By Hanna Brooks Olsen
I was poor and couldn’t pay rent, so I started selling weed
When I was in college, everyone really liked Weeds. It had just come out and it was kind of groundbreaking — a suburban widow, complete with perfectly imperfect hair and a seemingly endless closet full of Going Out tops, driving a Range Rover and selling pot.
Whenever someone in class talked about it, I rolled my eyes. I knew there was no way she was making a living — in a posh suburb, no less — on dimebags sold to PTA moms.
I knew exactly how much money you could make selling weed because I had been doing it. And, frankly, it wasn’t a lot. But, hoo boy, was it a lot of trouble.
The first time I sold a $20 of Vancouver’s finest hay-stinking pot, I went to some guy’s apartment. A friend had texted the guy my number. Then, the guy called to give me his address.
“You can just text me next time,” I said.
“I don’t want to get arrested,” he said.
“Well, don’t text ‘HEY I NEED POT.’ Like, be normal about it,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. And gave me his address.
I walked over to his place. My boyfriend had told me not to carry the digital scale because if I got stopped, I could get an additional charge for intent to distribute. No shit, I thought. I knew a kid who got popped for intent when we were in the eighth grade. Just like every other aspect of life, selling pot was an opportunity for men to talk to me like I didn’t know what I was doing.
Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, I learned about pot pretty early. My mom and dad both still called it “dope” and, even though everyone assumed my mom probably smoked a lot (she drove a Volkswagen and burned a lot of incense), my parents said dope made you stupid. I remain certain that, now that it’s legal, my dad would actually really enjoy it. But that’s a different essay altogether.
A lot of my parents’ friends smoked, and downtown Eugene pretty much always had that faint odor of sweet burning grass and sweaty human bodies. So by the time I got to college, I knew my way around a bud.
Just like every other aspect of life, selling pot was an opportunity for men to talk to me like I didn’t know what I was doing.
I also knew that the weed the kids in my dorm were smoking was hot garbage, so I felt comfortable pinching the bag a little bit — which is to say, it was on the light side. I tucked it next to my tampons in my purse, which is where literally all people with periods put something they’re trying to hide. If you ever want to find drugs or something else belonging to a person who menstruates, look in the tampon pouch.
Walking along the off-campus path, already a little stoned on the stash that would soon belong to this other kid, I felt strange. It had happened quickly, this leap into doing something pretty damn illegal, and yet every little step I took seemed so benign.
Earlier that year, I’d learned that a friend of a friend was going to pick up a brick of something a little less grotesque than what was floating around campus. They were driving about an hour south, and there was an extra seat in the car, and if I had $40 I could get in on it. I had nothing else to do, so I donated some plasma, got the cash, and went for a ride.
It all became a little too real as I stood in a terrifying bedroom in an even more terrifying apartment complex. Within my line of vision, I could see no fewer than three — probably unlicensed — firearms and some exotic animals. One bare lightbulb in the ceiling blasted down on all of us while the guy pulled out a literal garbage bag full of cannabis.
And, suddenly, we were in business. Iwas in business.
I hadn’t realized the amount of weight we were picking up or the fact that it would be way more than we could burn through ourselves (even though some of those guys could really put it away). Apparently, that had been the plan all along.
I feel the need to be quite clear at this part of the story. The boys (and I use that word on purpose) who became my business partners were bored, wealthy, white kids from the suburbs who thought it was cool and fun to play baddie. They were in college because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives. They were into weed and all of its trappings (video games, eating cereal for dinner) as a hobby. I was poor as hell and putting myself through school by doing just about any odd job I could get. But we all lived in the dorms, so we were de facto friends. Because that’s how college is, I guess.
Because I was poor and couldn’t pay rent, suddenly I became the sentinel. The Nancy Botwin of the college.
On the drive back, they made plans, shouting over Jack Johnson and Coheed and Cambria.
We would move just enough to pay for our own supply — just little bags here and there. We could smoke all the crumbs and it would be cool and we’d never need to pay for our own pot again. A quick drive down once a week on the weekends would re-up the stash and we’d use the money we made to buy the next batch. No crossing state lines, no big sales. So easy!
And it was easy for a while. I didn’t have to do anything; I was just around, getting smoked out sometimes and kicking it. Occasionally, I went for the car ride, but not often, if I could help it.
But then the boys moved off-campus spring quarter, and because I was poor and couldn’t pay rent, suddenly I became the sentinel. The Nancy Botwin of the college. I would be the boots (okay, Birkenstocks) on the ground.
It was decided, for me but not by me, that I would now be in charge of distribution. I would be dropping bags all over the place like a little pixie of pot.
They gave me a lockbox containing Kirkland Signature fold-over sandwich bags. They showed me how to weigh out a bag, as though I hadn’t been sitting right next to them all quarter, watching them do it. They went over all the measurements, as though I hadn’t been party to all of it already.
workplace, on the bus, while volunteering — but it became explicitly clear when I brought that first sad little bag of weed to a stranger in an apartment down the street.
I went to his door and knocked. He let me in, introducing himself.
I don’t care, I thought. He brought me into his room. His roommate wasn’t home, he said, but he didn’t want him to come back because he didn’t “want to share.”
I assumed he meant the weed, but, honestly, I can’t be sure.
He laid down on the bed, propping his head up in his hand.
“So, what kind of stuff do you like to do?” he asked.
Oh god, I thought, he thinks this is a date.
At first, I tried to appease him. Being friendly had always worked well in my service jobs. After he started droning on about going to a festival or something — “You should come with some time! Do you like live music?” — I had to put an end to it. I pulled out the bag.
“That’s it?” he asked, looking at the nugget.
“Yup,” I said.
“Is it okay if I weigh it?” he asked, reaching under his bed.
Ah, fuck, I thought. Now I have to go through this whole thing.
“I really don’t care,” I answered, watching him pull out a gas station scale.
He weighed the whole thing. Bag and all. And he nodded. I stifled a smile.
“Okay,” he said. “$20?”
“Yup,” I said.
He pulled out crisp, fresh-from-the-ATM bill. I wondered if his parents knew how their darling boy was spending their money while he was away at school. I would get to keep half. It hardly seemed worth it.
Even if I could sell him nothing but seeds and stems, it wasn’t worth another afternoon pretending to care about his CD collection.
“Want to stay and smoke a little?” he asked, gesturing at plastic bong, crusted with residue.
“Sorry, I have other drops to make,” I lied.
“Cool, well…” he began as he sat forward on a bed covered in flannel sheets that I’m positive had not been washed all year, “I’ve got your number. So… can I call you some time? Maybe we can go out?”
“I’m a lesbian,” I halfway lied.
“Oh, sorry,” he said. “Well, thanks!”
Leaving his apartment, I texted my friend who’d set up the deal.
“He hit on me,” I told him.
“Really?” he asked. “That’s never happened to me.”
I saw the kid around campus many times, at least twice at parties with my boyfriend. I always acted as though I didn’t know him, and whenever he texted me for a bag, I would say I was dry. Even if I could sell him nothing but seeds and stems, it wasn’t worth another afternoon pretending to care about his CD collection.
That was another lesson I learned from my first time selling weed: some things aren’t worth the money.