Strange Times in the Triangle Pt. 2: When the Ground Collapsed Beneath Our Feet

Evidence of the demise of the American Dream has become far too ugly and obnoxious to ignore. From the sky-high cost of baseline living as the result of insatiable corporate greed, to gruesome taxpayer-funded human slaughter via proxy wars, to every other damned terrible goings-on in this hopelessly weird time, I cannot help but reflect on the years before cannabis legalization with the worst kind of graduation eyes. The times are indeed a-changin’.

When I was young I solemnly swore to myself I wouldn’t end up like the stressed, depressed and terribly-dressed Prozac warriors of the mid-90’s middle class. Most of the adults I grew up around hated their jobs, hated their spouses and seemed to be hopelessly devoted to toil and trouble to no end at all – true and living monuments of the Everybody Loves Raymond generation. I was constantly assured by all those in charge that if I did not study hard, get into a good college and become a doctor or a lawyer that Jesus himself would turn his back on me and leave me for dead somewhere on Skid Row with nothing and no one but heroin needles to comfort me. Even as the Twin Towers crumbled on live TV, my parents and all their friends clung to the hopeless notion that their children would be able to beat the odds and save themselves, not to mention the world, with equal parts elbow grease and Old Testament hooplah.

Not to jerk myself off, but the problem with all of this was I was entirely too fucking smart to believe a syllable of what these people were telling me. The older I got, the more disillusioned I became. I rejected my studies, succumbed to rampant alcohol and drug use – not to mention depression – and frantically searched for a road to walk which would allow me to make a living without selling my soul to any sort of capitalistic authority figure. All my early jobs were in food service and every moment I spent rolling burritos for sweaty ungrateful rednecks was excruciating. To this day I’d rather eat my foot than waste another moment of my time left on Earth busting my ass for unlivable wages. It was not long before I found my salvation in the loving arms of the burgeoning cannabis industry.

I was a teenager the first time I worked a trim job. I’ve spent almost my entire life in various parts of Northern California so a large swath of the kids I grew up with had parents who were growers or they just sold weed of their own accord. None of these people had nine to fives and they all had plenty of cash lying around so it wasn’t long before I decided to give it a try, quit food service and go to college out in Humboldt County. At $200 a pound I could afford to trim a couple weekends a month, attend school and completely fuck off the rest of the time. As an aspiring writer, this allowed me to work on my books with plenty of additional free time to snort questionable powders and eat acid in the redwood forest with bisexuals and tree people, as one does.

In all seriousness, working odd plant-touching jobs allowed me freedoms I would otherwise not have enjoyed. I had free time, I had enough money to eat and I didn’t have to dedicate my whole day to somebody else’s dreams. I could pursue my own. I personally squandered these opportunities but there were many who did not. Cannabis presented a relatively safe way to break the law and be financially rewarded for doing so without taking the same risks or causing the same harms as one would with any other criminal avenue. From the casual dime bag peddlers with regular nine to fives, to the hill rats who trimmed for three months straight and spent the rest of the year running wild in South America, to the growers themselves, cannabis was a path to personal freedom for anyone who wanted to partake. This, of course, presented just as many problems as it did solutions but the point is we had this beautifully pure way to live our lives in stark abundance while keeping our freak flags proudly flying. Cannabis had me hook, line and sinker and I gave no thought or regard to the possibility that this would ever be stolen away from me, yea though it was.

In the years preceding cannabis legalization in California a sense of dread started to creep up the spines of the more perceptive members of the community, the ones who were paying attention. The rest of us were too busy buying Kawasaki dirt bikes and tripping face with the trimmers to notice, but the signs were all around us that weed would soon be legal. Most of us figured it’d be a good thing. We figured at the very least they’d let some folks out of prison. Many were optimistic that legalization would usher in a new era of prosperity for those willing to have faith and play ball, but this too proved to be a pipe dream. Eventually, without warning, cracks formed in the Earth below us and the ground collapsed beneath our feet. I remember it like it was yesterday, which is saying something because I don’t remember much else from that time.

Cannabis began plummeting in price the harvest just before legalization. It went from around $1,000 a pound and up for decent outdoor to half that virtually overnight and it didn’t stop there. We couldn’t chase our tails fast enough. It felt like the price of a pound dropped by $100 almost daily until it completely bottomed out. The lowest I heard for bulk pounds was $50 that year. People started getting desperate. People lost their homes, their properties, their life savings. 100 or more street bikes were listed for sale on the Humboldt County craigslist in not much more time than it just took me to describe. Thieves and ne’er do wells ran amok, and weed robberies went through the roof. A lot of people got murdered. People I knew got murdered. A deep sadness fell over the northern California coast, and one by one everybody involved acknowledged in their own ways that it was all over long before the votes were actually cast. The jig was up, and soon our collective and respective livelihoods would be auctioned off to the big money honeys who had no skin in the game, and everything we had built with our bare hands would soon be dismantled and sold for parts.

This is, unfortunately, exactly what happened. In the years since cannabis was legalized it has completely lost its previous status as a viable side hustle, or as a way to reasonably turn anything resembling a profit even in the legal market. The top players can barely stay in the black. God knows the corporate bozos have been hemorrhaging money from the get-go. I used to know dozens of people who sold and grew weed both casually and professionally. Post-legalization I can’t name a single person in my area who I would consider a “plug,” and I literally write for High Times Magazine. There’s just no point anymore, everyone can go buy weed from the store. Why would they bother buying from an independent operator, even if the weed is better and cheaper. 

To be perfectly clear, as one should always be, I consider legalization to be a net positive across the board. People aren’t going to prison nearly as much as they used to (I’m a little salty they’re still in prison at all while Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are making little Tik-Toks about what a good job they’re doing but what do I know). As I pointed out in a previous WEIRDOS piece, illegal cannabis also provided a financial cover for far more heinous crimes such as human trafficking, gun-running and so on. Now that the obscene piles of cash are dwindling I have to imagine proceeds from God’s favorite plant are no longer being used to fund the proliferation of pure evil. For both these developments, I must express gratitude and I wouldn’t choose to go backwards if given the option.

However, I find it difficult not to mourn the loss of such a beautiful little middle finger to the rich and powerful. We all had something. It belonged to us and nobody else. We paid our bills, provided for our families and got really fucking high while we did it. Not only that, but a sizable chunk of people who took it seriously got incredibly rich. Any money I made went right up my nose but that’s a topic for another day. Many rural communities adjacent to big grow areas, which otherwise would have been incredibly poor, enjoyed comparably booming economies for decades. Everyone took big risks legally speaking but the ones who did it successfully are true representatives of the American Dream, and they very well may have been the last graduating class.

The American Dream has since been taken out behind the woodshed and quietly put down. Some real dastardly “look at the rabbits Uncle Sam” shit. You can’t outwork the forces at play anymore, not when groceries and rent are astronomically high in every state, county and township across the country and climbing higher every day. Viable side hustles are nearly extinct, even OnlyFans is oversaturated now. We are literally a hop, skip and a jump away from bringing out the guillotines and eating rich people for dinner. Not only that, it won’t be long before robots and AI take over everyone’s job. I give it five years max, more like two if I’m being a pessimist and I’m almost always being a pessimist. Shit is about to get extremely dark and twisted and there is no longer a karmically-sound method of making extra money on the side. You have to really get your hands dirty now, not to mention risk life and limb. How can the impoverished and downtrodden climb the ladder to economic salvation when we have set the ladder on fire, and executed/outsourced everybody who makes ladders for a living?

Maybe I’m just nostalgic about being a carefree young man, maybe I’m lazy and miss not having to work as much, or maybe I’m just sick and bloody tired of spending so much damn money on groceries but I’m painfully aware that we willingly handed over our best scheme and received very little in return. It’s hard not to be bitter about the way the chips fell on this one. It’s hard not to occasionally wish that weed was still illegal. I wish I had something more cheerful to contribute, but at this time I find myself scared shitless about the day and age we find ourselves in, about the world my sons are growing up in. We’re all gonna lose our jobs and starve to death or we’re gonna end up living in little sky pods like the Jetsons. Either way, we no longer have a cool and guilt-free way to make fistfuls of untraceable cash with minimal effort, and that is downright un-American. In the words of the late and great Hunter S. Thompson: “the American Dream really is fucked.”

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