LISTENING to a man named Troy talk about his life as a drug dealer -- with 20 clients who buy marijuana from him on a regular basis, Troy didn't want his full name printed because of the legal ramifications -- I think to myself: This guy could have been somebody.
I'm thinking owner of a small chain of coffee shops or high-end clothing stores. I'm thinking vice president for regional sales. I'm thinking nice suits, a Lexus and regular trips in first-class.
Troy, a 39-year-old Army veteran who lives alone in West Baltimore, is obviously well-organized and smart. He's kept a profitable illegal business going for about a decade now, and he hasn't been to jail recently. (In case of arrest, he has stashed away a few thousand bucks, for his mother to use to bail him out of jail. )
His cell phone holds 500 phone numbers of present and former clients from Baltimore to Cecil County, including an 85-year-old woman who likes to smoke reefer for medical reasons.
Recently, Troy has scaled back his client base from 80 to 20 to reduce stress and keep his illegal sales below the police radar. A consultant might have called that "retrenching," but Troy just says, "My life was getting too hectic, and I wanted fewer headaches."
Here's a man who resisted the temptation to diversify his product line; he never sold cocaine or heroin.
He has maintained what the consultants call his "core competency," providing weed to a quality customer base that he says includes professional athletes and doctors.
He has a steady connection for inventory that rarely requires him to travel out of state for his cannabis. He has what sounds like an efficient order-and-delivery system.
Troy claims he has three salaried employees, including a driver who takes him wherever he needs to go. His busiest days for home deliveries are Thursdays and Fridays. He is invited to nice parties in large suburban houses. His clients give him Christmas presents.
Troy says he sells marijuana at $200 an ounce, and he travels with a small scale to weigh his product upon delivery.
He says he now makes $700 tax-free per week after expenses.
And he wants out.
That's why he has come to see me. Pushing 40, he says he's tired of the reefer business.
"It's decent income, but it's not guaranteed, it's not like getting a paycheck," he says. "Plus, I'm breaking the law every day. I could get arrested."
Troy did a three-year prison hitch once, back in 1989, on a drug charge. At the time of his arrest, he had a good job in data entry, making $17 an hour for a company whose executives took a liking to him and considered him a rising star.
All of that promise went to pieces when he went to prison.
"And when I got out, in 1992," he says, "I couldn't replace that salary, that $17 an hour. I was frustrated with jobs unloading trucks, making $8 an hour, and paying out $280 a week in child support.
"At the time, I smoked weed, and I moved some weed, and I calculated the profits I could make from that, so I bought my own stuff and started selling."
By 1997, his customer base had grown steadily, and Troy was a busy guy. He focused all his attention on marijuana sales.
Now he wants out.
"What I want is peace of mind," he says. "I'd like to have a regular job, an office job, maybe in insurance or in a bank. My mother encouraged me to take business courses because, she said, `Obviously, you're quite good with numbers. You could run a small business.'
"So now I'm looking for a job that would replace my income, or come close to it."
He says he's taking online business courses.
He has been applying for jobs but hasn't found one. He says his old criminal record keeps popping up in background checks, and his resume has a big, suspicious hole in it -- from 1997 to 2005.
Troy doesn't seem to have any remorse or guilt about the drug he sells. "I didn't sell to kids," he says.
I told Troy that I was happy to know he hadn't contributed to Baltimore's fierce heroin and cocaine problem during the past decade, but that a lot of people might think that he had. (Marijuana is still regarded by many as the gateway drug to the hard stuff.)
Clearly, the community is better off with one fewer marijuana salesman, so if Troy wants out, let's encourage him to get a real life and a real job.
You never know: Someone out there might think a guy who has successfully marketed a product for several years might have skills necessary to fill a role in a mainstream business.
Troy says he'd take just about any job, understanding that he probably won't be able to immediately replace his present income.
I have his phone number. I'll be glad to share it -- but only if you're interested in talking to Troy about a job, not if you're looking to cop some grass. Forget that, Troy says.
"I'm not taking any new customers."