The Cannabis Stampede: Alchemy Adams
There is no flip side to a fantasy. It is a standalone entity. It has no downside. It is like a rainbow; it is there when it is visible but when gone no one says that sky is suddenly vacant. Both fantasies and rainbows are a gift of the moment and then not even a memory. The only time a rainbow is remembered is when it is linked with a personal event, like a young couple’s engagement fortuitously festooned in the sky as if it were God’s way of anointing their union. Fantasies and rainbows are only different in that we generate our fantasies at will while rainbows appear when climactic conditions favorable to spectral colors appearing in the sky.
Fantasies are so secularly delicious because they have no downside. They are a snapshot of a moment that never was and never will be with all of the accoutrements of joy. It is the apex of all that could be. It could be you accepting a $15 million check from Publisher’s Clearing House. The entire world is applauding and you, bouncing the massive six-by-eight model of the check you are about to receive, mouth the James Cagney line from WHITE HEAT “Made it, Ma! Top of the World!”
There the fantasy ends, an intellectual orgasm and you return to looking over the bills on your desk and worry that the Jack Russell is getting old and will have to be put down soon, that your daughter is going to be on the pill and who knows what mad scheme your wife is going to dream up next and what’s it coming to cost. Now wasn’t that $15 million pleasant? But you forget as you reach for the $15 million dollar check, the long arm of the IRS will get there first. You will not be allowed even a single step before your cell phone is clogged with family members, in-laws, collateral relatives and friends asking for loans. Three steps later your email account will be overloaded with business deals from old friends, neighbors and college football buddies who you haven’t heard from in years. You cannot go to the grocery store without being approached by people you do not know with business deals you could not understand even if you took the time to look over the paperwork — which you will not do. You will never again be able to have a cool beer in any tavern in America because your good fortune will proceed you. You will be expected to tip well, donate your time to local charities — along with a sizable check — and every transgression and misstatement in your life will be exposed to the public. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you will be sued by people you do not know for actions you never took in cities you have never visited for sums of money you do not have. Every bill you receive will be inflated and every gathering watered with sycophants.
But there is big money in fantasies. Pornography is a $5 billion a year business and not one of those customers touches a single actor or actress. The movie industry survives on fantasies as do Atlantic City, Disneyland and the Powerball Lottery. Bachelors search for the woman of their dreams and women wait for their princes to come — and if she/he doesn’t come they read about him in a Romance novel to the tune of $1.5 billion a year. Fishermen spend $150 a day to catch a five-pound fish they can buy at the market for $7.98 a pound and an Elvis Impersonator in Las Vegas will marry a couple for $350 in a ceremony that cost $20 in their hometown with no travel expenses.
Fantasies are big business and Alchemy Adams was in the fantasy business. His wife nick-named him Alchemy because he took a weed from California and converted it to gold. He was a present-day Rumpelstiltskin. Adams preferred Alchemy so Alchemy he was. But with either name he was making gold by the brick and sandwich bag.
Adams was in business because he was careful — at both ends of the transaction. He had no trouble finding sellers of marijuana in California even though the weed was illegal in that state. It was illegal everywhere if the federal government were asked but the only people who were doing any asking were federally regulated banks in the United States. No bank in the Bahamas or Caymans cared because they were receiving cash by the box load courtesy of UPS and FedEx and offshore checks cleared American banks. Offshore checks were welcome in California because they were considered neighborhood banks. They were, in actuality, neighborhood banks because everyone in the neighborhood selling marijuana was using the same offshore banks. The depositors were neighbors and the offshore banks were neighbors and transactions at the speed of light made the 6,000 miles in the time it took to light a joint.
At the other end of the transactional food chain, he had a cadre of salesmen with established customers. Not a single one had dreadlocks — salesmen or buyers — and he kept the supply limited. None of his salespeople were full-time and their stock was limited. This kept his clients loyal.
He credited his longevity to three factors. First, he kept his operation small. As long as he was a very small fish in a very large and dirty pool he was safe from raid by the police or robbery by his competitors. Second, he paid his salespeople twice the going rate. This guaranteed loyalty and ensured that they would be double careful when it came to acquiring new clients. Third, he understood that the greatest danger was not in the buying or selling of the illicit drug but in the transportation of the same across a state line. Local law enforcement officers were more concerned with high profile crimes and criminals than the small fry but the DEA did not care who you were. Neither did the FBI. Adams was of the Arlo Guthrie generation and he knew that he could only run afoul of the feds once. His first time would be his last time. So he planned for the event. He kept a secret cache of money in an offshore account, had a second passport in another name, quietly bought a modest condominium in the Bahamas and planned for the day when he would vanish. Unlike his competitors, he anticipated the day of his demise. He had been lucky and there was no reason to assume that his luck would last forever.
Life has a tendency to throw you curve balls and the last thing that Adams expected of the future was the Cannabis Stampede. He always knew that his salad days were numbered but he expected the end to come with an unexpected arrest and an outward-bound flight between arraignment and trial. He would sign over his house to his brother in Poughkeepsie and that would be that.
For at least seven years and a day.
Then, with the Statute of Limitations behind him, he could reappear as himself again.
If he chose to do so.
Where he chose to do so.
Adams had no fear of the Cannabis Stampede. All it did was accelerate his plans to abandon the industry. While it certainly true that the legalization of marijuana was going to depress the price of the weed there were going to be a lot more buyers. But, being a student of history, he could predict what would happen. The increase in sales was only going to be temporary. That was because the draw of marijuana was the fantasy, not the drug. When it was illegal there was an undercurrent of danger, of sticking it to the man, of being a rebel regardless of age. Sales would peak about two years after legalization and then fall off dramatically. That was because the fantasy was going, going, gone. Price would have absolutely nothing to do with the impending decline of sales. Once the fantasy was killed, sales would decline until they matched beer. The only fantasy in beer was the advertisements on Super Bowl Sunday.
The way to kill a fantasy is to live it. Fantasies of attending a sexual orgy are normal, healthy and titillating. But the people attending orgies do not match the face and body of the fantasy. There are also the concerns of STDs when having sex with people you do not know — not to mention HIV, herpes and crabs — where you will put your purse while you are naked and what happens when you run into someone in the mix of flesh who you know or do business with.
Alchemy Adams was the most cold-blooded of businessmen. He knew what he was selling. Even more important, he had an exit strategy. The key to being successful in business is not so much finding a niche in the market as it is understanding that all products and services are cans of peas. They will sell as long as people want peas. When pea sales fall, get out of the market. The competent businessperson does not go into business unless he/she has a profitable exit strategy. Cannabis was simply a can of peas. When joints were illegal, they sold because of the fantasy. When joints became legal they were just peas, a vegetable side dish. Then the fantasy would be gone and, like Rumpelstiltskin, Adams would put his foot down so hard that he created a chasm into which he disappeared, never to be seen again.
[This story is from Steven Levi’s THE CANNABIS STAMPEDE on ACX and Kindle.]