By Michael E. Miller
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Kiki's from a well-to-do Cuban family with a house in Coral Gables who suspect him of growing or dealing pot about as much as they think he's a terrorist. Unlike Razz, his partner in crime, he doesn't publicize his green habit, especially near his family. He almost did once, when he hid pictures of his crop in a photo album and accidentally left it on his parents' kitchen table. He hurried back to find his mom looking through the photos on the next-to-last page of the album, where unmistakable images of marijuana were stacked behind a picture of his girlfriend. "I took the album and ran, saying I was in a hurry," Kiki recalls.
It wasn't a sense of guilt that had him conniving. He wasn't sorry for the porno magazines he kept under his bed either, but he didn't leave those out for his mom to see. He doesn't think what he does now is wrong in any way other than acknowledging he's breaking the law. It's a hobby for him, a hobby that nets him about $50,000 a year, tax-free. Doesn't a young man with a college education, a job, and not another ounce of inclination toward criminal behavior find himself conflicted with the laws against his home business? He says, "No, it's a stupid law and the risks I'm willing to take. I like bud." And he smokes it. Don't get high off your own supply -- that's a line from Scarface to these guys, not a rule of thumb.
"That's the attitude plenty of young start-up pot growers and dealers have," Sgt. Castro believes. "They begin as smokers who want pot for themselves and end up with enough to sell, [and] it goes on from there. And whenever we bust these people they always try to explain that their stash is for personal use, as if that makes having a few pounds of marijuana okay," Castro says with a befuddled shrug.
You'd think dealers with such an avid affection for reefer would be idealistic on the issues surrounding decriminalization. But this isn't flower-power time. Idealism has been replaced with pragmatism and an all-about-the-Benjamins outlook. As far as revolutions go, Razz says he's "read about those in history class." Dealing is a business and smoking is a pastime for him, not a counterculture component. Besides, today's burnout doesn't always fit a particular anti-authoritarian bill: Many wear Dockers, go to church, and vote Republican, or at least intend to (like Kiki). Involving themselves politically in defense of getting high doesn't go beyond righteous chitchat while passing a joint around. Kiki believes toking "is not as harmful as the government's anti-pot hoopla says it is, but not as easy on my mind and body as I'd like it to be." Razz couldn't care less about the political state of pot smoking. Legalization would hurt his revenue anyway. Dealers don't typically apply for membership with NORML, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. And in regard to dope's effect on his health, Razz replies, "If I thought about how bad Big Macs are for me, I'd become a vegetarian." That reminds him -- he's got the munchies and a trip to McDonald's is in order.
Sgt. Castro admits the police's focus on stamping out harder drugs and the easy time courts often give convicted pot dealers with no criminal history has a lot to do with the amount of growing going on. He says the first-time-convicted pot dealer will not see any significant jail time. "There is a notion [current] that marijuana activity is not as bad as Ecstasy and cocaine," Castro acknowledges. DEA Public Information Officer Joseph Kilmer concurs, "The priority of law-enforcement agencies now is in fighting the trafficking of cocaine, Ecstasy, and heroin, because of the significantly higher damage these drugs do. Then comes marijuana." And they don't profile pot dealers either: Kilmer says, "There is no type of pot dealer, it can be anyone."
Don't think the DEA isn't busting pot kickers, though. For a crime that's admittedly low on the hit list, it still gets after domestic pot growing. In 2001 the DEA seized over 30 metric tons of marijuana in Florida alone. Its Domestic Eradication Program sniffed out 551 grow sites, destroyed over 28,000 plants with an estimated value of $28.2 million. It booked 325 cultivators.
How much is actually consumed and produced in the U.S. is unknown because agents speculate that seized crops and arrested dealers make up a small portion of domestic production. But new growers pick up where the busted ones leave off. The Office of National Drug Control Policy released a study last year speculating that in 2000, Americans spent an estimated $10.4 billion to consume 1009 metric tons of marijuana. Dealers and cops on the street say that's a low-ball assumption.
New studies are saying that these dealers should have a harder time getting rid of pot. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released a study last month estimating only 25 percent of 1000 teens polled admit to smoking marijuana. The same study says teens find pot easier to purchase than cigarettes. The study was conducted as a survey of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds, a grouping that is misleading, considering most published reports on pot use divide younger adolescents from older ones more prone to smoking. Research by NIDA also points to a decline in pot use overall this year, but it's only down one percentage point from 49.2 percent of high school seniors who had used marijuana in 2000.