The inspiration for Huey Carmichael talks about the future of the weed business, the fear of big bank takeovers, and what mask he wants to wear on television
|Matt Taibbi||May 15, 2018|| 7|
Like dealing drugs, writing has rules.
Some are obvious, like, Don’t use twenty words if you only need five. Mark Twain used this rule, but he only needed two words (his version: “Eschew surplusage”).
Others I use include, No throat-clearing (also known as get to the point) and When you’re finished, go back and remove at least 20% of the text. Most first drafts are too long by at least that much.
Another big one: Keep your distance. If you’re testifying in court, you just recite events as you remember them. But to tell a good story, you need distance from your subject. You need to be able to emphasize some things, and withhold others, in order to get the pace right, keep people hooked.
Anonymous, the longtime real-life drug dealer who is the co-author of The Business Secrets of Drug Dealing (our new serialized novel, which you can find on Substack, here), is of course the inspiration for the book’s main character, Huey Carmichael. (We’ve published four chapters so far; start with the first two.)
But he’s not exactly Huey. Anonymous kept more than a little of himself from his fictional counterpart. He kept his distance.
The fictional Huey is colder, rougher, more calculating. Anonymous, whom I’ve known for years and is a friend, is funnier and more engaging.
For instance, Anonymous wanted to appear with me last week on The Joe Rogan Experience (see the discussion about the book with the incomparable Joe here and video below, in what turned into a great talk). He wanted to show up in a Barack Obama mask and tell everyone what’s what.
“I think that would have been fun. I think that it would have created a hell of a lot of buzz,” he says. “Like, who the fuck is this crazy dude?”
The fictional Huey wouldn’t have gone on a talk show. He’s too paranoid. Also, doing things just for fun doesn’t really rate with Huey. As readers will find out later in the book, Huey gets in trouble with a girlfriend when she asks how he lost his virginity, and he has to admit he’s forgotten. What was he supposed to do, remember?
Huey remembers other things, like who he owes and who owes him. He’s pretty much all business. His story is often funny, but on paper, he doesn’t come across as a guy you’d want to hang out with all that much. After the money changed hands, there wouldn’t be all that much to say.
Anonymous is different. He’s a blast to talk to and has a lot of things to say.
By Signal from his Undisclosed Location (even I don’t know exactly where Anonymous lives), I interviewed Anonymous about why he came forward, the future of the weed business, the problem of government and corporate involvement in the cannabis industry, and the dealing life in general. Amusingly, someone tries to buy drugs from him in the middle of the call:
Matt Taibbi: Why did you want to write a book?
Anonymous: I wanted there to be a better way for folks to do it. People are going to be involved in this trade one way or another, and if the odds stay the same, you know black people are going to be involved. And I just wanted to create something to show people the perils, instead of having to '“learn the hard way.”
With the book, I’m just letting people know, there’s somebody who’s already made these mistakes, already tested the waters, already learned from other people’s screw-ups. I learned lessons. For instance, I wouldn’t sell anything that didn’t come naturally off the ground. And I put that down as a rule because that, for me, was a key to success.
MT: Wait – why is that a key to success? I thought that was just something you believed in. Like a vegan thing, maybe.
Anonymous: No, it’s about risk. There are things you can do, where the heat is relatively low. Even if the cops are looking for you, it’s the lowest priority. So let’s say you have weed or you have mushrooms, and this is how you decide you that you want to make all your living, or a portion of your living. You know, it’s a calculated risk. But this risk is smaller.
It’s very, very difficult to be successful long-term, dealing with things that are manufactured or processed: pills, opiates, even heroin or cocaine, which of course are derived from natural substances. Still, they’re looking for those.
Anonymous: I believe, firstly, it’s because those drugs decimate white communities. Also, the type of money that you can make selling them can make a person independent enough to be a problem for government.
If you look at El Chapo, El Chapo didn’t get rich off of weed. El Chapo got rich off of heroin, cocaine and meth. And the government knows that the price of the other stuff is so high that you could potentially accumulate real power, and so they want to keep those things out of people’s hands.
MT: I’ve heard from a few street dealers who think legalization is a plot to take away their economic independence. What’s your take?
Anonymous: Let’s take a look at what’s happening right now in real time. We don’t have to theorize about what is going on. Right now, in 2018, the government has fully legalized the sale of recreational marijuana in the state of California. It’s no longer illegal to sell if you have the right permit.
But the problem is, the permits are so expensive, the process has so many loopholes, that the average person can’t afford to get in. Even the average dealer, who has been doing it for a long time, they know the business, but they don’t know the legit side, or as you might call it, the government side. They don’t know about banks. They don’t know about permits, they don’t know about all this stuff.
But the people who do know about this stuff are the very people who wrote the legalization rules. And they’ll write them in their favor.
They lobbied, they lobbied, they lobbied. They hand-picked legislators, and they hand-picked laws. And so, they’ll deliver laws that allow them to step in and assume control of an entire industry. They’ll set up barriers of entry for the very people who’ve been doing it for decades.
MT: Like the rules against felons having a role in the business…
MT: You’ve talked about this with me before, that you think it’s so vital for growers to be vertically integrated and independent before agri-business and Wall Street basically swoop in and come for the market. Is that still your fear?
Speaker #3: Yo (inaudible)!
Anonymous: (talking to someone else in the room) What’s up, man? What’s good?
Speaker #3: Oh, I thought you were talking to me.
Anonymous: Nah, dog, I was talking on the phone. I’m doing business right now.
Speaker #3: Sorry.
Anonymous: It’s okay. (back to me) Trying to sell drugs. That’s what that was.
MT: I see.
Anonymous: What was the question? Oh, yeah. The only way – I mean, it’s not the only way, but the best way that a person can come into this thing and stay viable is, you have your hand on the means of production. Including retail. Because that way, you can benefit from economies of scale, you can benefit from both having the lowest cost of production, when you’re talking about producing it, from a seed to selling it at the highest possible cost, which is retail.
So, that’s the way a lot of people are staying in business. A lot of people who are small time are piecing together aspects of their business. So you might have some person who is all-in retailer, and they know retail back and forth. They have connections to stores all around. They might have spent their whole lives up in the mountains, and they have connections to a whole bunch of growers. Then you might have a person who has connections in the testing world, or a lab. And so, these people are now putting their forces together on a small scale so that they can survive.
MT: What do movies get wrong about dealing drugs?
Anonymous: The movies make it seem like it’s a one-way street to success, until you lose. It’s always: you find your connection, and then it’s off to the races. They don’t tell about the little bumps here and there. They don’t show you get robbed here, lose a load there. To me, they don’t do a good job of showing the minutiae.
They don’t do a good job of saying, you need to stay off the phones. They don’t do a good job of explaining the legal aspects, either. They’ll show Scarface with bricks and bricks and bricks of cocaine, but they don’t really show how he gets from point A to point B.
Maybe with Frank Lucas and American Gangster, they showed a little of the day-to-day business, but to me they just don’t do a good job of explaining how to be successful. They’ll tell people's rise-to-glory stories, and the downfall stories, but they’ll leave out the middle part, which can be really long.
MT: I’ve had people write in to me since we’ve started doing this, dealers, saying, “Hey, this isn’t all glamorous. It’s just a job, just people trying to make a living.”
Anonymous: That’s it. There’s many, many, many more people than you realize that are partaking in this business, and this book is for those people, people who can maybe afford a book, but not a lawyer. But even a lawyer doesn’t know how to play on a cop’s stereotypes.
MT: And you don’t meet a lawyer until too late.
Anonymous: For most people in this industry, the lawyer pops up when there’s a problem. And generally, that lawyer is a heavy lifter to pay off.
MT: If this book had a soundtrack, what would it be?
Anonymous: Ha! A lot of Jay-Z.
MT: And “The Ten Crack Commandements.”
Anonymous: “The Ten Crack Commandments” is like – you don’t even play the lyrics, you just play the melody between chapters, you know I’m saying? Like, it’s the scene change music that just plays every single time.
But, it really is a lot of Jay Z. It’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” And shoot, Kendrick Lamar’s “Art of Peer Pressure” would be playing in that first scene where Huey and the guys are riding in the car with the pistol.
MT: Good song.
Anonymous: That song is a perfect song. There’s a guy named Cyhi the Prynce who has a song called “Get Yo Money” that would be playing, shit, several times. Every time you meet a connect, you know? That’s just a little reminder. Get your money and get out. You gotta get your money, run it out, and be done with it.
MT: That’s one of Huey’s rules.
Anonymous: Get your money and get out. So, of course, “Mushrooms (My Fault)” would be playing. That’s the soundtrack for the high school sections, more or less. Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life” would be playing when you take that first loss, and you’re trying to get back, that song is just very appropriate. It just explains so much about why street folks do what street folks do. We’re out here trying to eat and trying to maintain and trying to just survive just like everybody else.
MT: In the book, Huey talks a lot about how much easier white people have it in this business, like they don’t have to worry about talking on a telephone, etc. How old were you in real life when you first became aware of that?
Anonymous: The first time I realized that there was a difference between the friends who look like me and the friends that didn’t was when I got locked up once. I turned eighteen before a lot of my friends, so those same friends – you know, my hood friends – one of the big things that split us up was that they had done a home invasion robbery, and they had put me up to pawn the shit.
And so of course, a detective shows up after I pawn all this shit, detective shows up at my school. He knows I didn’t do it, but he wants to lean on me. So he throws me in jail, he takes me out of my AP US History class, throws me in jail. I still didn’t tell him anything, but he wanted me to literally ride through the hood and point these guys out. And he ended up charging me with some bullshit charge.
When I went to court, I got a lawyer with five hundred dollars. I’m still using the same lawyer to this day. Luckily, I had that money to pay in high school. That lawyer made the charge go away. It was at that moment that I realized, maybe not so much white people and black people, but you could buy justice, and I realized: if it’s a money thing, who holds the money?
My white friends, they’d get busted with drugs, and I always wondered why they’d always end up in rehab, or they’d always end up in anger management or something else. They would never go to jail. Meanwhile, in the other place, folks were in jail and out of jail all the time.
MT: Huey in the book talks about how white dealers maybe don’t have to be as smart.
Anonymous: I started dealing with a guy from University of [redacted], and that guy was just sloppy! He was just out there with it, everyone knew what he did, he would never lock his door, he was sitting right in the middle of the room, popping major weed, major mushrooms, major coke out of that place, and nobody ever batted an eye. The dude was able to get his money up with no problem, and now he owns a bar.
MT: In Huey’s old neighborhood, for instance, you couldn’t do that.
Anonymous: They put informants in black communities everywhere. They make informants out of black people, and when your neighborhood or your social circle is just permeated with a bunch of snitches, man, it’s only a matter of time.
MT: Has writing this book been cathartic? Obviously you’ve had to have a double life, or a secret life. You probably haven’t been able to talk about it with everybody. Has this been a way to get things off your chest a little bit?
Anonymous: It’s been a little cathartic to get it out there. I know the type of people that read your books. And being able to communicate to that audience is interesting. Even just showing both sides of the legal justice situation. How it plays out. Or letting people know that there is a difference just in day-to-day street stuff. I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to communicate things to a community and an audience that otherwise would not be exposed to the ins and outs of this sort of story.
MT: You told me you wanted to go on the Joe Rogan Experience in a Barack Obama mask. Were you upset you weren’t able to do that?
Anonymous: (laughs) The short answer is, yes. You could talk to him about the book with a certain level of expertise, because you and I have talked about this back and forth for a couple of months now. But I think that I could talk about the subject matter with a lot more breadth and control, and insight.
MT: For sure.
Anonymous: But the question is, do you run the risk of drawing unwanted attention? And then what are you going to do? So, I totally understand. But it was a great interview, I just wish there was a way that I could have possibly participated in it as well. I think that would have been fun. I think that it would have created a hell of a lot of buzz, like, who the fuck is this crazy dude?
MT: So if someone wants to invite Anonymous on TV in a mask, you’d do it?
Anonymous: I’d do it!
MT: Who do you want to play Huey in the movie?
Anonymous: The main character of Snowfall, man [actor Damson Idris]. He’s smart as fuck, he carries himself the right way, he knows how to code-switch, which means he moves through the Hollywood hills, and he moves through the projects, it’s the same way.
MT: His Franklin Saint character is similar to Huey.
Anonymous: I love that dude. He’s un-famous enough to work.
MT: Lastly, has this been fun for you?
Anonymous: Yes, it’s been a lot of fun! I can’t wait until we finish. I’ve narrowed a space where I was thinking of different outcomes. I think that I’m looking forward to putting together a very interesting, memorable conclusion.
MT: Me too. Thanks for your time. Talk to you soon – let’s get back to work?
Anonymous: Let’s get back to it.
The Business Secrets of Drug Dealing, the story so far: