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SF Youth Sell Weed to Get By, and Get an Education

Posted: Apr 20, 2012


SAN FRANCISCO -- Patty, a tall, thin 16 year-old dressed in ripped blue jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, was recently kicked out of her parent’s home. The high school sophomore couch surfs and rides her skateboard to school everyday.

To pay for food and other essentials, she sells weed.

“It’s really hard to get a job at this age,” she says. “Most people want prior job experience, but we don’t have it because we’re so young.”

Young people ages 16-19 make up some 34 percent of California’s unemployed, the highest level of youth unemployment in the nation.

Sometimes trading bags of marijuana for a night on a couch, Patty notes that so far she’s able to separate her studies from her livelihood. “My education is definitely more important to me than making money and selling pot.”

Still, she says she hopes to one day use her college degree to become a licensed independent grower.

The weed economy is indeed a lucrative one. Long the United State’s number one cash crop, estimates put marijuana sales somewhere in the vicinity of $38 billion annually. In San Francisco, a pound sells for roughly $2,500, though if shipped across the country the price jumps to between $4,000 and $10,000.

Even those whose job it is to connect dealer and buyer or to transport the goods can earn upwards of $100 per transaction. Trimmers who work the fields get $200 a day without even breaking a sweat.

It’s that kind of fast money – far more than what you can earn at a minimum wage job -- that’s attracting a growing number of generation Y and Z’ers to the weed game. Most say they’re not looking to build a Scarface-like empire, but are simply trying to put some cash in their pockets, whether for school, life or play.

The dangers, however, are real.

Dizzy, who didn’t want his real name used because of a pending case against him, didn’t have many friends before he started selling weed. But the 20-year-old says that all changed when people found out he was dealing.

“A lot of the times I wouldn’t do it for profit,” he recalls, “but for the homies.”

Weed was his ticket to the in crowd, but over time he picked up some habits of his own, and it soon became a way to purchase harder drugs. His need for money grew and it got harder to hang out with friends without having to carry a supply of drugs.

“Eventually all of your friends expect you to be like this. They won't call you unless you’re trying to party and use drugs… it's hard to go against people’s image of you.”

Dizzy eventually ended up on the streets, where he got picked up on serious possession charges. The experience, he says, has turned him off the game.

Others take a more business-like attitude.

Juan, 23, is a student at City College of San Francisco. His family moved here from Mexico, though he was born and raised in the city and, like Patty, lives apart from his parents.

Covering rent and tuition out of his own pocket, he says he “hustles all month” in order to make ends meet, including selling his artwork and doing odd construction jobs. Marijuana, though, is his main source of revenue.

“I’ve learned a lot about people,” he says. And though clearly not the corporate type, he’s developed some essential business acumen. “It takes a good deal of social skills to get in and sell to people. Everybody is a potential customer.”

And to build your base, you have work fast. Competing with other dealers, Juan says he doesn’t smoke weed himself because it “lowers his motivation.”

Sitting in class, he sometimes receives texts, which make it hard to focus on school. “If you don’t set limits,” he says, the game can “consume every waking minute.”

Juan began selling weed in high school because, like Patty, he couldn’t find work. When he began, he only sold to friends, though now that he’s older he worries about the ramifications of getting caught. Operating by word of mouth, he says he tries to stay “under the radar.”

Under California law, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is considered an infraction punishable by a $100 fine for persons without a prior record. Larger amounts are deemed a misdemeanor and punishable by a $500 fine and/or six months in jail. Possession with intent to sell remains a felony charge.

But despite California’s relatively lenient stance, tensions between state and federal laws on the sale and cultivation of marijuana remain a hot button issue. In early April, federal authorities raided Oakland-based Oaksterdam University, which offered classes in the cannabis industry. The San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier that the school’s future is now in doubt.

That doesn’t seem to have deterred Juan, who says his family wanted him to drop out of school and get a full-time job. “But that would mean giving up my dream of becoming an artist,” he said. Ferrying weed by bike to all corners of the city, he says he hopes to one day earn enough from his art to get by.

For now, though, he says he takes each day one delivery at a time.


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