We found three people with experience growing and selling it legally (and illegally) who were willing to answer some of our questions. Obviously, we changed their names and used stock photography to protect their identities:
Karl: I have always been a trustworthy guy who happened to love the product. As my passion for it was recognized, I was also given the opportunity to make money because people liked going through me.
Vince: When I was 18, I started smoking weed with my friends. We would find seeds in the bag and just try to grow them. Most plants died within about a month or so. We never got a harvest. Then when I was 21, I had my own place and I grew a small plant that flowered, but it got stolen before I could smoke it. I had a few backyard plants over the years, but I started doing it for money in 2006 when a close friend of mine blindfolded me and drove me into the Hollywood Hills. They had a 10-light setup, and they were making a lot of money because prices were much higher back then. We were one of the few people who had the Kush strain. They trusted me, so they had me live at the house. It was all in fake names, stolen credit, stolen power... Crazy shit. My job was to get killed or arrested for them. I didn't really learn how to grow. It never worked out at that time, and I never got paid. But I kept doing it until I finally got some crops around 2008. It was amazing, and I made some good cash.
Lucy: The stepfather of a good friend of mine opened one of the first dispensaries in Long Beach, and my friend offered me a job working there as the receptionist because "every weed shop needs a hot girl at the front desk."
Karl: Only so much. Now that it's a professional industry and real careers can evolve from it, my family is less worried about it. They would just like me to do something normal for once.
Vince: Some people know, but I keep it very quiet for my own safety. I never tell girls I date. I have an excellent alibi because of my background in film and music. People who knew always thought I was a thug or drug dealer until recently. Suddenly I have all this respect from white-collar investors and such. My mom knows I'm involved, and she actually supports me because of the positive media attention this industry is getting.
Lucy: My friends all knew, for the most part — and boy did I seem to have a lot more friends while I was working at one of the only dispensaries outside of Hollywood, back before the California medical marijuana business really started booming. My parents didn't know for a while, but my mom found out when she googled the name of our business after I'd told her what it was called. I guess I'd really underestimated her mom gene when I told her that we were a private patients' clinic called "Cancer Help Center" and assumed she'd think it was just a nice, professional job working somewhere within the health care spectrum. My dad found out after I'd told him our cross streets, and he drove by one day after work. He left a pretty funny voicemail saying something along the lines of, "SO LUCY, I DROVE OVER TO YOUR WEED SHOP WHERE YOU DOPE UP ALL DAY AND DEAL DRUGS TO OTHER DOPE HEADS. REAL NICE." He wasn't a big fan of weed.
Karl: All the time, but I do not lose sleep over it. I just take precautions.
Vince: I have to deal with gangs in this business all the time, and I am an ex-gang member myself, so it can get very tricky if you don't know the right people. You have to know how to handle yourself on the streets. You can't be a punk, but you also can't get too bold or you will get targeted and possibly taken out. You can even get extorted by your own homeboys if you start making a lot of money. I don't really worry so much about getting robbed anymore because I work inside a legal dispensary with an armed guard, but I still think of it sometimes. I used to live inside grow houses in the middle of nowhere, and I had to have a gun nearby at all times. Every car I saw, every noise I heard seemed like cops or robbers. I had difficulty sleeping and relaxing, especially around harvest time. I had anxiety and high blood pressure. It was scary shit!
Lucy: We were actually right in the center of the Crips neighborhood, and many of them were patients of ours. They never gave us any trouble, and they were actually all really respectful, generally nice guys. The only time we ever had an incident with any of them was one time when a guy came in who had forgotten his script, and I was known for being kind of a hardass about not letting people in without it. He made a big deal about how he knew that his name was in the computer (it was), that the date his script expired was listed in the computer (it was), and that he knew I recognized him (I did). But the thing is, if he were to leave the shop carrying product without his script and the cops pulled him over, I'd be getting arrested as the responsible party for having let him in. He started screaming about how "this [wasn't] Orange County, bitch" and telling me that he was going to kill me. I just politely reminded him that I currently lived and was born in Long Beach, and I continued to stand my ground. He eventually left the shop, but he stayed in the parking lot doing burnouts in his truck while screaming about killing me for about 10 minutes. After that, security 86'd him from the dispensary forever, but I ended up lifting the ban a few weeks later when he came back and apologized for being a dick to me. I guess his mom was really sick, and it was for her; also, he'd just had a really bad day before that pushed him over the top. He complimented me for standing my ground with him and said he really respected me for not getting scared or backing down when he was threatening me. So, I felt like kind of a badass for a while after that.
Karl: Nothing crazy. When you are gambling on people, it's likely that somebody won't hold up their end of the bargain. I have never been put in any really scary situations. I know people who have, though.
Vince: No, thank god. But I know many people who have been robbed and even one guy who was murdered during a robbery inside a grow operation.
Lucy: Yeah, we were robbed a few times, but never during business hours; they'd always hit us overnight. One time, they smashed the front window open, so we replaced that with bulletproof glass. The next time, they came through the roof, and we all had a good laugh at that one while watching the video footage, because the first dude in must've either lost his footing or misjudged the landing because this idiot fell ass first through one of our glass display cases. I'm sure he was picking glass out of his anus for weeks. The kinda cool thing though was that every time we got robbed (presumably by the same guys), they'd always leave us a jar of our best strain on the floor in the middle of our shop's lounge area. I guess they felt bad on some level and wanted us to be able to sit down to have a solid session while we figured out how to recover from the loss. The even funnier part about it though was having the police come in afterward to write up a report. I think one of my favorite memories was getting to tell a cop he wasn't allowed to buy weed when he asked me for some because he didn't have a script. I'm the captain now.
Karl: Three pounds to be safe. It is the legal limit in Humboldt and surrounding areas. Sometimes I will have friends come who also need their medicine, but I am not interested in gambling if I do not have to.
Vince: About 10–15 pounds.
Lucy: Eight pounds, which I had in the back of my car one time when I got pulled over. Thankfully, the police did not come to realize that fact, as eight ounces was the legal limit at that time.
Karl: I always try to keep sales under $10,000. No need to get greedy. I am more interested in getting my feet wet in the industry than making a quick buck. We have the opportunity to legally grow a business now! I want to pave my way in the industry so that corporations will one day show interest.
Vince: I used to cash out at like $35k for a 10-pack. I used to walk right through Pacoima with like five pounds (about $20,000) worth in grocery bags and leave the dispensary with the money in a backpack. Scary shit. Can't believe I never got robbed or killed. Sometimes I had to ride a bike, so nobody got the description or plates on my car.
Lucy: I didn't work the counter or handle the money, so I can't really say. Even when I'd opened my own dispensary with my neighbor a few years later, I never wanted to be a part of the sales aspect. I'm no good with numbers, and I knew I'd just fuck it up if I tried.
Karl: I don't even know; nothing is clear these days. Some people can carry 100 pounds of cargo and some can't. It's all about lawyers, money, and paperwork. I do not own a firearm — never found it worth it to scare anybody.
Vince: Stealing power/electricity. That's some scary shit, and you can easily get killed doing it. It's a much worse crime than growing weed, but power is EXPENSIVE! If you can steal it, you are getting away with thousands and thousands in business expenses.
Lucy: I didn't allow any illegal shit to go down in our shop — not even when the boss told me that a vendor who didn't have a script was coming in and to just let him through. I told him no fuckin' way.
Karl: There are a bunch of what-ifs, but ultimately nothing has happened. Police have stopped and joked with me about it, but it does not seem to be a real concern.
Vince: Yes, I was arrested and sent to jail in 2014, but I bailed out. I was facing two felony drug charges, but it wound up being a DA reject case because of bad police work and lack of evidence. I had to shut down my operation and lost at least $200,000.
Lucy: For working at a dispensary? Nah. One time, one of our sister shops we'd opened in Yorba Linda was raided, though, and two of my really good friends got arrested and went through a lot of trouble following that. I guess they didn't exactly have permission to be running a shop where they were, so it was kind of a dick move on the owner's part.
Karl: I mean, going to Humboldt is a different world. The level of tolerance for the product is far beyond what most of Americans can imagine. People openly talk business at the post office. Not even like on some ghetto shit, just friendly white-people chat. It is funny to see such a lack of shyness! They sell duffle bags on the side of the 101!
Vince: The whole thing has been pretty crazy. I can't narrow it down to one incident. This business made me a fucking animal at times. I went into full-blown alcoholism and even drug use when I was at my peak production. Other times I swore I was Tony Montana or Walter White. I was fucking angry and hostile because I felt that was what I had to do to get it done right. But now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The legalization process is the best thing that could have ever happened. I can now hold my head high and get natural medicine to those in need. Everything I do has been voted on, and its 100% legal. One of the craziest thoughts I get sometimes is imagining just how many people have smoked my weed in the last 10 years — how high they got, how far away my weed went, and hopefully that it helped people when they were stressed out, just wanted to get a good laugh out of a movie, or really intensify a concert. It's a great feeling knowing that the drug I produce is less addictive than coffee and has never been attributed to a single overdose.
Lucy: One time Sean Penn and some motorcycle dudes pulled into the parking lot to fix one of their bikes; I guess that was kinda neat. And there was this creepy little dude who used to come in and never spoke to me but would always give me this nervous little smile, until one day he overheard me mention that my birthday was in February...and that's when he pulled about 10 small stones of amethyst (my birthstone) out of his pocket and said, "I've been carrying these around in my pocket for seven years, but I never knew why. Now I understand." Then he gave them to me and told me he wanted to take me on a date and eventuality make me his wife. The next time he came in, he gave me a CD of just really, really awful '80s hairband-type metal of sappy love songs he'd written for me, professing his undying love to me. After that, I started hiding under my desk whenever he came in.
Karl: I am always about long-term relationships. I never want to jeopardize my reputation. My rules are often adaptions of standard retail, except that you have to be stern with friends trying to get one over on you.
Vince: I don't really have customers anymore. I have clients that hire me to run legal grow operations and grow weed for them inside dispensaries. The main rule is just to show me respect and pay me on time. Stuff like that.
Lucy: Not really, I mean aside from "don't be a dick to people who aren't being dicks to you" and "always be willing to go out of your way to help someone who truly needs your help." But if they *were* being dicks? Fuck 'em. We're not listed with the BBB.
Karl: I will promote the subculture but never the product. I do not use social media as any type of public medium in the industry.
Vince: FIRST RULE OF FIGHT CLUB IS YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB.
Lucy: At the time, it was all still a very hush-hush industry, so we didn't have much of an online presence back then. I don't even think we were listed on Weedmaps.
Karl: I do not really let people know too much about me; I leave bits and pieces all over the place. I am an all-around businessman. People will call me for all sorts of services. This one just happens to be a gold rush because of the high demand.
Vince: They think I'm a drug dealer. They think I have a bunch of cash and dope lying around, which used to be true, but now that I work inside a dispensary I just work and get paid. I don't sell anything anymore. Another misconception is that growers are just lazy people who want to grow weed instead of getting a job. That couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, being a grower is one of the hardest jobs ever. At the end of the day, I'm a farmer, and it's hard fucking labor. I have to be on top of my plants seven days a week and 24 hours a day. If the plants die, we can easily lose $100,000 in a single day.
Lucy: A lot of people thought that it was just a place where hippies and burnouts would come to buy weed, but we actually had a lot of legitimately ill patients, probably about 60%, who came in to buy product from us. One of the owners was a really good guy, and he really cared about the patients. If you were terminally or seriously ill, we'd give you your medication for free. We also had things for everyone, like a monthly raffle for a free quarter of our best strain, a roulette wheel you could spin and win double your purchase, free soft drinks and snacks, free pizza all day every Friday, and on holidays we'd barbecue in the parking lot all day with music and free food/drinks. We also had doctors and NORML advocates come in every Thursday to speak with any patient who needed medical or legal advice. We really took care of our patients, and they knew that we really cared about them. It was honestly one of the nicest, most loving environments I've ever been in. Everyone who worked there and everyone who came in knew that we were kinda like a little family, and it felt really nice. I miss the shit out of that place and all of our patients.