IN ALL THE ATTENTION paid to Oregon's new cannabis economy, there's a degree of smugness. With all due respect to those who passed Measure 91 and labored tirelessly to implement it, sometimes the true pioneers who got us here are overlooked—if not demonized.
Before there was a regulated "adult use" program, and before there was an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, there were pot dealers. I recently sat down with a friend who's an old smuggler and weed dealer. He's a third-generation Oregonian, he's old enough to collect Social Security, and he's still active in the black market. I thought it would be a good time to check in with him now that Oregon has ushered in the freedom to buy a quarter-ounce of flower at dispensaries around the state.
"No one wants weed from Mexico anymore," he said of how times have changed. "When it switched from farmers to cartels, that screwed it up for everyone. And frankly, aside from the issue of not wanting to fund the cartels' horrible activities, the quality has gone down. It used to be you got a wide variety of landrace strains [indigenous strains of cannabis that have adapted to a specific geographic location—Ed.]—Santa Maria Gold, Panama Red—all these classic sativas that made people giggle. And the prices! I used to get 50-pound bales for $500 a pound. But the cartels didn't care about quality, just quantity. So they started growing from seeds that produced crops of fairly common, generic strains."
When I asked if he was ever nervous about bringing bales of cannabis across the border, he said, "Well, sure—but we would stash the bales inside car engine blocks, stacking up a dozen or so and pouring motor oil and grease over the lot of them. The last thing underpaid border guards wanted to do was dig through them. And sometimes you would just hire someone to drive the load, and cross your fingers that they knew what they were doing." The imports available were also mixed with a wide variety of sun-grown strains from Southern Oregon and Northern California. "Higher prices but better quality," he remembered, "and the California/Oregon border was not a real concern."
So would he consider entering the regulated market? "So I can be denied a bank account? Pay the feds 80 percent or more of what I make? Deal with rules and regulations that would cost me thousands of dollars? No, I'm good, man. I don't see any reason to jump in until I'm given the same opportunities as someone selling beer, wine, or cigarettes. If the government wants to stamp out the black market, they need to stop treating us like second-class citizens. Taxation without representation and all."
As we wrapped up, I asked if he wanted to try a new digital vaporizer I had acquired. He stared at the blinking interface for a few seconds, then pulled a perfectly rolled joint from his jacket pocket. "If it's all the same to you," he said, "let's stick with analog."