon Uncle Sam will put a ban on it. The price will then go up, and that will make it profitable for us to handle.' " 1
In the United States, it is believed that the marihuana supply does not come from one large, simple group, but rather from a combination of small businessmen. The LaGuardia Report in the mid 1940's affirmed this, and there is no reason to believe otherwise today. The reason that no one, large, single organized group, similar to the Mafia, controls the marihuana traffic is due to several facts: marihuana is a wild weed, and can be grown in small patches easily. It would take a large area, of many, many square miles, to grow enough to supply the United States' smoking population for a year. This large growing area could be detected easily, and simply burned. Also, it appears that each urban area is supplied from different sources with marihuana from different fields in this country and Mexico. Confiscation in urban areas of large amounts, even as high as 600 pounds, does not generally mean a shortage of supply for regular smokers. Tourists returning from Mexico often bring back relatively small amounts, usually in quantities under five pounds—enough, however, to supply a smoking set for nearly a year. But, by and large, the most sensible reason for assuming there is no one single organization behind marihuana sales is the simple fact that buyers and sellers do not report any people "butting into someone else's territory." This is the testimony of persons who have dealt with marihuana for years, and who sell or traffic in over a hundred pounds annually.
As a rule of thumb, marihuana sellers sell only marihuana, and do not trade in the "hard" drugs, such as morphine and heroin. On the other hand, morphine and heroin dealers frequently sell marihuana. "Spree" drugs, such as mescaline or LSD, have been tried by many marihuana smokers, but traffickers claim them to be inconsistent sellers.
Those who make casual marihuana purchases, by far the most frequent in number, are similar in their shyness and caution to the buyers of a package of prophylactics in a drug store. Small buys, nickel and dime bags, are much less formal than larger deals, as described above, and vary considerably in exchange methods. The bag can be left in an inconspicuous place, received by the buyer, and the money can be exchanged later. Small buys in an area where smoking is frequent are often as simple as a person walking down the street, stopping at the homes of known pot smokers, with the message that some new, really great stuff has come into town. "Bring me a ten-cent stash" is not uncommon, but a thriving business is rare. Often the person who wishes to get into the marihuana-selling business will start out by peddling the stuff to regular buyers, thereby getting to know the types of people involved and how the business is run.
A small purchase is small business, and the people who deal with small buys are usually able to get by on their selling profits, but not by much. The pot can be delivered, the buyer having first put some money "in front" or ahead of the sale, or the seller can extend credit, as do most businessmen wanting any volume o business.
The small buy entails little inconvenience and less suspicion than any other type of buy, including individual cigarette sales, which have all but disappeared from the marihuana world. People who make consistent small buys are often those people who are just beginning to smoke or those people who just want a little pot for a party.
In passing, it should be noted that "copping" (buying) marihuana is, to a great number of smokers, the most exciting event in which they can participate. It is not so much the event of "turning on" that attracts the marihuana herd, but the stealth and secrecy it takes to get the stuff. It appears, of course, to be a childish endeavor. But buying can be fun and exciting, and it usually is.
Although the practice of planting a private patch has yet to attract a great number of marihuana users, the effort is possible and extremely money-saving. Following is some data on the plant, and how it is grown.
1. A. E. Lindesmith, The Addict and the Law, Indiana University Press, 1965, p. 231.