By Budtender Diaries by Tom Layou
I hand over the cannabis in a neat white bag.
“There’s a receipt inside in case you have trouble with that cartridge,” I say.
This used to be a felony.
“Have a marijuanderful day!”
I don’t hide these wages. I pay taxes on them. I never had patience for turning knocks on the black market. My most annoying acquaintances would call at random and I would have to make time to meet them and end up smoking, hanging around and watching a movie. I could easily spend three hours making two dollars and fifty cents on an eighth. Sure, I did it wrong, but that’s proof selling cannabis successfully in any context is a real job.
In the shop we often play rap with lyrics about slinging pounds and I imagine myself with a monocle and waxed moustache woodenly saying, “I am that plug.” It’s hilarious, because nothing about life as a legal budtender resembles the constant danger of black market cannabis sales. Once a police car pulled up out front of my shop and the customers I was serving got nervous.
Surrounded by enough weed to sedate a third world revolution, I said, “Everything we do here is legal; I don’t give a shit.”
I sold them their weed and the next guy, too. There’s something wonderful about participating in the marijuana industry without fear of discovery, a joy in a loud apology to my barista,
“Sorry, I got hash all over my mug at work.”
The first legal cannabis sales in Alaska happened at the tail end of 2016. Now we get people just turning twenty-one who obviously never bought much from street dealers. They’re naive, they’re pushy, they have unreasonable expectations. They have no familiarity with a culture and etiquette centered around being polite in some basement to a guy with an AK-47 propped in the corner, and it’s kind of beautiful.
You used to have to be a criminal to get it at all. A consumer may balk at that terminology but we have lived no less in an era of prohibition than the United States did with alcohol under the Eighteenth Amendment. Maybe it was your cousin, maybe it was a coworker, and maybe they only sold to a few friends, but a gang is just people collaborating to perform an illegal enterprise, and that person growing a felonious plant and selling it to you through the years was committing an ongoing series of offenses. He wasn’t kneecapping anyone, but if you bought weed from some nerdy kid in your calculus class, the dude with the Coke bottle glasses was more gangster than you. He could find things.
At a legal pot shop you find one thing. Sure, it’s weighed in front of you, packaged or pre-rolled; it comes in flower, wax, cookies, and goop to be smoked dabbed, vaped or eaten, but it’s all cannabis. A black market dealer may often be more a businessperson than a cannabis purveyor. A lot of people turn to cannabis for relief over pleasure. Cannabis, in straight terms, is a tool I use to manage alcohol and opiate recovery. In speaking to customers I have learned I am not the only person who does this. There are better ways one can deal with problems that arise, but we don’t always have time to become a Zen master before our next crisis.
If I walk into a pot shop on my worst day and I want to feel better, there is going to be effectively one thing there I think will help. The last time I was at a black market dealer’s house and he held out a car key with a mound of cocaine on it. I did the cocaine, then I bought some. I wasn’t in the mood or the market for cocaine, but there it was.
A lot of people come to the shop on their worst day. You walk right into it.
“Got anything interesting going on today?” I ask.
“I’m going home to write my best friend’s eulogy.”
I’ve offered an ear, my half-assed advice, and come around the counter for a few hugs. Sometimes all you have to ask is, “How are you doing today?” and a person’s eyes will water.
Grabbing a joint on the way to Flattop is something I’m glad to help out with, but this moment is the reason I wanted to work in cannabis. Cannabis helps me, and I like when I am part of helping others. Sometimes at the shop the customer needs relief now, and they don’t have a whole ton of money.
I’m not so dialed in to the black market lately, but when I was, the price was the price and you had to be able to buy a whole bag. I never knew anyone who sold five or ten dollar bags, but I seem to understand there are chemicals you can buy in this town for those prices. It’s been a few years and I take my particular recovery more seriously, but there are days I’m not sure what I’d do if someone put morphine in front of me. A deli-style cannabis shop can serve a smaller quantity. It’s inconvenient to count out a bunch of coins in the middle of a four-hour rush, but I have spent my entire life savings, in change, on malt liquor, many times.
When I think about what a desperate person can buy in Anchorage with a few crumpled dollars and whatever change they have in their tray, I’m glad legal cannabis is an option.