One of the worst kept secrets in Oregon's brave new cannabis-friendly world is how easily it can still be found in what we now call the "unregulated marketplace"—AKA the black market. Oregon has a robust regulated market for cannabis and cannabis products. As of Feb. 21, there were 344 licensed dispensaries in Oregon, each offering a wide selection of different strains.
Prior to the passage of Measure 91, I bought cannabis the way most of us did—from a dealer or grower. All the dealers I know cashed it in after Measure 91, but trust me, the underground dealers are still out there. If you go onto Craigslist or Facebook, you will find dozens of postings looking to "sell you a container, and the weed is free," or some variation thereof. These containers range in price and size, with nearly all going up to at least an ounce.
So how does buying off the street—or, more specifically, on the Internet—compare to buying from a dispensary, in terms of quality, convenience and safety? I wanted to find out.
By the numbers
The days of pagers and code words are over, thank goodness. Weed smokers are no longer put in a position where they have to utter nonsense phrases like, "Hey man, I'd like to see if Mr. Green Jeans has a HALF hour to hang out."
I typed "marijuana" into the search bar on Craigslist in the Portland area. (Editor's note: We tried searching Bend too, with little luck.) It returned with more than 20 postings with photos and descriptions of what the seller had to offer. Prices, not "donations," were listed. Some of them were obviously spam, with California area codes and poor spelling. ("As is best qwality smoking Kush weed!" assured one. Oh, good.)
I went through the list, chose eight sellers that seemed on the level, and proceeded to send emails or texts to each. I eventually made arrangements to meet up with three of them. In a reminder of what it used to be like in the old days, I met each in public at a random place: one at the Gateway Transit Center, one at the Beaverton Transit Center, and the third at a Starbucks just a block from my house.
One of the sellers arrived on time. The other two ran 10 to 15 minutes late—another throwback.
I elected to purchase one ounce from each. One seller had four different strains available, while another had two, and the third had a single strain. They ranged from indicas to sativas to hybrids, none of them high in CBD content. The prices ranged from $125 to $160 per ounce.
Everything was weighed correctly, maybe even a bit over. One seller weighed everything in his car on a small scale in front of me to confirm the weight was solid. It was a nice gesture, but still made the transaction feel all the more illicit; sitting in a parking lot behind tinted car windows, knowing that what we were doing was illegal. Every strain was handed to me in a cheap, thin sandwich bag without a zip top.
Everyone I met was polite—the two who ran late apologized. While I felt relatively safe getting into cars of people I had never met, my guard was up. I had a wad of cash on me, and no assurance that this would go well. Yelp doesn't yet offer reviews for weed dealers found on Craigslist.
I should also mention I had tried to set up a meeting with a fourth dealer, an ass-clown who changed our meeting dates and times twice. And when I asked him if the price was a certain amount, he took great offense, thinking I was trying to negotiate a lower price. I got a nasty text back saying he wasn't interested in meeting. So, a huge F you to "John," who might want to try smoking a different strain that doesn't make him such a rude prick.
How was the weed?
I chose three strains to test against similar varieties I'd purchased from dispensaries: Girl Scout Cookies, Black Cherry Soda, and Afghan Kush. (Caveat: Afghan Kush wasn't available at any Portland dispensary that I could find, but I found a close cousin at Farma in the form of a strain called Chocolate Rock.)
And the weed I bought on the black market was... meh. A five out of 10. When I shop at a dispensary, the first thing I do is smell each jar's contents. Next, I'm looking at bud formation and crystal content. Once I've made my purchase and can handle the product, I'm hoping for something sticky.
Every strain I bought off Craiglist smelled primarily "grassy," but I could determine the difference between the strains even with my eyes closed. The crystal content was OK, but none of them were ready for their close-ups—nothing on them sparkled in the light. The bud formation was reasonably decent, but none of them felt even remotely sticky to the touch. Everything seemed overly dried out, and I barely needed a grinder to get the buds crumbled for my vaporizer.
Once vaped, the flavor notes from strain to strain became more pronounced, but I didn't taste anything that got me terribly excited. The effects were muted, and left me feeling more tired than euphoric, possibly due to the bud having aged to the point that the THC compounds has degraded into CBN (cannabinol), which delivers a heavy, thick, sleepy feeling.
On the other hand, the strains I bought at dispensaries had a cleaner, more pronounced scent and taste, had better bud formation, and a higher moisture content. Most stuck to my fingers when handled, and were rich with THC crystals.
Lab numbers don't lie
I submitted all three Craigslist strains to Cascadia Labs for pesticide screenings. Every strain came back positive for pesticides. I know there's a great deal of confusion and disagreement over how much pesticides are a "safe" level on cannabis, but as with my food, I simply don't want pesticides, period. Fail.
Why buy at a dispensary?
Like anyone living in Oregon, I know that it's getting more expensive all the time, and everyone I know is trying to save money by cutting corners somewhere. But there are more reasons than not to support your friendly neighborhood pot shop.
Fight the Power—Owning a dispensary is hard work that doesn't pay terribly well. Much has been said about 280E, the federal tax code that prohibits dispensaries from taking tax deductions like any other business, leaving them with an effective tax rate of up to 80 percent or more. No other business in North America faces this type of tax burden, and as a patriotic cannabis consumer, it's on you to support the brave folks working to get cannabis products into your hands.
Buy Local—All cannabis in Oregon dispensaries is grown, processed and sold in Oregon, by Oregonians. Feel free to bitch about how Bay Area tech bros are ruining our state, but rest assured the weed that allows you to deal with them is all Pacific Wonderland.
A Wide Selection That's Certified Pesticide-Free—Most any dispensary will have a dozen plus strains, and they will have undergone rigorous testing to verify they are free of all pesticides. The budtender will know something about how the strains were grown, and what intentions they will best support, whether it be pain management, stress relief, or digging the latest King Gizzard record.
Convenience and Safety—Some dispensaries open as early as 8 am and stay open until 10 pm. The many cameras every dispensary is required to have make transactions safer. I wouldn't feel comfortable asking my girlfriend to get into a strange car and pick up a sack, but I have zero qualms about having her visit a dispensary.
Your Taxes Support Good Causes and your Neighbors—That 20 percent tax you pay as an adult recreational consumer of cannabis supports a variety of programs, with 40 percent of the taxes going into the Common School Fund, and a further 20 percent going to mental health, alcoholism and drug services. We have an unprecedented $1.6 billion budget shortfall, so we need to support those who are most vulnerable. Funding our schools and our drug and alcohol counseling services do exactly that. A recent report by Whitney Economics reveals that Oregon's cannabis program has created 12,500 new jobs, creating cumulative wages of $315 million a year.
It's Legal —Let's be clear: I wasn't buying the container, I was buying the weed that came inside of it. (Unless generic sandwich bags are now going for $140 and up.) I didn't exactly commit high treason, but I broke the law, which is rarely a good idea.
Until I have the time and space to grow my own, I'm sticking with cannabis that I've purchased in a licensed dispensary.