For some time, I'd been hearing stories from my sources in the interstate marijuana racket about law-abiding "civilians" turning to the game because of the recession, and so, armed with introductions, I hit the road to meet some of these unlikely criminals face to face. That's how, on a hot evening in June, I found myself in Dan's Northern California kitchen.
Dan isn't his real name. Nor are any of the names in this story, for obvious reasons. But his situation is a familiar, harsh reality for many Americans, as I learned while doing research for my recent novel on this subject. Dan is in his early 40s, a slim, soft-spoken former short-haul trucker who once owned all the toys: a used Mercedes, snowmobiles, Jet Skis. When they were both employed, he and his wife—a retail manager—easily cleared $100,000 a year. "We ate out breakfast, lunch, and dinner," Dan, now a minimum-wage laborer, tells me with folded arms. "That's the way life was for 17 years."
Today, Dan's toys are gone, sold to support an underwater mortgage. His wife, who kept her job, left him three years ago, driving away in the Mercedes. "She didn't like the fact that I sat at home and she was going to work," he tells me. "There were no jobs. I filled out a thing for the city, and 400 people were there for one opening—a garbage truck driver."
Dan goes on to say he played by the rules all his life, and he ended up so far underwater it wasn't funny as a result. A friend got him into the growhouse business, and now Dan's head is above water...for now. There are several other stories in the article, all about suburban white folk who get into the game and make enough money to keep them in it.
It's a bit on the depressing side, especially when you realize pretty early that these folks are all in the game because they are indeed upstanding suburban white people, making them all but anonymous in the criminal world. They're supposed to not be suspected, and it works.
And yet with one party in politics doing everything they can to all but encourage this behavior -- because this demimonde black market economy is basically what the entrepreneurial class up in Washington wants out of work Americans to engage in -- who can blame Dan and others like him? Leverage what you have to make a living. It's the American Way, we're told.
You do what you have to in order to put food on the table.