My dealer now gives me looks when I stop by. A few months ago, I started talking to him about poetry. Not only that, I roped him into a project. At first, he was excited about it. Lately, instead of his usual gregarious gaucho self, he’s become subdued around me, his eyes patient with a hint of pity, as if I have glob of snot on my face and he’s too polite to tell me.
I’d hoped working on a creative project together might open up a new level of communication between us. It hasn’t. Our exchanges remain stubbornly rote: I pass by, he gives me a friendly welcome, asks me what I want, without answering I throw cash on the table, the amount confirms what I want, he weighs grams of hash on a small scale, wraps it in Cellophane and hands it to me. Unlike me, he’s under no illusions as to the purpose of my visit.
Over the months, I’ve gotten to know his household. His wife is quiet, stoic, an ocean of calm in a busy home. The front door is typically ajar, to allow a procession of people to traipse in and out all day every day. It must drive her nuts, but she smiles a small smile, continues cleaning or cooking, unruffled by the never-ending chorus of unruly noises, the loud TV, her husband shouting, the kids playing in the hallway.
However rote our exchanges, it feels like visiting family. And this is not unusual. Over the years, I’ve made it my business to get to know my dealers, and on occasion, become friends. This strategy not only secured my hook up but also dressed my addiction up as social networking. I’ve befriended some nutjob dealers in my time, like the woman in London whose ex attacked me with a knife.
IN DEEP WITH MY DEALER
It was a Saturday morning, and I’d call round to her townhouse near Islington to collect a pick up in preparation for my weekend shenanigans. This was the 90s and London was at the height of its clubbing scene, its Ministry of Sound days. I spent my weekends doing the circuit of the best underground clubs, had a fav place that opened at dawn on Chancery Lane.
This particular morning, my dealer was on her way out, said she’d be back soon and if her ex called round, not to let him in. She left me with her teenage daughter and toddler. A friend of the daughters was also in the house. Fifteen minutes after she left, the ex shows up at the door, wielding a knife. He was off his head on a cocktail of drugs and demanding to know her whereabouts.
I grabbed the toddler, ran to the upstairs bathroom, locked the door, and tried to console the kid in my arms who wailed every time there were shouts or screams from downstairs. Then, the ex banged on the bathroom door. At first, I refused to open it. When I did, I held onto the kid, assuring the ex I’d no idea where she was, even though it was a lie and the blade was within striking distance.
Finally, the police showed up (the daughter’s friend made the call) and stormed in to break up the shit show. When my dealer returned, a slim woman with blonde hair, she took it in her stride, well used to chaos. “He’d never have harmed you,” she said, “you were minding the baby.” What if I wasn’t? was the obvious question. But I didn’t ask it. I didn’t go back to the house. And I’d like to tell that was the end of crazy dealer friends for me, but it wasn’t, not by a long shot.
BEYOND THE CHAOS
However chaotic their households, the one thing my dealer friends had in common was a desire to keep the front of a “normal” life. Not just for the obvious need to hide their activity from the law, but to participate in an above-board existence, to end the cycle of poverty, to rewrite their stories. Fact is, strip away the seediness of dealing drugs, and what these people were was die-hard no-holds-barred entrepreneurs.
And they liked being friends with me. Not only was I a solid customer, I was educated, a professional, the kind of person with the kind of respectable veneer they longed for. That sounds incredibly arrogant but I don’t mean it that way. I mean we spent time together, got to know each other, talked about ideas and how to change the world and how to make space for people like us.
It was a kind of conversation that made them feel seen. And they repaid me in kind, sharing stories from their lives, typically mad stories about the many challenges they faced as a people living marginalized lives, rife with uncertainty and the constant threat of an unwanted bang on the door. And I wanted to them to feel seen, wanted them to feel like more than just my dealer.
They were a huge a part of my life, a way to sustain to my wellbeing, and if I made them feel less of a criminal, by extension, I felt less like a criminal. In fact, in my 30 years of use, I’ve never felt like a criminal for consuming cannabis. I’ve never been under any illusions that it’s the law that’s wrong, not me, and it’s this that I communicated to my dealers.
WHY I TRUST MY DEALER
I suppose I gave them the hope there were more people in the world like me and one day, they could come clean, operate out in the open, have a long list of customers who treated them with the respect they felt they deserved, given the massive risks they took to do business. This mutual validation is the unseen foundation of the black market.
No wonder the legal industry is having such trouble competing against it. And yet, it’s not the whole story. Whatever way I want to dress it up, my relationships with these people were purely transactional: they had product, I had cash. Everything else was fluff and baubles. But if anything, that’s a reflection of their skill as sales people.
They were selling drugs, and yet, they managed to make me feel seen because they were the one group of people I was sure would never judge me for my habit. More than that, they made space for me in their homes, and shared stories about their lives. This is pure cannabis culture in the raw, rambling conversations over a shared smoke. And it’s what’s painfully missing from today’s evolving legal cannabis market.
Instead of lack of judgment and fun chats, we have new kinds of censorship and conversations have been parsed down to their transactional basis. Instead of celebrating the progress that’s been made, I find myself feeling more aligned with my dealer than ever. Which is why I’m talking to him about poetry and enduring those looks. It’s also why I hope he never goes out of business.