Dealing Weed Beats Cutting Grass

August 27th, 2011 at 12:09 am | 38 Comments |

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Picture a drug dealer in your mind. What does he look like? Whatever the image is, it’s probably not going to be a young white male wearing this summer’s latest footwear, and an untucked “secret wash button-down Coral tattersall” shirt from J. Crew. Doubtful, too, your imagination pictures him as putting aside a copy of Vitruvius’s On Architecture so he can measure out a dime bag of weed. But if you’re young and out to get high, this is probably whom you’re buying from.

In my circle, this is the summer of marijuana. Few people are drinking as much as they used to. Liquor prices have remained constant in Canada, but fewer students are employed, and when they are, their belts are tight. As such, there’s been an increase in the usage of pot—and with the demand, a decrease in the stigma attached to drug-dealing as a part-time job.

While I have never taken an interest in it myself, I do take an interest in making money. And with so few job prospects on the horizon, I briefly considered getting into the drug-dealing game myself. But before I announced it to my friends (how do I do it? do I post it on Craigslist?), I decided to do a bit more research into this “occupation” and see how much I could benefit from it.

One reason why drug-dealing doesn’t seem a likely job for students is that its very illegality would make it difficult to start up. It isn’t. All one needs is a modest bit of venture capital, and since the commodity is a favored one amongst college students (why else the posters of Bob Marley that adorn so many freshmen dorms?), the process tends to build on itself.

I spoke to Harold, a young, white youth at a university outside Toronto. His hair was brown and messy, and he dressed like anyone else you would see in a lecture hall; nearly nondescript, harmless; one would never think he was involved with drugs.

“I buy about $600, $700 worth of weed a week,” he told me in his room, a simple affair: fridge, gaming laptop, bookcase with too few books; the quintessential student quarters. “But that’s only because I’m selling the really good stuff,” he continued, “You can spend less, but the product won’t be as good. I usually make about $300 profit every week”–which is more than enough to cover the average college student’s expenses on McDonald’s and the weekly kegger.

“The hardest part when you’re starting out is getting customers,” he went on, “but word travels fast in university.” After only a few months of being in the business, Harold is considered to be one of the best dealers on campus, already stealing clients from another dealer. As in any business, it helps to be alert to your customers’ needs. “He used to be the best one around,” said Harold. “But he started selling pretty crappy stuff and would answer your calls or texts after a few hours. You were working on his time.”

When I asked how Harold operated–whether he stayed at his place and worked from there or moved about the city–he told me, “I only see people at [my residence] who have been here before I started dealing. If you’re someone else, I go to you. That was also Justin’s problem: You had to meet him wherever he was. A good dealer moves around. It’s safer and it’s more convenient for the customer. You’re always on the move.”

I thought this must be easy as all his clients were college students. He laughed and said, “Yeah, they’re college kids. But remember not everyone lives on campus. Sometimes, I have to go pretty far out of my way.” Suddenly, he no longer seemed like the man in control, but rather, a somewhat glorified, illicit bike courier. “My busiest days are Friday to Sunday,” Harold continued, “which is kind of crappy sometimes because if I’m at a party, I have to go home, pick up, and then go meet this person.”

At this level of dealing, one cannot expect to make much more than Harold. Marijuana, after all, only sells for so much. The typical going rate for a gram is $10. A half-quarter, (3.5 grams) goes for anywhere between $30-$40, and a quarter (7 grams), from $70-$80, “depending on the quality of the stuff,” Harold explained. (Footnote: Marijuana in the United States tends to be more expensive than in Canada, but the cost to the dealer and customer have roughly the same ratio.)

The typical college student will usually buy a gram or two, often more on the weekend. Marijuana, unlike liquor, is an incredibly inexpensive habit to maintain; the average user need only spend $10, $20 at most and be set for the night. Compare this to liquor prices—let alone drinks at a bar–and it’s clear why it’s harder to make a huge profit off weed than it is for selling alcohol to freshmen.

At the end of the day, drug dealing is a job like any other. Most begin it with a feeling of energy and enthusiasm. Hip-hop blares out of the dealer’s room, he holds himself in a certain way, and is eager at all times to make a sale. The rookie dealer reacts the same way to phone calls or text messages as if he had just started dating someone. Every ring or beep is a hopeful signal that someone is asking for marijuana.

But as with all work, as time goes on, the ringing phone (which tends, as in relationships, to ring more often) becomes a cue to sigh. Eventually, the music in his room is lowered and the dealer, once thinking he was “the man” resolves himself to whiling away time at his computer playing video games, always on hand, always on call like a doctor.

At the university level, drug-dealing, especially pot, is a mostly harmless affair. Possession laws in Canada are far less stringent than they are in the United States, and the typical customer is, as I’ve said, the usual college youth. Much like the dealer, he is harmless and only wants to get “high” with his friends while listening to music. When I asked Harold if he ever grew paranoid that one of his customers would rat him out to university authorities or even the police, he shrugged his shoulders. “If you’re buying weed, why would you screw over a petty dealer?”

The risk factor involved for being a low-level dealer isn’t too high. “It’s only at the higher levels of dealing that you have to worry.” By the “higher levels,” Harold means who he buys from, that is, the dealer to the dealer, who typically holds “about 15 pounds [of marijuana] at any given time.” Just under seven pounds of marijuana possession for the purposes of trafficking can lead to a life imprisonment in Ontario.

This leads the dealers-to-the-dealers to be exceptionally careful people, often not giving their real names even to those they sell to. And needless to say, these people stand in clear contrast to the comparatively innocent, naive college dealers. They are more dangerous, and more prone to violence, which is frightening considering the petty dealer will often have to meet face-to-face with them in order to buy his goods. A small mistake, and things could go very badly for Mr. Majoring in Sociology.

While seemingly innocent and easy and exciting at first, drug-dealing, even at the petty level, can act as a gateway to more dangerous environments. I am not suggesting that every college dealer will one day rise to the levels of Escobar, or even get involved in a turf war (maybe in the dining hall, but I doubt beyond that), but he is nonetheless exposing himself to a corrupt and potentially violent lifestyle, one which, with the wrong steps, could lead to criminal, or even in some cases a death record.

It shouldn’t be unthinkable that some students would be willing to take this dangerous path to make some spending money. Many of them do already because, as Harold put it, “taking everything into account, it’s really easy money.” Easy and accessible, which is more than one could say for many job prospects in this economy.

Myself, I do not have the stomach to be constantly watching my back. That being said I would be lying if I denied a constant, easy cashflow is an attractive proposition to make end’s meet.

Daniel Portoraro, 21, is a senior at the University of Toronto, majoring in English.  This is the fourth in his five-part series of trying to find summer work in a tough economy.

Recent Posts by Daniel Alexandre Portoraro

38 Comments so far ↓

  • hormelmeatco

    Another tip: use burner phones.

    • Smargalicious

      Daniel, I knew it.

      You’re a bum. Destined to live in a van down by the river after your parents kick you out of their basement, smoking weed bought with proceeds from stolen goods.


  • Marquis

    This is sad..really sad…a sad day when pushing and using drugs has become as mainstream as every other pop culture fad. No, no, I really don’t blame naive middle class white kids for thinking drug culture is a “mostly harmless affair.” You just need to see it first hand; how the drugs, the violence, the dysfunction has ripped apart entire communities here in the states. Not to mention the war down south. More than 50 people were burned alive in a casino in an upscale Mexican city by the Zetas cartel terrorists. Your pleasure has a price, Dan. Just remember that the next time you touch that trash.

    • roubaix

      I agree that Mexican shitweed should not be purchased by anyone.

      But isn’t Canadian marijuana grown locally? That’s how they do it in British Columbia anyway…

    • Demosthenes

      Newsflash: prohibition creates black markets. End prohibition, and the black markets go away.

      Why spend hundreds of billions of dollars enforcing laws that people don’t follow, incarcerating more citizens as a percentage of the total population than just about every other industrialized nation on Earth, in order to continue propping up a huge black market in a “drug” that is not responsible for 1/100 of the deaths related to alcohol abuse and alcoholism?

      Prohibiting alcohol did nothing to end people’s addictions to or desires for alcohol. It simply pushed the market underground, robbing the government of tax revenues and imposing huge costs in the effort to enforce laws that were totally useless as far as the goal of actually restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol. I can certainly understand restricting things like heroin and crystal meth, but marijuana? Really?

      • Polifan

        I agree with your phohibition example.

        • Demosthenes

          For obvious reasons there are no reliable statistics, but it is safe to say that at least half of what people pay for their garden-variety weed goes to the various middlemen. Why? Because of the opportunity costs associated with running an illegal business. That means, if you legalize cannabis, that you can tax the production and sale at absurd rates and still have prices that undercut whatever remained of the black market. We are spending obscene amounts of money, when we could be reducing our deficits by taxing an immensely popular consumer good.

          Just imagine: stockbrokers trading ETFs on GNJA (North American Cannabis exchange)!

        • Polifan

          I absolutely see the financial end but it opens up another legal realm (age requirements etc.) not to mention backlash from the opposition. This might take a while Demos.

  • rockstar

    Anybody ever see “Midnight Express?” I’m thinking of the prison guard who beat the soles of our hero, with his son present.

    If you want to solve the drug problem


    Or not. your choice. Legalizing weed and prostitution in DC is also an option. DC could be like Amsterdam. I’m cool either way.

    • He Loved Big Brother

      It’s pointless to try and seal the border – these damn canadians will always find a way through. Our Jeesus-flavoured freedoms are irresistible

    • Levedi

      Do you know how much weed is grown inside the US? I’m all for never putting a dime in the hands of the Mexican cartels, but sealing the border (assuming we could) would just transfer the business to the home grown dealers. Not a thing would change except some of the violence might move up here.

      Note – I’ve never tried pot and I doubt I would even if it were legal. But that’s not the point. Pot is deeply embedded in American culture – it’s not going away and we can’t blame its use on outside forces. We can only decide how we’re going to respond to / manage it. I say legalize, tax, and regulate. And throw the book at public intoxication and impaired driving. Pot would become less harmful than alcohol. (In fact, some studies suggest it already is.)

  • jollyroger


    Two words: Emerald Triangle…

    I’ll go with door number two, if it’s ok w/you…

    • rockstar

      Yeah, that’s about it. Don’t forget, this is what we chose.

      • Polifan

        Seal the border? Did anyone ever stop to think that some countries might start sealing the border from us?

  • NRA Liberal

    You show good judgement by steering clear of dopers and their squalid little world, Daniel Alexandre Fluffyhairo. Ontario isn’t exactly the roughest place in the world, but a young white youth such as yourself has no business on the inside of a correctional institution. Doesn’t do much for the resume, either.

    A stint of cutting grass would do you good. Put calluses on your hands, a tan on your pasty neck and some hard earned Canadian dollars in your wallet. You could do research on the extremely hardworking, poor, highly motivated immigrants you’d be meeting in the landscaping trade—maybe write something about their struggles. I’d much rather read about them than some low level dormroom dope dealer.

  • TJ Parker

    Gee, ya mean there’s a kernel of truth in Weeds and Breaking Bad?

    Here’s a simple summer job that any student can do! A-and you can do it from Craigslist too! Sell yer @ss . Its a fine, reusable commodity that is best exploited while you’re still young.

    Make a few bucks. Then reinvest: buy yourself some clothes and take massage lessons. Graduate to rent boy. Wash, rinse, repeat. Graduate to escort.

    Oh, and if you’re gonna come back and say, “But TJ, I’m not gay!”, then all I can say is this: Make sure to advertise that in your headline. Its a good niche that some guys will find appealing.

  • ottovbvs

    “Myself, I do not have the stomach to be constantly watching my back. That being said I would be lying if I denied a constant, easy cashflow is an attractive proposition to make end’s meet.”

    Ever considered being a rent boy?

    • Nanotek

      I see several rabid-right Republican politicians have recently gotten caught engaging that service from young men… make money and climb the conservative ladder at the same time … you may have hit on a workable combination for Mr. Portoraro .

  • JohnMcC

    Humm….was wondering if you were going to get to that sooner or later. Dealing a bit of weed
    kept my daughter in formula for a while back in the late 70s. And — if my luck was good that day — I could inhale a little of the product. Don’t turn up your damn noses, folks. This is what a Depression looks like.

    These days I’m a nurse and I give you your drugs. So can’t take mine. But retirement will come, and a grow-room in the workshop….

  • Graychin

    Good essay this week. Nice job.

    Actually, Harold’s gig doesn’t sound like easy money to me. On call 24/7? Running around town making deliveries – sometimes to locations that make a sensible person uncomfortable?

    No thanks. I mowed some lawns in my younger days, and I think I prefer that. You don’t have to watch your back, and when you go home your time is your own.

    I don’t know why in the hell they don’t legalize the stuff.

  • Houndentenor

    There is no logical reason that marijuana should be illegal while alcohol is legal. (Note: I don’t use mj and I hardly ever drink. Both are very bad for the voice.) It would be interesting if we could have an adult conversation about legalization or decriminalization, but I think we are another generation away from that.

    It’s sad that people see dealing as a job option. I don’t know what Canadian drug laws are like but in the US we have a lot of people doing mandatory jail time just for possession. Too risky if you ask me. (I probably shouldn’t have watched Oz !)

  • PracticalGirl

    Having raised my son in Oregon (the teen years spent about an hour from Humboldt County), I see a lot of truth in Daniels description of today’s average dealer.

    My neighborhood dealer had “Weeds” beat to death. Honors student, private school “mate” of my son, daughter of 2 very prominent attorneys (one prosecutes criminals, the other defends them), and fairly industrious. Left/accepted transactions in a “hollow” in a tree (middle of our street, but not on parents’ property), something I found out about from my son after the fact when she was a freshman at an Ivy League school. Miss Entrepreneur had applied for an internship with the FBI (what the hell was she thinking?), and the first thing they did was confiscate her cell phone and call everybody on it to find out about her. The kids were “cool”, but apparently she had some adult customers who felt the need to tell the truth. Mom was mortified, Dad had some grudging respect, but needless to say-no internship for her.

    That’s ok, though, as she graduated this year (honors, again) and is now working on Wall Street. A legitimate dealer, finally.

    BTW: I also know a kid from that same school who really went legit. Got his grow card, negotiated with medical providers and makes just under $100,000 for his “part time” job as he finishes his degree-Botany-focused, naturally.

    • ExConSean

      Yeah, I’ve lived in both Arcata and Coos Bay, and you describe a lot of people and situations I’ve seen in that area. Weed just isn’t that big a deal once you take the scare factor out of it, and once the authorities heed the peoples’ will. The hardest-working, most generous person I’ve ever known is someone I have known my whole life, who smokes all day, every day, and has for the last 40+ years. (He also hasn’t had a sip of alcohol in that time.)

    • Houndentenor

      Of course she works on Wall Street. LOL

  • ExConSean

    My advice, if you want to work in the weed biz, is to move to California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington or Montana (the rest of the state mmj laws are too top-heavy to be of much use to an entrepreneur or a sick person) get yourself a card, grow your own, and get in on the “Green Rush.”

    I’ve been pulled over by cops in two of the above states with more than an ounce of bud and my doctor’s prescription on me, and told to be careful and have a nice day. We barely look over our shoulders at all anymore on the left coast.

    Come to where the freedom is.

  • hisgirlfriday

    Do Canadian students have to take out loans to pay for college at the exorbitant rate that Americans, even those who attend public universities have to?

    And if so, does Canada have a similar provision to the one in the U.S. where you are ineligible for federal student loans if convicted (maybe arrested) for any sort of drug offense?

    I’m guessing not, and if so, that’s just another example of how dealing in the U.S. would be much much more risky than it would be in Canada for a college kid.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    I live in the weed capital of the United States. We have the best shit here in Washington, period. The hydroponic grown up in Seattle’s University District, the outdoor crop grown out in Southwest Washington and up on the Olympic Peninsula: they’re tops. You couldn’t pay the average Washingtonion to smoke the grass that Alexander sells, known pseudo-affectonately here as “Beaster,” a sort of phonetical play on “B.C. bud” (ie, Canadian shit).

    I’ve never really gotten high on grass all that much myself– I’m an athlete, and marijuana, in addition to doing damage to your lung capacity if you smoke it, is doubly bad in that the THC levels in it drastically lower your testosterone levels no matter how you consume it– but I’ve been around it enough, and around enough people who sell it and use it, to know that the profit margin on it is miniscule unless you’re dealing very large amounts. To really make a buck off weed, you have to deal in nothing smaller than ounces, and even then quarter pounds are probably a better floor for quantity per sale.

    But why waste your time? I mean, for easy money, does making three hundred dollars on a seven hundred dollar investment– for all the melodrama, travel and potential criminal risks– really make sense? And, pray tell, if you’re a young person wanting to make a lot of cash on the quick, and you decide to start selling weed by the pound, how do you discreetely do so, seeing that your probably live in an apartment or a small house, where it would be glaringly obvious that huge amounts of stinky bud are being stored? There’s got to be a better way…

    …and it’s called cocaine. My advice to Alexander and his buddy: sell coke instead of weed. For around six hundred bucks, you can get an ounce of blow, sell it by the gram for 40 dollars a pop and nearly DOUBLE your investment. Of course, you’re gonna do WAY more time for getting busted with a small amount of saleable coke then you would with even a larger amount of weed, but c’mon, man: 97% profits versus 42%! If you’re going to risk any amount of prison time to make money selling anything on the black market, don’t be a chump: choose the riskier and hence more profitable business.

    My ex-girfriend dealt small amounts of coke for over two years. During that time, my take home pay from work was exclusively for my own leisure. I didn’t spend a dime on bills or groceries. Think about it: never needing a credit card to buy all the electronics and sporting goods that you want, or to go on vacation. Cash only!

    One caveat, though, Alex: if you’re gonna sell this shit, then just sell it. DON’T USE IT. The situation my ex and I had going was great until she started using too much and got hooked. The profits vanished up her nose, she became heavily indebted to her own dealers, and eventually needed reconstructive surgery on her nasal cavities. Occasionally, you may need to take a line with potential customers to show them that you’ve got quality shit, or you may want to take a whiff when you’re in a situation where you’re drunk and need to sober up for some important reason, but otherwise don’t touch the stuff. EVER.

    • ExConSean

      Yep. Profit margins are better on the white stuff. But the risks are so much higher, and you’re actually doing harm for a living. Better to stick with weed.

      On a light-hearted, regional-competition note, I’ve smoked the Washington shit and it’s definitely superior to BC Bud (and WAY better than that Amsterdam garbage), but it’s nothing compared to the quality you find in a good California dispensary. Plus, you don’t need a hookup, you just go to the store and buy it.

      It’s definitely only the guys who deal in pounds who make anything here, though. But you can blow out your spare room, pull 5 lbs. every three months (without even knowing what you’re doing) and pay for most expenses, which isn’t bad.

  • rbottoms

    Me, I sell electrons. Even better money and the supply is infinite.

    Compared to the hassle of selling a lid of weed, an iPhone app is so much more efficient.

  • Oldskool

    Since crime is under consideration, I would consider cigarettes. As addictive as coke and with taxes so high in some places, you could make a lot of money. But you’d probably want to go south and steal them so your outlay is minimal. Just stay clear of the cops and mobs. So there would be a thrill factor too. Not “Scarface” or “Blow” exciting but you gotta start somewhere.

  • Nanotek

    well written

  • Steve D

    1. $300 a week? Can’t you do better at Wal-Mart?
    2. If marijuana is such a gentle, harmless drug, why are higher level dealers prone to violence?
    3. Marijuana users will tell you how it improves their lives. Can any of them produce a non-drug using witness who’ll agree it has improved their lives?
    4. Legalize it and tax it if you will, but not a penny for subsidy. “Take the money we spend on the war on drugs and use it for rehab?” No. Spend it on other programs entirely. Keep the ban on college loans – if students have money for pot, they have money for books and tuition.

    • Jimbobaker

      #1. Yeah, but which office would you rather work in? Your living room couch, or isle 5?

      #2. ‘Higher level dealers’ are not prone to violence, that is a myth perpetuated by Hollywood. They are prone to having large flat screens and even larger shoe collections, however.

      #3. Ever heard of medical marijuana? I’d imagine most legitimate medical users know a doctor that could be your ‘non-drug using witness’.

      #4. Keep the ban on college loans… perhaps you did not attend any college, and therefore you can’t know that experiencing life away from home is a big part of the education. If a typical student lost their access to loans, they’d be forced to drop out immediately. If mistakes are so highly priced, how are students to gain any life experience?

      • Nanotek

        + 1

        I speak as someone who doesn’t smoke… what someone else does is not my business as long as they aren’t hurting me physically … as for college … I think the government should fund education as far as someone wants to go … we’re all better for it

      • Steve D

        Did you actually read the article?
        1. The author complains that he essentially has no off time because he’s constantly on call.
        2. The author himself refers to the violence factor. Did you miss that?
        3. Assuming medical marijuana has real value, and is not merely a front for legalizing (very debatable), then maybe. Now, how many of the author’s customers are in this category?
        4. Gee, living away from home is expensive. How can you afford marijuana? Or alcohol, for that matter, or the cigarette our writer so affectedly waves? More to the point, why should other people give you financial aid so you can have disposable income for recreational drugs?

  • Nanotek

    I see the distant lightning flashes of Jack Karouac in Portoraro, if he sheds his safe, butterfly cocoon