Now that smoking weed is perfectly legal and state-regulated pot stores are on their way, what do street-level pot dealers make of the passage of Initiative 502?
To find out, I went to the University District and walked along the Ave. When people called out "Bud?" or offered to sell me weed, I identified myself as a reporter and asked them what they thought about legalization.
I was surprised by how many of them talked to me. Some were suspicious that I was just looking for free weed. One guy—yes, they were all men—asked me if I was "jive-talking" him. (He then handed me a strawberry-flavored lollipop and told me to have a nice day.) Another guy, dressed in a fur hat and gold chain, responded to my question on his feelings about I-502 with a glare and a question of his own: "Do I look optimistic?"
Others had more to say. Standing near the Bank of America parking garage, a dealer who described himself as the man "with all the baggies but no sandwiches" told me he's feeling good about legalization. "You can smoke the Marlboro 420s or whatever, but I think people still like to come by here and buy their shit from the sidewalk," he said. "They'd rather buy their shit in sandwich bags."
Another dealer, standing at the bus stop near Jewel of India, told me he's going to be fine in part because "they'll charge out the ass at the stores. The government can't put a tax on my nuggets."
Since this dealer has no employees to compensate except himself, a direct supply line from a grower could, theoretically, undercut tax-heavy government weed prices. Another potential black market advantage: Customers may be able to buy bud with THC levels unregulated by the state.
But a dealer who identified himself as R, who deals primarily in ounces and quarter pounds, told me he fears legalization will give law-abiding yuppies the upper hand. "People might smoke more in the beginning, and business [on the street] might be a little better at first, but I already know all these Starbucks boys are gonna come in and take my business," he said.
Yet another dealer said he fears additional scrutiny from the police as the state tries to protect its new weed-selling powers. "They're gonna crack down on dealers because their whole thing was to get rid of the black market," he said. "I'm not worried about it right now, but a year from now, who knows?"
Still, several dealers maintained that even though there will be risks, and even though legit weed stores won't take forever to respond to text messages, they will always offer a better option. As one put it: "There's still something about breaking the law."