From California, With Love: Buying Marijuana Under Quarantine

Editor’s Note: COVID-19 has killed over 40,000 Americans, and is expected to kill tens of thousands more before this pandemic subsides. It has generated a nearly-nationwide lockdown, with many states and communities encouraging those who are able to stay home and avoid public spaces. This has caused delivery services for everything—from standard items like groceries, take-out and medications, to other, less-than-legal, substances—to thrive.

Over the next few weeks, Points is going to explore the effect of the quarantine on drugs and drug use in the United States and abroad. Today’s post was submitted by a guest blogger who chose to remain anonymous, given the illegal status of marijuana in their state, but who wanted to capture a sense of history in action, reporting on what buying cannabis was like during the lockdown.

If you’re interested in reporting on drug and alcohol use under quarantine where you are, get in touch. We believe it’s important to record history as it happens, especially as it involves substances and behaviors that rarely elicit front-page coverage. Email managing editor Emily Dufton at emily (dot) dufton (at) gmail (dot) com to suggest an article idea or for more information.

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I had almost forgotten that delivery was an option. Though the state I live in hasn’t legalized marijuana, I can go across the border into Washington, DC, and find a “CBD store” where, after they scare kids away by asking to check ID, customers can go past the CBD lotions and tinctures to a case in the back where THC products are for sale. It’s fun; because DC legalized in a backward way where cannabis possession is legal but sales are not, you have to talk in code, like at a speakeasy. The customer says, “I’ll take this $80 sticker, please,” and in return, they’ll get a sticker that just happens to come with two pot-infused chocolate bars. Other “stickers” include gifts of infused candy, loose flower, or pre-rolled joints. I always enjoyed shopping for my pot in Washington because the whole experience felt like a knowing charade, where everyone was in on the joke. A wink and a nod, and I had enough pot to last me a couple of months, purchased in an actual store where I was treated like a beloved customer. Still, if asked by a cop, I can honestly say I’ve technically never bought weed in DC. I do, however, have quite a few stickers.

But now I was stuck at home, my stockpile of weed was drying up, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Riding the metro into the city seemed like a foolish way to potentially expose myself to the virus, and besides, I wasn’t sure if my CBD store was considered an “essential business.” Medical marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores had the mayor’s approval to stay open, but a place that sold “stickers” and CBD? Probably not.

So, in a moment of desperation, I texted a friend, who offered to put me in touch with their “guy.” “He’s reliable and nice,” my friend said. “I’ll tell him you’ll get in touch.” They did, and the following day, I had weed delivered to my front door, just like Amazon or groceries.

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If the speed with which my drugs were delivered is any indication, I’m clearly not the only person smoking my way through this pandemic. Bloomberg News reported earlier this month that “cannabis use hit an all-time high in March as lockdown measures spread across the U.S.,” noting that 33% of respondents in a recent poll reported using marijuana at some point in their lives, and 12.8% had used it in the past month. The report further detailed that sales spiked in March as people rushed to stockpile the drug ahead of the lockdown and potential dispensary closures, knowing they’d need to enough to see them through these strange times.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’re living through circumstances that are unprecedented in our lifetimes. Stores, restaurants and schools are closed, and rates of anxiety and depression are high. We’re stuck at home, trying to navigate a world that seems rife with two disasters—unemployment and disease—while state and federal government officials battle over the next steps and hospital intensive care units fill with people fighting for their lives. With this much terror and uncertainty around, it’s as good a time as any to get a little stoned.

For those of us who don’t live in legalized areas, however, we couldn’t make a dispensary run before the economy, and society, shut down. Instead, we’re left with the same method that illicit substances have almost always been trafficked in: a hand-to-hand delivery system, with necessary human contact.

There are some obvious dangers to this practice. Beyond the legal danger of purchasing a Schedule I substance in an area that still considers possession a crime, both dealers and buyers run the risk of catching the disease. Products and money need to be handed over, individuals need to get close to one another to complete transactions, and, given the illegal nature of the products, most of this is done between sellers who require anonymity and buyers who have few customer protections. In fact, last month Buzzfeed detailed how complicated the corona virus has made life for dealers and users, who find it difficult to complete transactions and retain social distance, even as demand for cannabis products is going through the roof.

And yet, if my dealer’s demanding schedule was any indication, weed delivery systems are booming. Unlike brick and mortar businesses that have struggled to adapt to this new online and delivery-based environment, drugs have long been a product that thrives on individual orders and drop-offs. And, thankfully, my new dealer was a pro at handling the logistics. Though I had never contacted him before, he worked me into his schedule immediately. The day we were put in touch, he texted me a menu. No prices were attached, but the options were impressive: he had flower, edibles, dabs and more. I decided not to ask about prices—it seemed weird to haggle over text with the man who was tacitly agreeing to bring me drugs—and placed my order. Then we discussed some good times for the following day, and I agreed to meet him in front of my apartment building in about 24 hours.

I was nervous before he arrived. I felt like I was in college again, getting a number from the friend of a friend so some shady guy could sell me an overpriced eighth of shake. I also didn’t know what to do. Should I wear a mask to meet him? What about gloves? I wore those when I went to the grocery store; should I wear them to meet my dealer on the street?

I was also aware of the dangers of smoking anything during a pandemic that involved a respiratory virus. Numerous articles have recently reported on how much more dangerous the virus is if your lungs are compromised, and I didn’t feel the need to put myself further at risk. So when I placed my order with my new guy, I asked for edibles; candies specifically. I ordered peach rings and sour gumdrops; things I could eat rather than smoke. But edibles have their own dangers too: I was purchasing products I had never seen before from a person I didn’t know. The names of the candies were generic, so I had no idea who made these products, what their strength was, or their price. Instead, I just knew that my dealer took Venmo, and that he said the candies were “really good.” With that kind of recommendation, I figured I’d be okay.

The following afternoon, precisely at 3, “Tom” pulled up in front of my building, his anonymous-looking grey sedan idling in the street.

I went out to meet him in my quarantine uniform: slippers and the clothes I had already been wearing for two days. I decided against the mask and gloves, but my dealer took some precautions: he wore a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a medical mask around his face. He didn’t wear gloves when he handed me a white plastic bag that had “Thank you for your business!” printed on the side, but I tried not to think about how long the virus can live on surfaces. Instead, I glanced into it and saw two bags of something (I didn’t feel comfortable taking the products out and inspecting my contraband in the middle of the street), so I scanned the QR code on his phone, paid him $90 for the treats, added a $20 tip, and our transaction was complete.

Before he left, I asked him how things were going. “Are you busy these days?”

“It’s crazy,” he said. “I’m driving everywhere every day. Across the city. Maryland, Virginia.”

“Busier now than before?”

“Oh hell yeah,” he said. He scrolled through his phone while he talked. “I got a ton more deliveries today.” I wanted to know more but he was getting into his car, moving on to his next sale. I thanked him and he waved at me. “Enjoy! Let me know when you want something else.”

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When I got inside my apartment, I felt giddy. I had just bought drugs in the middle of a weekday, in the middle of my street! And now that I was back home alone, I could finally look at what I bought.

“Tom’s” products were legit: both bags were professionally-designed, hygienically sealed, and similar to what I would have purchased at my CBD store in DC. (In fact, I found both products online, on a California cannabis delivery website, so I was able to get more info about the edibles once I knew what they were.) The “Wonka Gummies” (500 mg THC total) looked almost identical to the real candy: the squiggly Wonka logo was stolen directly off a chocolate bar, and if it weren’t for a small pot leaf in the lower left corner, a kid could easily mistake these edibles for the real candy. But the other bag of peach rings, which contained 420 mg of THC, looked elegant. The bag was matte black with cursive font, proclaiming the rings inside were “lab tested and handcrafted in California.” There was an image of the candy on the front of the bag, but no pictures of pot leaves or anything else to suggest that the products inside contained weed. And unlike the Wonka gummies, which were easy to open, the peach rings also featured an irritating “poison prevention packaging” that made opening the bag incredibly difficult.

Screenshot 2020-04-21 20.41.27Both packages clearly originated in California, since they featured the state’s compliance warning label: a triangle with a pot leaf and an exclamation point inside, with “CA” written in bold underneath. The gummies also featured an image of a baby’s face with a line through it (which I’m assuming means the candy is not for children), while the peach rings featured a circle with the words “Prop 64,” for the ballot initiative that legalized adult use of weed.

The edibles were great, just like “Tom” promised. Once I figured out the dosage, the effects were consistent and enjoyable. But they were also indicative of where America’s weed landscape stands today. With a near-nationwide quarantine in effect, people are stuck at home and using cannabis more than ever. We’re told to avoid smoking or vaping, so edibles are becoming the more popular choice. (The Washington Post even printed a recipe for pot brownies on 4/20!) But professional edibles are only created in certain states, and these legalized areas are not supposed to sell their wares across state lines, which remains a federal offense and can, in theory, jeopardize a state’s ability to continue legalization.

But drugs have always slipped through legal cracks, and products made in California clearly have no problem finding their way to the east coast and into the plastic bag “Tom” dropped off at my home. The chocolate bars I used to buy from my “CBD” shop were also from the Golden State, if their warning labels were any indication. In fact, “Tom’s” only products that might not have come from California were his smokeable flower, which, given DC’s strange legalization law, people can grow at home. And flower, of course, is the one product people shouldn’t use during a respiratory virus pandemic.

I don’t use much pot—a 10 mg serving is more than enough for one day, and I don’t eat an edible every day—so I doubt I’ll need to contact “Tom” again before this quarantine is lifted. But my experience having weed delivered to my door showed that the physical quarantine I’m under doesn’t apply to the interstate trafficking of cannabis products nationwide. Companies in legalized states have crafted products that people in non-legalized states want, especially during a moment of lockdown and uncertainty, and these products are going to find their way into customers’ hands. I may be stuck at home, but my experience with having cannabis delivered showed that pot will never be contained.

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