NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


Today Terry discusses the current state of marijuana in America in the wake of voter-passed referendums in Colorado and Washington that legalize recreational marijuana use with Newsweek reporter Tony Dokoupil. In 2009, Dokoupil wrote about his drug dealer father for the Daily Beast.

I loved the car trips I took with my mom as a kid. In 1986, we climbed into a rented motor home and bolted south Florida for the mesas of New Mexico, seeing cousins and digging for Indian arrowheads in my aunt’s yard. Later we toured New England, New York, and the Southeast, my mom taking advantage of the long hours behind the wheel to grill me about my grade-school crushes and playground fights. I thought we were just bonding and visiting family. Years later, I would learn that the trips had another aim: to hunt down cash and valuables my dad had stashed during his days as one of the biggest suppliers of high-quality marijuana in the Northeast.

The richest prize was a half-million dollars stuffed into a Styrofoam cooler and hidden in a hillside near my cousin’s house. We hit Florida’s Redland region to pick up a pair of collectible cars (Mom wound up loaning them to the makers of Miami Vice). We went to Long Island to look for a few more coolers packed with cash. Sure, Mom loved the open road. But she also knew you couldn’t take more than $10,000 on an airplane without telling authorities.

From 1975 to 1986, Anthony Edward Dokoupil distributed at least 50 tons of Colombian and Mexican grass north of the Mason-Dixon line. He started small, with suitcases and a rental car that he would drive up from Florida. As he cultivated his Latin American connections, he graduated to his own Buick with a trunk the size of a Jacuzzi and specially equipped air shocks that kept the car riding high despite a several-hundred-pound cargo of “Dade County pine.” Later my dad bought a hardtop Chevy pickup with a three-quarter-ton capacity, and hired three others to drive convoy-style up I-95, or what he called the “Reefer Express.” By the early 1980s, he and a partner were ferrying weed around New York in garbage trucks and a refrigerated rig marked mario’s fish. At his peak in 1986, my father led a team that smuggled some 17 tons of Colombian pot on sailboats from the Caribbean—enough to get every college kid in America stoned. He says he raked in around $2.5 million altogether—or $6 million in today’s money. As Jimmy Buffett sang at the time, “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast.” My father liked the tune; unfortunately for my mother and me, he lived it, too. MORE

DAILY BEAST: Full dark in downtown Denver, and inside one of the twinkling high-rises that make the skyline, drug dealers are putting money into envelopes. They’re trying to be discreet. No one signed the security logbook in the lobby. All assume the room could be bugged. But if your image of the drug trade involves armed gangs or young men in parked cars, these dealers offer a surreal counterpoint. There’s a finance veteran, two children of the Ivy League, multiple lawyers, and the son of a police chief. At their side is a Pulitzer Prize–winning communications consultant, two state lobbyists, and a nationally known political operative. And the guest of honor: a state senator who likes the look of those envelopes being stuffed.

“What’s the maximum contribution?” one of the dealers asks. “Do you take cash?” wonders another. A third man breaks into a smile. “You better,” he says, eyebrows dancing, “because the banks don’t like doing business with us.” Laughter fills the room as the envelopes are passed forward and slipped into a briefcase. “Huge thank you, everyone,” the politician says, guiding the conversation back to the next legislative session and the kinds of legal changes this group would like to see. Here again, it’s not what you’d expect: there’s talk of a youth drug-abuse-prevention program and a bill to define “drugged” driving. When the politician finally rises to leave, after more than an hour, the dealers, in their pressed shirts and suit jackets, clap heartily. The average participant looks to be about 35, white and male, and on good terms with a barber. “Thank you,” the politician says, bowing slightly. “Thank you for what you do.”

What they do is sell marijuana. And not on street corners. Colorado is the developed world’s only regulated for-profit cannabis market, and sales—to the 100,000 residents who have a thumbs up from their M.D.s—are closing in on $200 million this year, a sum that generates tens of millions of dollars in local, state, and federal taxes. (Yes, the IRS taxes marijuana operations, even as the Justice Department attempts to shut them down.) Colorado is not the world’s only experiment in free-market pot, but it’s the most sophisticated, pushing beyond the Netherlands’ confusing ban on wholesale and California’s hazy nonprofit status. Denver’s former city attorney has called it California “on steroids.” MORE