After assisting RJ with the offloading of the Jamaican Ganja at the bridge, Skip Steele decided it was time to lay low.
In this episode, Skip recounts how his next foray into “the business” helped to jumpstart his eventual path to revolutionizing international cannabis smuggling in the early 1970’s.
A Taste of Success
I was hooked…
Even though I had decided it was best to lay low for a while, the thrill of the offload at the bridge with RJ made my return to school a bit discursive.
After a couple of weeks of fully committing myself to my studies, RJ came by the house and we spoke about that night.
He thanked me again for helping out and offered to front me some reefer if I was ever interested in making some more money while getting some smoke for myself.
As we discussed, RJ grabbed a beautiful bud of out his bag and proceeded to break it up on my nightstand. Without breaking stride in our conversation, RJ rolled a thick joint and offered it to me before pulling out his zippo to get us sparked.
We proceeded to burn a fat joint together in my bedroom as we prepared for the family dinner, my parents having no idea that I was smoking pot just steps away.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I asked around and found several friends of mine that were interested in selling some of the fresh Jamaican ganja that I could supply them with.
As long as I was able to “front” the reefer, my friends were more than excited about the possibility of getting their hands on some primo herb, but no one had the money to actually “buy” pounds of marijuana.
With my friendship with RJ blossoming, I knew that I was in a special position since he was willing to “front” all the pot to me, saving me on a costly first investment.
A life-altering decision
I thought long and hard about whether or not to commit to going in this direction, weighing the pro’s and trying to keep the negative cons out of my mind. Yea, I could get busted, but as a young guy, that thought only happens to “other” people.
I had it figured out that four of my friends could handle five pounds each, which meant a total of twenty pounds. RJ told me that I would have to pay him $200.00 per pound, and I was selling the reefer to my buddies at $400.00 per pound, so I could make $4,000.00 if all went well…
Once I made the firm decision to go forward, the die was cast. I called RJ and asked him if he could stop by the house. He and my sister were going out on a date when I approached him later that night.
“Were you serious about fronting me some reefer?” I asked him cautiously, hoping that 20 pounds were not too much to request on this first attempt.
“How much were thinking about?” he countered quickly.
“Would twenty pounds be ok with you?” I sheepishly replied.
“That’s a problem, Skip, because I don’t like to break up the bales, you would have to take at least a bale…so figure around 50 pounds, give or take a pound or two.” RJ stated.
“So…you…you’d be willing to front me a whole bale?” I asked with a bit of shock in my tone.
“Yea, but you would have to pick up the bale, and then I would give you a couple of weeks to pay me back…if that is what you want,” he added.
My mind was spinning, I had figured the deal for 20 pounds, what in the world was I going to do with 30 additional pounds of fresh ganja.
Before thinking too much, I just went for it, “Ok I will do a bale if that’s ok with you…” I said.
“No problem, when do you want it?” RJ said, seemingly without any worries.
“Well I have school all week, so could I get it on the weekend?” I asked.
“Yea, that will work…” He replied, adding, “Do you remember my friend, Midge?”
“Yes, of course, I remember Midge,” I assured RJ.
Midge was a “side-kick” of RJ’s…more or less his right-hand man.
He did errands for RJ at the nightclub that RJ owned on the beach, as well as a whole lot of other things that I did not know about.
One of his specialties included distributing marijuana for RJ; driving reefer all over Florida in RJ’s Cadillac Eldorado.
To disguise their exploits, RJ had special suspension installed on the stylish new car so that when he filled the trunk with bales of marijuana, he could inflate the rear shocks to make the car look normal to anyone that happened to take notice.
Midge and RJ had been friends since childhood and Midge was like a brother to RJ. He worked in the nightclub and was always around RJ both on the beach and elsewhere.
I liked Midge, not that I did not like RJ…it’s just that RJ was an intense guy while Midge was kinda laid-back, more my style. The arrangement of going to Midge for the Bale made me feel a lot more comfortable.
“I will tell him to set aside a Bale for you, give him a call and you guys set up the timing for this weekend, and seriously…be careful Skip,” RJ warned.
“Ok, I will.” was my answer to RJ as he and my sister went out the door for the evening and left me to return to my studies.
Now I had a bit of a challenge on my hands…what in the hell was I going to do with 30 extra pounds of ganja!?!?
Refining my plan of attack
It’s easy to say that the challenge of getting an extra 30 pounds of ganja kept me awake as I tried to find sleep that evening.
With the rising of the Sun, the morning came and my dilemma remained.
As I walked out of the garage door to make it to my first class of the day, the solution came to me in a flash of inspiration.
I spotted a big old suitcase in the open attic in my parent’s garage. It had been there forever and was covered with dust from non-use. It hadn’t been touched in years, so I thought it to be a perfect place to hide thirty pounds of fresh green ganja.
As I thought about how I could stash the herb in the suitcase, my plan transitioned to give my friends the original five pounds each and then try to get them to take more. From there, any extra that friends wouldn’t take, I could stash as leftovers in that old bag.
As I refined the vision of my first gig, I was hoping all along that my friends would agree to take more weight, perhaps ten pounds each, that way I would only have to hide about ten pounds of reefer in the old suitcase in my parent’s garage.
I have no idea how I took a calculus exam that day, as all I could think of was that upcoming weekend. I ran into one of my friends on campus, just as I was leaving school.
“Hey, Johnnie, what’s up?” I asked casually.
“Not much, praying for some surf…” was his reply.
“Absolutely man…” I shot back, pausing before pressing on with, “By the way, I got a question for you…concerning the reefer we talked about before?”
Immediately followed up with, “Can you take more than five pounds?”
“Depends…will you front it to me?” was his reply.
“Sure, how much you think you can get rid of in a week?” I asked.
“Not exactly sure, but everyone I know is kinda dry right now, so I could probably sell ten or fifteen pounds, but only if you will “front” it to me,” he replied.
I was stoked…the first friend I followed up with and he was already committing to three times as much herb.
“Ok, I will give you fifteen, come over to my house on Saturday night. My parents go out for the evening, so give me a call and we will finalize the time later in the week.” I answered.
“Sounds good…See you then Skip, and Thanks!” was his reply.
I elatedly skipped to my VW for the ride home. If I could get three of the four guys to take more weight, I would have the entire Bale sold. Perfect deal for me.
I got in touch with the other guys over the course of the next day or so and their replies were like Johnnie’s…If I could front it, they would take it.
I decided to give three of them fifteen pounds each and keep the one guy to the original five pounds. That would do it for the Bale, assuming it was a fifty-pound bag.
I called Midge and told him that I would like to come over on Saturday, late afternoon to pick up the “surfboard”. He instantly understood my cryptic “surfboard” reference and told me to be at his house at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. The deal was set, and I was a nervous wreck.
Saturday Night’s All Right
The rest of the week dragged on as I was finally confronted with Saturday morning. I could still back-out, not go thru with anything and forget about all of this and just go to school, get a degree and melt into middle-class. I knew that was not going to happen, sometimes you just have to dive in and say “what the fuck”. For me, this was one of those times…
My parents were getting ready to go out with their friends for the evening, a prominent County Judge nonetheless, as unbeknownst to them, I gathered up an old canvas tarp from the garage and threw it into the back seat of my VW.
I went into my parent’s room and bid them a good night. They replied telling me to enjoy the evening and adding as they always did, “be careful”. Little did either of them know what I had planned for that evening’s entertainment…
I drove over to Midge’s house which was situated in a middle-class neighborhood somewhat inland. In total it was just about ten miles from my house on the beach. Midge answered the door as I knocked, and ushered me inside.
“Hey Skip, how’s it going man?” Midge proffered.
“Great, and Midge, thanks for letting me come over to do this…” I replied.
“Thank RJ…it is his reefer, I am just helping him get rid of it,” he stated.
“You want to burn a joint?” he asked.
I paused, thinking about what I was about to do. I really did not want to be stoned and smelling of herb while driving fifty pounds of reefer in the back seat of my VW, so I politely declined.
“Not right now, Midge, but maybe later. Hope it’s cool man, but I don’t want to be high driving around town with a bale in my car, you understand, right? I answered.
“Totally, I was just offering, this ganja is really good when you do try it you are going to love it.” he stated, adding, “Let’s get started, you can pull your car into the garage, I will open the door.”
I backed my VW into the garage and closed the garage door behind me. Midge came out of the house carrying a huge gunny sack that smelled like ripe ganja, overflowing from the top with green ripe pot. Midge placed the bag on a scale he had in the garage and it read 52 pounds, we both noted the weight and I agreed to the poundage.
I then opened the door to the VW and helped Midge place the gunny bag into the back seat of the small car. I then covered the bag with the canvas. Not that covering the bag meant anything, as the smell of the fifty pounds of reefer overwhelmed everything in the little “bug”.
“Thanks, Midge.” I related to him as I climbed into my VW for the ride home.
The Longest Mile
As I got in the car, the weight of what I was doing hit me full on.
It was a good thing I had not smoked a joint, as I was paranoid enough being totally straight.
I pulled away from Midge’s house and had no idea what was to come next. All I wanted to do was to get safely home and get this bale broken down before my parents came home. I drove below the speed limit and worked my way towards the beach.
Driving over the bridge to the beach, I breathed a sigh of relief as I knew all of the back roads and intended using them that evening. I turned off of the main road and pulled up to the stoplight.
Looking in my rearview mirror, my heart skipped as I saw my worst nightmare in the form of a police cruiser approaching, ultimately coming to rest right behind me in the left turn lane.
I quickly made sure that I had my turn signal on and I prayed that it was working. My heart sank as I made my turn and the cop followed right behind me.
As one may tend to be with 50 pounds of reefer in the car, I was completely freaked out.
I wanted nothing more than to pull over and park my car and let him go around me, and I considered doing just that.
As I looked again in the rearview mirror, the officer seemed to be eyeing me as we both continued down the road. There was another light coming up and I signaled to make a right-hand turn, hoping with every fiber of my being that he would continue going straight…
My pulse quickened as I made the turn, watching him the entire time.
Lady luck rode with me that night as he continued on a straight path and I turned and continued towards my house. It was the longest two miles I have ever driven, and when I finally saw my house I quickly hit the “genie” garage door opener and disappeared into my bat cave.
I had made it home! Wow! What a relief!!
Breaking it down
I quickly made sure that my parents were not home and then returned to the garage, getting the bag of weed out of my VW and placing it on the tarp to break it down into pounds.
My plan was to break it down into five-pound bags, using black plastic yard bags to store the gorgeous herb. I decided to use the bathroom scale from my parent’s bedroom, hoping that the weight would be correct.
I put the Bale on the scale and it read just over 50 pounds, so I knew I was close, but not exact.
Dumping the contents of the bale onto the tarp, I began playing with the reefer…
I was excited and having fun playing with all of that herb, as I had never seen so much actual ganja plant.
I took a large baggie and grabbed a bunch of tops for myself and then placed it aside, that would be my stash from this “gig”. Moving as quickly as I could, I collected up five-pound bags of reefer and stood there looking at all ten bags. There were about two pounds leftover and I placed that into two separate clear plastic bags.
With the process complete, the herb was divided and I ran into the house to call my friends, needing to complete all of this before my parents got home from their evening out.
I got a hold of everyone quickly and told them all to get over to my house immediately.
Johnnie and John lived a couple of blocks away, and they were both there in no time as I ushered them into my garage.
They were both excited and shocked when I showed them the ganja and they pleaded with me to smoke a joint right then. I told them that while I shared their excitement, I did not know exactly when my parents would be coming home and that we would have to test the reefer later.
Neither one of them had any problems with that as we could all see that it was fresh and beautiful bud, much better than the dirt weed that we were used to getting at that time.
I gave both of them a total of 16 pounds each and we agreed that they would pay me $400.00 per pound for the reefer. As they were leaving, they both told me that they did not think they would have any problem selling this quality of reefer and that they would get the money to me as soon as it was sold.
I quickly got them out of my house and on their way. The next guy to arrive was another friend from the beach and I gave him fifteen pounds and quickly got him out the door. My last friend finally showed up at the house and I gave him the last five pounds and then began the cleanup of the garage area.
I swept up and cleaned for another hour until I finally had the entire garage back in a presentable state. I moved into my bedroom with my new stash of reefer and rolled a big fat joint and then went outside on the dock and smoked it. Within five minutes I was totally stoned and smiling happily, mission complete.
The next day was Sunday and I planned on a day in my boat. I got a call from Johnnie at about noon, just as I was getting ready to leave my dock.
“Skip, you gonna be home cause I have something for you?” he asked.
“I was headed out in my boat, you want to stop by?” I asked.
“Sure I will come by boat, see you in a minute or so…” he responded.
Johnnie rolled up to my dock within minutes, jumped out of his boat and handed me a brown paper bag. I looked inside and it was full of money. Johnnie had sold all of his reefer overnight and had the money back to me the next day. It was hard for me to believe as I stared into that first brown paper bag with over $6,000.00 in cash in it.
“John is finished too, he told me to tell you that he would stop by later today and get you your money. And please let both of us know if you have any more as we can move it…it is great stuff!” Johnnie informed me.
That meant that I had just covered the money that I owed RJ for the ganja and I would be able to pay him tonight when he showed up for the family Sunday dinner.
Not sure if that was a record, but I was paid for the reefer in less than 24 hours. The demand for good reefer was through the roof, even in early 1971.
At the end of this first “Gig”, I had sold 52 pounds of reefer for $400.00 per pound for a total of $ 20,800. I owed RJ $10,400 for the reefer, so over the weekend I just made myself over $ 10,000.00 and had a stash of great reefer for myself. Not bad for a schoolboy in the early 1970’s in Florida.
Over the next few weeks, I repeated that same process two more times, everyone was happy and stoned all over the beach and I was over $30,000.00 richer and a whole lot higher in under a month.
To put things in perspective, $30k was about the same amount of money my father was paid for an entire year of work as a College Professor. Not bad indeed…
At that time, little did I know that these first few gigs were the catalyst to kickstart my life as a marijuana entrepreneur.
It would take adding one other ingredient into the mix and the entire business would explode, literally overnight.
But that is another story for another time…