Herb, green, hash, dank. A gram, a G, an eighth, an ounce, a dub, a dime.
This is just a few terms that those employed in the business of selling marijuana illegally must understand to communicate with their clientele.
“First time I started was towards the end of eighth grade. I wasn’t big into it but I realized I could make money off of it,” said Michael Lewis (it’s a pseudo-name, at his request.)
Michael is a 25-year-old, small in stature, with jet-black wavy hair that parts itself on the left without any effort on his part. He dresses casually—t-shirts paired with half open button-down shirts, joggers or jeans, and sneakers. There’s a cadence to the way he speaks that became more apparent the longer I spoke to him.
Michael has lived with his parents in the same Queens home since he was born. He has two older brothers, now in their 40’s, but he mostly considers himself an only child.
“They were out doing their thing,” he said, “I was an only child most of the time.”
He was raised Catholic and from kindergarten until fifth grade, he attended a private Catholic school. The rest of his adolescent years were spent in public schools in Queens. He no longer practices Catholicism.
“I grew out of it, I guess,” he said.
In the eighth grade, Michael began working as a dealer. It was a minor aspect of his life at the time, a way to make a bit of money for himself.
It was in high school where Michael began dealing in earnest. He was a restless student who couldn’t sit for long periods of time.
“I went to high school but never really went. I went to parties—meet people and just selling. That’s it.”
After graduating from high school, Michael went to trade school, but he quickly became impatient with the curriculum and dropped out. Afterwards, he developed an interest in automotive technology and started working in body shops. He aspires to own his own body shop one day.
“Maintain the hustle and save up, save enough money and own my own body shop.”
Over the years, he has steadily increased his revenue and clientele base. He stresses the importance of his clients and how notoriety or popularity can help increase his bottom line.
“It’s about the money and making yourself known. Not too known of course,” he added with uncharacteristic urgency.
Michael talks about dealing in a nonchalant way that make it seem as if he’s talking about another day in the office. In the past, he has dealt pot to supplement the money he was making from a legitimate job. But there are times when dealing has become his only source of income. Just like now.
“It’s always been on and off. I haven’t continuously sold. I am looking for something to do, a steady job.”
Working as a dealer comes with its own caveats.
“People will call you at 4:00 AM. You can be readily available, or you can ignore that call.”
He tends to ignore it. He spends most days waiting for clients to place an order. Clients can reach him on his cellphone nearly any time of the day.
“I wake up, check if anyone needs anything, create a delivery route… things pop up,” he said. “Paydays are when clients hit you up in advance.”
Michael’s favorite part of dealing is that it requires a lot of movement and travel. He also enjoys meeting people, the public relations aspect to selling that is an integral part of building a large clientele base.
“There’s drug dealers everywhere, they’re a dime a dozen,” he said. “You can make this steady, but you always have to be on the move. There’s people that go state to state.”
Some days he doesn’t have to work at all.
“There’s days that it’s really dry. You just hang out.”
However, the illicit market for marijuana is risky and saturated with workplace hazards and other dealers looking to make fast money. Selling can quickly become challenging or dangerous.
“There’s a lot of competition,” Michael said. “People will try to sabotage your setup. It can go bad in a lot of ways. There’s moments you get pushed to do things you don’t wanna do.”
The threat of arrest constantly looms even though he has never been caught. He gets especially tense when making deliveries.
“If you’re riding with an eighth, then it’s no problem. But if you have an ounce, then you’re riding dirty. When you’re meeting a client, you don’t know who you’re meeting. You always have to be ready to run if anything happens. It’s always in the back of your mind.”
Michael is aware of the insecurity of selling marijuana as a source of income.
“I don’t plan to do this forever, it has its risks. You risk your freedom. You risk losing everything in a matter of seconds… Lives get ruined because of this, that’s the main reason why I’d stop.”
He figures he’ll sell for another five years. He is also thinking about returning to school to study automotive technology or medicine.
“I never gave it a shot,” he said. “It’s never too late.”
The biggest obstacle to his returning to school is his attention span.
“Maybe if I quiet my mind enough, I can commit to it,” he said.