The Economics of a Part-time Drug Dealer

by Jeff Winkler

Part I: The Basics

Jeff Winkler: So you’re a drug dealer?
Part-time Drug Dealer: Yes. [Sound of his lighter flicking].

What do you sell?
[Blows smoke] Marijuana.

That’s it?
Occasionally I arrange cocaine for friends. But I don’t really make money off of that. It’s basically an exchange.

How much money do you make a month selling weed?
There’s weeks I make $600 profit. But I’d say, on average, it’s about $1200 a month. $1200 is a good, rough figure.

And that’s after expenses? That’s profit?
That’s profit.

But you also have a job. You work for tips.
Yeah, I work for tips.

So how much do you make on tips?
I’d say about $600, $700 a week.

That’s more than you make selling drugs!
Well, I’m working a hell of a lot more than I am I’m when I’m selling. I’m spending far more time working than I am selling weed. I mean I spend probably about a quarter of the time selling weed.

[Giggling] A quarter of the time …
[Pause. An weary groan] A quarter of the time …

Why not just sell more drugs?
Because there has to be a demand for it and part of my philosophy in selling drugs is that I’m not going to actively seek it out. By actively seeking it out, you expose yourself to a greater risk of getting caught. If there’s ever a point I get enough business that I don’t have to work a [makes air-quotes] legitimate job, I will absolutely take that opportunity. The second I’m making $1000 a week just selling weed and not doing anything else but selling weed, I’m going to take that up.

How long have you been selling?
I started in 2006 and, like most other dealers, started by being a heavy user of the product. I realized that if I bought in bulk and sold some of it, then I could essentially smoke for free. I wasn’t making any money at first. It actually took up to this past year for me to begin seeing any kind of profit off of it. And it wasn’t until I curbed my own habit that I started to see that.

Is this like those rules you mentioned the other day?
That’s the Ten Crack Commandments, by Notorious BIG — “Don’t get high on your own supply.” That’s rule number … well, I can’t remember if that’s actually rule number one. But it should be number one. I actually had a girlfriend who gave me a really hard time about waking up in the morning and smoking weed and I kind of thought about it and realized that she was right. It was interfering with my legitimate source of income and my ability to perform a real job. Quote-unquote. And so I started curbing my intake. And now it’s getting to the point where, out of my own supply, I barely even smoke any. I actually have more than I know what to do with, in terms of personal use.

What about in terms of “business use,” how much do you sell?
I’m selling about a quarter pound at a time, about $1000. That’s what I buy. There are people who buy anywhere from a couple pounds to 20 pounds to a ton at a time. There’re differing scales of involvement. So I’m kind of lower on the ladder.

What’s the general going rate for weed?
Market prices vary per region. In this region, you’re looking at $50 dollars an eighth, $100 a quarter, $350 an ounce. Some people will give a break at half a quarter-pound, which is two ounces. But typically the next break isn’t until you buy a quarter pound, and then it kind of varies depending on the person who’s selling it to you. It’s sort of like cigarettes. You know, cigarettes vary from coast to coast. In Middle America, cigarettes are cheaper because people have less money.

That’s also taxes, too. So how do you decide what your taxes are when selling? How do you decide your mark-up price? If you’re selling an eighth, how much of that do you actually get?
You have to consider that in the region I’m operating in, the market’s kind of flooded. And in order to compete, I have to keep my prices pretty steady. So basically, clients and the market determines my rate and therefore determines my profit. My profits are also determined by the quantity I buy in. If I were to buy double the amount I’m buying right now, I would see a significant price decrease for myself, which means I’d see a greater increase in profit. Although it’s also determined by how quickly I can move it. It is an organic material, so it does decay over time. So it’s best if it has a certain level of freshness.

So how much “freshness” do you sell?
At this point, I’m probably moving about a quarter-pound every week or two.

Okay, the market controls your price. But going back, on an average $50/eighth, how much profit do you get?
On an eighth, I believe I make about $18. And if you factor in the amount of time it takes me to package and deliver that, you’re looking at no more than 15 to 30 minutes per transaction. So at worst, I’m making $18-a-half-hour. Realistically, the majority of that work is [chuckles] driving.

It kind of goes back to that old adage “time is money” and that was a hard lesson for me to learn because when I used to sell from my house, I’d have people come over and I would be a generous person and offer to smoke weed with them out of my own supply or maybe they’d want to load a bowl out of what they just bought. And so they’d end up staying for an hour. And while it was fun, it tied up an hour of my time that I could have been doing any number of other things.

So, learning that the quicker the you make a transaction, the more money you’re making was a valuable lesson for me. And ever since then, learning that lesson, learning that one lesson, I’ve been able to make a lot more money considering the time I’m spending.

Part II: The Customers

Do you sell to anyone?
I do not sell to underage. I try not even to sell to people under the age of 21. I’m discriminant. I have one customer that’s under 21, but that person is as loathsome of police as I am, so I’m not worried.

How many customers do you have on average?
[Blows out smoke real hard] Ten to a dozen. Good customers? Frequent customers? Four or five.

What’s frequent?
Everyday, every other day.

Buying how much?!?!
I have one customer who buys eighths or quarters every day. At market prices in this region that’s $50 and $100 dollars, respectively.

Uh … is he smoking it all?
Uh, SHE …

Sorry, I didn’t mean to be sexist!
She and her family smoke it. They split it. I believe it’s her and her father, her brother, her uncle. It’s basically a family of stoners. They were buying, up until recently, an eighth or a quarter every day, but they finally realized that buying in a greater quantity would beneficial for them, moneywise.

So they were giving you $350 a week? Right?
I would say it was actually much more than that because, more often than not, they were buying quarters. So I would say it was probably more like $500 a week. But now that they’re buying about an ounce at a time, it’s probably more like $350 a week. So she was my number one customer and still is, but now it’s more that’s she’s my number one customer in terms of quantity, not profit. Again, you have to consider that I’m actually a small fry in this world.

When dealing with “customers,” are you just always thinking in really economic terms then?
Very much so, actually. With most of my customers, once I get to wherever we’re meeting, it takes less than five minutes. I’m very economical when it comes to my transactions with my customers. At this point, there is one customer I will smoke with; a kid who I happen to see some qualities of myself. He seems to enjoy my company, and he’s also given me several clients. He’s actually given me my largest client and that’s about it. But he’s helped me out in other ways. So I’ll take the time.

And that’s sort of another thing. Occasionally, you have to play politics to groom people to get them to buy a little bit more. You sort of, like, … it’s mingling. You have to rub elbows a little bit. Or if someone is the type of customer that’s loyal and is going to buy frequently and they need that interaction, they need you to sort of engage them …

Yeah, it’s hilarious. But it’s sadly true. Sometime you got to do that. You’ve got to play into it.

Into what, being The Dealer?
Being the dealer, you know, hanging around with them for a little bit, placating them, making them feel good about what they’re doing. Because you’d be surprised — some people have a little bit of guilt about spending money on this particular substance.

You said you once offered someone a “discount” price, which, quite frankly, sounded like a girl at a strip club tell me that her “real name is Jane.” So … were you lying?
I wasn’t lying. I actually gave a discount.

Was it good stuff?
It was good stuff. I’m frequently told that I have some of the better marijuana in the area. And I’m fortunate enough to catch a pretty good break with the quantity I’m buying. This is where politics kind of come into play. There are certain people you can get to buy off you by lowering the price. So I undercut market prices frequently with certain people to get them to buy more, or buy more frequently. If I know someone is not making a lot of money at their job and they like to smoke weed, I’ll say, “Hey, instead of you not buying from me, I’m going to give you $10 off this eighth and I’m going to charge you $40 because I can afford to and still make a profit. And you’re going to get weed and you’re going to buy it from me. And you’re going to probably buy it from me for as long as you live in the region.”

Do you ever front customers, or offer it on credit? Layaway?
I have some customers that I front, it’s usually close friends and sometimes it’s very good customers. If I have a customer that buys frequently, it’s essentially the “One Chance Rule.” I’m not going to front them a lot; I’ll front them a little. As long as they prove to me that they’re actually paying me back, I will front them again. I have a customer I front half an ounce to, at least once a week.

Does he pay you in installments then?
Uh, SHE …

Jesus Christ.
Yeah. And it’s a risk, but at the same time, it’s a very good customer and I have faith that they will return this money in full if they should ever decide to stop buying from me. And even if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just going to cut into my profits briefly and I’m back.

And they’re done, too?
And they’re done, too. That’s the thing. The second anyone of those people who I do front to fucks me over, I’m done with them. I’m never going to talk to them ever again. They’re blacklisted immediately. I’m not going to fuck with that.

What’s the most you’ve ever made on a transaction?
I’d say about $200 off a transaction. I was selling two ounces. Again, you have to consider, I’m a small fry in this game. I’ve lived places where I’ve had various dealers, one of which was moving 20 to 25 pounds probably in a month. And that person one day went to pick up and all of a sudden the DEA was in his face with guns and arrested him. I don’t really think that’s going to be me. But who knows? Maybe one day. I actually learned a lot about how to operate this business from him.

Part III: Money to Spend

So you’ve experienced dry times and boon times, supply and demand — do you plan financially for that?
The medical marijuana in California has now made it possible for most of the country to see a pretty steady supply. To give you an example, in this area, I’ve been dealing roughly nine months, and winter is typically when it will dry out sometimes. But my supply has been so consistent, it’s been the most consistent supply I’ve ever had. Well, second-most consistent, but nonetheless, it’s been very consistent. I haven’t had to worry about that at all.

And, fortunately, I have that other job, so I don’t have to plan for that all that much. To me, this is just something I do to make a little extra money and to provide a service that I think should be provided legally …

So you’re crusading?
I’m not crusading. I’m not even political about it. It just harkens back to prohibition times where we thought outlawing alcohol was going to decrease the number of drunks in the nation and it didn’t work. It led to speakeasies, where people were selling alcohol in dark rooms with metal doors and small slits in them. It’s sort of like smoking cigarettes. You’re saying you don’t want people to smoke cigarettes so you ban ashtrays? It doesn’t really work that way.

So as long as it’s illegal, I’m probably going to take advantage of it, (A) Because I don’t think it should be illegal and it’s my small way of sticking it to the man without doing a whole lot while still making money and, (B) it’s kinda fun, I gotta say.

There sort of a romanticism about it, much like bootlegging. You’re running drugs, you know. You’re doing something illegal and you’re getting away with it. And profiting from getting away with it.

So do you plan at all, financial, for business liabilities, like, getting busted?
At this point in time, I’m not too concerned with legal repercussions. I don’t think I’m going to get nailed with anything anytime soon. I’m pretty smart with how I go about doing my business. In the event that I start moving a serious quantity, I’m definitely probably going to set up some sort of plan for that in the way of saving money for a lawyer, finding a lawyer.

A retainer?
Yeah, a retainer.

Wait, so you’re thinking about upping?
I mean, the name of the game is always upping. Like I said, if I can make enough money doing this that I don’t have to hold down a legitimate job then, hell, I’ll give that job up in a heartbeat.

So what are you looking at in terms of what goes into upping. You said, getting a lawyer … those are costs, too. Are there any other costs you may see if you decide to up?
Honestly, in terms of the big picture, no, that’s about it. The liability is pretty low. I mean, I’d say up until you get busted, the only expenses you’re looking at is a scale and bags. And then the money to purchase the product, which is obviously the biggest part of it.

So you invest at first and hope it comes back?
You kind of look at the investment as, I look at it as a saving account, essentially. Say I want to move away from this area, all I have to do is sell out and then not resupply and I’m X dollars richer.

Do you keep your drug finances separate from your other finances? Do you keep that in a different spot? Do you keep records?
I don’t keep records, I don’t really believe in keeping records. I’m not really at a point that I need to keep records. I know people that do. I keep my money, for the most part, separate. I do occasionally skim the profit off the top, essentially, just so I can have some spending money.

So you put that drug money in a different spot? You keep it separate from the work money?
Yeah. This is very ghetto but essentially I keep my legitimate income in my wallet and any money I make off of this I put in my left front pocket. So when I go home at the end of the night, I know I have money in my left front pocket that I know goes to where I keep my money for this “job,” and I have my own money in my wallet.

Does all that money from the drug dealing go to one spot?
Essentially, yes. I do occasionally deposit some of it into a bank if need be. But the need isn’t always there. Sometimes it’s a trust issue with myself. The temptation to take your profit and spend your profit is pretty high, at least for me. So sometimes, it’s easier for me to put it in a bank account that I don’t carry the debit card with and it just stays there.

How much do you have from selling drugs right now?
Honestly, not very much. I just lost a job, recently, so I had to kind of sustain myself off of this, which, as long as you’re not dipping into your resupply fund, then you’re perfectly fine.

So your resupply fund is also with the other drug money?
Yeah, basically, I know what I make off any given sale and if I’m hard up for cash–say I’m out of a job and sell a bag–I know exactly how much money I can take out of that and still have enough to get more.

So how much do you have from drug dealing?
Well, I mean, I have enough to buy a quarter pound after I’ve sold about three quarters of that.

I guess I mean, how much money available, because we’re talking about money. How much money do you have right now?
Right now? I haven’t counted it. See that’s the thing. When I have a legitimate source of income, I don’t even consider what I’m making off of it. It’s just sort of there.

Don’t you think that’s maybe not helpful in terms of maybe wanting to, you know, expand, or get out and move somewhere else.
Well, like I said, I have my retainer, and I know if I wanted to close out I have X number of dollars.

Maybe I don’t know what you mean by retainer.
Like you said, your legal retainer. So I have X number of dollars on hand so that I can buy another round.

How much is that?
I … I don’t want to say.

But we’re talking about mone —
Sixteen hundred and ninety dollars. I’m looking at about a $1690 right now. The thing is, I don’t have to take into account bumping up because I have the type of relationship with my dealer, if I wanted more he’d front it to me.

What do you buy with your drug profits?
Well, it depends on where I’m at in my life. If I just need money to survive on, then I’m using it to survive. If I need it for luxuries or commodities then I use it for that. It’s basically, like, I make the money, and I spend it almost as soon as I have it, which is not a good business practice. But I am militant enough that I can always have what I need to get more.

It sounds almost like you’re basically living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Yeah, essentially it is the same as living paycheck-to-paycheck, which is sort of a sad fact and kind of why I’m doing this in the first place, because you know what, paycheck-to-paycheck isn’t enough anymore. I know so many people who live paycheck-to-paycheck and they can’t afford any sort of luxury for themselves because of that. And this is a way I can afford small luxuries for myself.

Essentially, I get to pay my bills and then I have a little extra money that I can get drunk tonight or whatever I want. When I’m at bars, I’m not drinking domestic beers, standard beers, I’m drinking more expensive beers. I can afford those sort of small luxuries for myself. If I want to go out to eat, I can go out to eat, and I don’t have to worry about those things. If I need a new pair of shoes, I can get a new pair of shoes. If I need any number of things that are modest and reasonable, I can afford them and know that I will be able to pay rent the next month and will be able to pay bills next month.

So nothing big, expensive or excessive?
Not too often. It’s more like nickel and dime things. It’s the small things that make it worth my while. It’s sort of … I don’t know … my customers, they’re connoisseurs of weed. I’m not. I don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a fuck about what strain it is. I don’t give a fuck if it’s sativa or indica. That shit doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is the money. I enjoy smoking weed, I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. I don’t do it as often.

What’s often?
I mean at this point my habit’s once every three days. I’m not much of a stoner. I’m much more of an alcoholic and a cigarette addict and I enjoy the finer aspects of those habits. They’re fortunately legal, so it’s a little bit easier.

Are you thinking about getting out? You’re obviously thinking about keeping it going.
I’m not thinking about getting out anytime soon. It’s something that I have no fear of being caught any time soon and if I do it’s not going to be any more than a slap on the wrist. Unless I get caught on a resupply, which would be a felony. But, you know what? Sadly, I’m white. I’m probably not going to spend much time in jail for a first offense.

Would you ever consider bringing in a “shadow partner” into your business venture then?
Oh, Absolutely! I mean, I’m waiting for someone to show an interest in it. I’ve talked to a couple of my customers and even did a trial run with one. She came back and said she didn’t think she could handle it. And the other said he was interested, it would jsut be a matter of getting the money together. I’m still waiting to hear back from him.

So is this franchises, or, just expanding the business?
I wouldn’t think of it as franchising so much as it is a pyramid scheme.

Jeff Winkler is a journalist who believes that dealing drugs is more respectable than his own profession. Photo Credit: flickr/ Joel Olives

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