My Life as a Drug Dealer

There are times when I still find it hard to believe, but for more than a decade, I made my living as a drug dealer. Meth, cocaine, ecstasy, pot, GHB, Special K. You name it, I had it, I sold it. Meth was a distant second to coke when I began but by the end it was by far my most popular product, accounting for half of my sales and two-thirds of my profits. It also became my personal drug of choice, and for 10 years I smoked it every day. It was because of meth that I went to prison and it took prison for me to finally quit meth.

At my peak, I had over 100 customers and was clearing $200,000 a year, tax-free. I was a one-man operation: the CEO, sales staff, shipping department and bookkeeper all rolled into one. I carried two cell phones at all times, one for drug orders, the other for everything else (which wasn't much). Contrary to the image politicians and law enforcement promote, I never lurked around schools and playgrounds peddling dope to America's youth. In fact, not one of my customers was under 30, although plenty were over 50. Most of them were (and still are) hard working, productive members of society, the kind of people you'd never suspect--and rather not know--are habitual drug users. Among them, a half dozen doctors, several lawyers, two research scientists, even a police dispatcher. As my business grew, it also expanded geographically. My "sales territory" covered most of Southern California, stretching from Long Beach to Malibu to Palm Springs to San Diego and back through the wealthy beach towns of "The O.C."

Those were just my vehicular boundaries. I also used overnight delivery companies to ship drugs to select points around the country: meth to New York City and San Francisco, coke to Cleveland and Miami, ecstasy to Chicago, Special K to Atlanta.

Looking back, it's not like I aspired to a life of crime, even with my Sicilian roots and boyhood pride in the Mafia. I grew up in Downey, a white, middle-class suburb of Los Angeles. I was intelligent, a good student, and a three-sport jock. I played clarinet well enough at 14 to be promised a scholarship and travel through Europe with an all-U.S.A. orchestra. I had two younger brothers and well-meaning parents. With my GPA and high SAT score, I was told I could go to college anywhere. But leaving my nerdy clarinet behind, I chose a two-year school with a reputation for partying. It was there in 1978 that I was introduced to my first line of cocaine. I had entered the netherworld of illicit drug use. The dealing started almost by default, when I began looking for a better price than the $100-a-gram I was paying for coke and discovered I could get a full ounce--28 grams--for $1,000. I found myself selling to friends, for little or no profit. When they started pointing their friends in my direction, the charity stopped and the primordial development of a drug dealer had begun.

In the early 90's, after an attempt to settle down had ended in divorce, I began to meet women who were doing meth, not coke. That was a bridge I had no interest in crossing because even I believed once you stepped up to speed, addiction and derailed dreams would follow. But classic rock and cocaine had been replaced by the rave scene and speed, and it was time for me to catch up. The first time I snorted it, I thought, "Whoa!" This high was different from coke; it came on just as fast, yet I was more lucid and acutely alert. It was easy to stay up all night and still make it through the next day without falling apart. Then I tried smoking it and it was even better, partly because I had never smoked anything else in my life and it was fun, and partly because my nose needed a break from all that abuse. They say it only takes once to get hooked on smoking the stuff, a statement that still sounds preposterous to me. But since it was all I could think about from the moment I took my first drag, who am I to dispute it? Profound changes occurred within weeks: I was drinking and sleeping less, accomplishing more, and losing weight, 20 or 30 pounds in the first few months alone. Sex became an endurance sport I couldn't get enough of. I felt great so much of the time, I couldn't even think of a downside.

But there would be a downside. I was racing toward the poorhouse at breakneck speed. My real job couldn't be blamed: following in my father's footsteps as an insurance adjuster, I had worked my way up to managing the claims department at a big grocery chain. But after several mergers, I was let go. I was so stunned and humiliated, I couldn't bring myself to tell my father for almost a year. Losing my job forced me to consider the unthinkable for the first time: dealing drugs on a fulltime basis. But even if I could overcome the stigma of such an occupation, and handle the risks involved, I didn't have enough customers and my debts were mounting even faster. I applied for a few jobs in claims but when they didn't pan out, my self-esteem hit an all-time low. With a mindset that I had little to lose, I plunged into dealing with the same vigor and work ethic I had displayed in every job I'd ever held.

At first I was deathly afraid I wouldn't make enough to survive, so I did anything I could to increase sales. I ground the cocaine so my customers didn't have to. I delivered anywhere, anytime. I gave out free drugs for new customer referrals. I even took checks. By the end of the first month, I was able to let out a sigh of relief: I had made a profit in excess of $5,000 and it seemed like I was going to make it after long as I didn't get caught. Periodically, as demand dictated, I put new items on the menu; first, ecstasy, then Special K (an animal tranquilizer that is no longer available), then the notorious "date rape" drug, GHB. I sold pot for a while, but it wasn't profitable enough and it took up too much space. I paid about the same amount for meth as I did for coke--approximately $600 an ounce. But the most I could gross on the coke was $1,200 while the meth brought in $2,400. The more popular meth became, the more my profits soared. By the end of my third "fiscal year," meth sales had driven my monthly profit to an average of more than $18,000. Then, in a single moment of betrayal, my world turned upside-down. Early on my 42nd birthday, my oldest and best customer was arrested selling coke that I had sold to him. Thinking he could save his own neck, he set me up that night. I was initially charged with 11 counts of narcotics possession with intent to distribute and spent three days in jail before making bail. I spent the next three years on the outside, fighting my case. The district attorney conceded upfront that the vehicle stop, my detainment, the search of my vehicle and the seizure of evidence had been illegal, and seven of the 11 counts were quickly dismissed. But after 69 court appearances and $120,000 spent in my defense, I lost anyway.

Of course, I was guilty all along. I ended up serving almost 10 months in state prison and I'm about to start my ninth month on parole since release. If I continue to stay clean, and maintain my residence and employment, I could be discharged from parole as early as January. I sell hair transplants now--and I'm pretty good at it--but it saddens me to think that while I have excelled at every job I've ever had, dealing drugs is the only time I felt financially secure. And what about all the money I made? I don't have much to show for it, that's for sure. I never bought any big-ticket items and whatever money the government didn't seize as ill-gotten gains ended up going to my lawyers. I'm more in debt now than when I started dealing full-time. As for prison, it was a nightmare; from the anal cavity search to the last race riot I was compelled to take part in. I also observed first-hand how prolonged meth use ravages the body, particularly teeth. I saw literally hundreds of inmates missing some or most of them. Their teeth were just gone, rotted away. After 10 years of the same kind of chronic meth abuse, all of my teeth are still here, but I worry and wonder how much damage I have done that I cannot see.

I've been asked if I think meth should be legalized, and my answer is no. Do I think the penalties are too harsh? Yes. Are we winning the war on drugs? Most of the time we're not even picking the right drug to fight. Major League Baseball and Congress are obsessed with steroids, while in basketball, it's marijuana. But ask any player in either sport whet the real problem is, and they'll tell you meth. So what do government and law enforcement do to win the war against meth? Fight another war. Shutting down 100 labs a day nationwide isn't going to make a dent, and locking up every meth user is a costly waste of time. And rehab? Nearly every meth-using inmate I met in prison had plans to go back to using as soon as they're released--random drug testing and the risk of going back to prison be damned! This is a drug that has an insatiable pull even among people who've been off it for several years and who have a tremendous incentive to stay clean--their new-found freedom. The war against meth is complex, and I'm not sure what the answers are. But I do know that the way we're fighting it now makes it an unwinnable one.