A Former IBM PC Salesman Remembers His Decades Long Side Hustle as a Pot Dealer

Today, his underground side business is winding down. It’s not because cannabis is legalized; rather it’s the massive number of illegal weed shops that have sprung up when New York State legalized sales without first working out how to regulate it. The illegal shops not only hurt his side hustle, but they cut into the business of the handful of licensed weed shops now in the city.

| 04 Jan 2024 | 06:14

The summer I turned fifteen and started smoking, I found myself spending hard earned money from mowing lawns and babysitting on an ounce of weed every couple of weeks. “Mexican” went for twenty bucks. I asked my dealer about price breaks and he said “well if you can save up $60 you can buy a quarter pound: four ounces for the price of three ounces. Then break it up into quarter ounces sell three ounces to your friends. Keep the fourth ounce for you “FOR FREE”.

That was all I needed to hear: I mowed, I babysat, and I raked leaves, and earned the sixty bucks. Within a week, three ounces sold. I rolled up the 4th and loved smoking free weed. That’s how it started, and there was no looking back. I saw nothing unsafe about the product and felt that the laws were wrong and one day soon it would be legal. We were optimistic in 1976! Then I went off to college in 1977 which offered new markets: dormitories. No more schoolyard transactions.

I was effectively in sales all along so it was logical that coming out of college I would seek a straight suit and tie job in the early 80’s selling IBM’s new “PC”. Over the next 36 years, I sold various tech solutions to corporations and developed relationships with other men in sales, both co-workers and competitors. But we had weed as a quiet secret. That career choice turned out well for both sets of sales: my tech quota and my side hustle. No need to solicit for new clients: existing customers would smoke with people I didn’t know who would say “this is great, can you connect me with your guy?” Hence all the referrals were pre-vetted and I never felt like I was in any danger to meet folks for an “envelope exchange” over a pint in a pub on the way home (they always bought!).

Tech was a young person’s industry then and eventually some of my peers became my sales managers, professionally. But, they were also my pot customers. This was great for job security; nobody wants to fire their dealer! At the same time, there was no one I was more motivated to meet quota for than them. Church and state were separate.

What I think most people not in the business or who don’t smoke might find surprising is how satisfying this hustle was for me on a human level. Sure, nice to make a couple of bucks, but the sixty five or so persons in the “club” were special friends to me, especially as years passed: some have worked with me for four decades! Our every-so-often meetings were a time to connect with each other, talk work, talk family, let them tell me their problems etc....I was there to listen, like a good bartender or a priest. The transaction was secondary. Another major underestimated benefit was the health of my marriage. My wife and I never argued about money. My commission checks from my corporate job went into the same bank account as hers and she got to manage a dual income. I simply started each week with a $500 allowance from my side hustle and never had a need to go to an ATM or explain some indulgent expenditure. Can’t put a price on 30 years of happy marriage now can you?

Risk: while I never felt I was in danger doing this, there were certainly risks, primarily associated with using public transit every five weeks to get a few thousand dollars worth of new inventory. Once, after scoring, I was using a seven-stop subway shuttle train service that ran from my office in Long Island City to midtown, where I then switched for an uptown local.

I left “the box” with four thousand dollars worth of goods on the shuttle train! I realized it about 10 minutes later; scampered back to that shuttle train which had gone back and forth twice already. It pulled in, the doors opened and there was my box on the floor under the seat where I had left it. Phew!

I really thought my side hustle would end way before it actually did. Who knew that it wouldn’t be until just the past two years that everything would change?

In 2020, during the first wave of COVID, I had a banner year, mostly through mail order deliveries since everything was shut down. But on March 31,2021 as soon as NYS declared pot to be “legal” my business started tanking.

I’d lost some customers already when medical marijuana cards first became available years earlier, and I lost a few to Massachusetts who legalized early and rolled out their program in an orderly fashion. But NYS failed to launch its licensed retail program before it had already declared pot legal so every bodega in town was selling immediately and hundreds more “smoke shops” just threw their door open and are selling without a license and still are. The horse has left the barn and is not coming back; the good folks who chose to play by the rules and get licensed to open a legal marijuana dispensary are never going to get all the business they should have because of the 1,500 illegal shops. Call it the Office of Cannabis Mismanagement.

Silver Hammer is the longtime alias used by the writer in his decades long career where he dealt pot part time to a small network of friends and business associations while holding down a high powered sales job with IBM.