From the halcyon days of easily accessible drugs to years of government intervention and a surging black market, this tale chronicles a former drug smuggler’s 50-year career in the drug trade, its evolution into a multibillion-dollar business, and the characters he met along the way. The journey begins with the infamous Hippie Hash trail that led from London and Amsterdam overland to Nepal where, prior to the early1970s, hashish was legal and smoked freely in Nepal, India, Afghanistan, and Laos; marijuana and opium were sold openly in Hindu temples in India and much of Asia; and cannabis was widely cultivated in Nepal and Afghanistan for use in food, medicine, and cloth. In documenting the stark contrasts of the ensuing years, the narrative examines the impact of the financial incentives awarded by international institutions such as the U.S. government to outlaw the cultivation of cannabis in Nepal and Afghanistan and to make hashish and opium illegal in Turkey—the demise of the U.S. “good old boy” dope network, the eruption of a violent criminal society, and the birth of a global black market for hard drugs—as well as the schemes smugglers employed to get around customs agents and various regulations.
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About the Author
Joseph R. Pietri is a former drug smuggler who is a legal purveyor of cannabis for medicinal purposes. He lives in Cloverdale, Oregon.
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The King of Nepal
Life Before the Drug Wars
By Joseph Pietri
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2013 Joseph Pietri
All rights reserved.
The Drug Trail Ends in Kathmandu
Some of the most vivid memories of my past life center in Laos, where I was considered by some to be a Konsupsa, a Laotian word that means "hippie marijuana smoker." I suppose some may have thought it to be an accurate description of me at that point in my life. Though marijuana is legally sold in the markets of Vientiane, Laos, and one may eat all one wishes, it is illegal there to smoke marijuana. All of the noodle shops serve a marijuana broth chicken soup that is considered a delicacy among the locals. To really understand the long, strange road I've traveled, it's necessary to go back in time a few more years where it all began.
I first smoked pot in 1963, and soon after, began selling it. At first I did so just to supply myself and my friends. First of all, let me dispense with a myth originated by the DEA: that the marijuana of today is much stronger than what was available in the past. Not only was the marijuana stronger and cheaper back then, there were many varieties available, as well as every imaginable type of hashish. A bag of grass filled three fingers high was considered an ounce, and cost only ten dollars. An ounce of the best Afghan hash or Nepalese temple ball hash was only fifty dollars per ounce, or less.
In the old days I would fill my hookah with several types of hash. My usual mix would start with Afghan hash then Nepalese, then Indian, then two types of Lebanese (Red and Gold), and I would finish it all off with a layer of Moroccan. The hookah had six stems. My smoking room consisted of a huge oriental rug with pillows all around. Everyone would sit on the floor and just get wasted and dream of what it would be like to be in the hash dens of Asia. Smoking was a sacred ritual shared with friends. In those days it was like receiving holy communion.
It was virtually impossible to get busted. I sold only to my friends. The cops had their rules and we had ours. As long as one wasn't totally stupid, there wasn't much danger. One had to be caught red-handed in a direct sale. Back then my biggest concern was that they would legalize marijuana and put me out of business.
In the late 1960s I lived in the Big Apple's East Village, 202 East 7th Street to be exact. I didn't have to leave the block to make money, and a lot of times I would never even have to leave the building. My neighbor on the sixth floor had just returned from Morocco with the finest hash from Ketama, located in the Atlas Mountains. On the third floor was a weed connection. Acid Peter, who always had the best hash, lived around the corner. Brooklyn Tony, another hash connection, also lived on the block. It seemed as if everyone sold and smoked ganja.
I had developed a tight-knit group of friends who had cash and access to the markets. It seemed that once people were turned on to a joint or a bit of hash, they became a regular customer. In those days it was very common for me to have several types of hash for sale. I used to sell the best Afghan hash for $500 a pound or $50 an ounce. Now, that same hash would be worth $10,000 a pound or $50 a gram. We have the War on Drugs to thank for that.
I developed a good marijuana connection with Larry Lane, who was working on his Ph.D. at New York University. Larry was originally from Arizona, and had a pipeline to Mexico. I would buy kilos from Larry for between $100 and $150. His marijuana was excellent. He regularly supplied me with Acapulco Gold and Culiacan Green. The money flowed, and I needed more markets. Most of my friends were in college at the time, so I soon developed markets in Boston, Cincinnati, Denver and Chicago. I then needed better connections.
About this time, I was introduced to Peter Kelley. When I first met Peter, he lived in the Chelsea Hotel. The Chelsea, a landmark New York hotel, was famous for the artists, poets, writers, musicians and dealers who lived there. There was so much action that Peter rarely left the hotel. Totally wild deals seemed to be going on there 24/7. Peter had just come out with his first LP, entitled Path of the Wave. Not only was his album a mild hit, he developed an even bigger following in Europe. He was also making money hand over fist, thanks to me, as I now handled all of his ganja trade.
A day didn't pass without a new load of hash or sensimilla arriving. Peter had this great connection, Earnest, who grew the finest seedless marijuana in Mexico. He flew it up on his own plane, boxed and packed in styro-foam; every bud perfect, about the size of the top of your pinkie finger. I remember sitting around with Peter and Earnest, coming up with names for the different types of pot, such as Black Frogs Lip and Burnt Orange.
In those days, there was always a lot of red and gold Lebanese hash around. It came packed in cloth sacks, pressed and usually stamped. The best qualities of Red would come in smaller sacks of six to eight ounces. The sacks became collectors' items. Some of the stamps were "Red Cherries," "Camels in the Desert," and "King Kong." Occasionally some fabulous Gold hash would come through, packaged in larger sacks, and usually not as fine as the Red. Every new taste was a different experience. Through Peter, I became familiar with all the types of ganja from around the world. My business was booming.
Before we go any further, let me put things in perspective. It was the late 1960s. Good quality marijuana and hashish were inexpensive: $10-$15 an ounce for grass, $50 an ounce for hash. Heroin was $300,000 per kilo and cocaine was $60,000 per kilo. Marijuana dealers rarely crossed paths with the heroin and cocaine scenes. They were from two different worlds with two different sets of morals. The heroin users were a desperate group who would do anything to get the drug, including ripping off marijuana dealers. Cocaine was just too expensive.
Most of the marijuana dealers were college kids from good homes in the suburbs. Many of the different varieties of ganja were being brought in by the large number of Americans who now backpacked to Europe, and who then went on to North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and Nepal. This was in the days before metal detectors and the additional airport security that we now have. It seemed as if everyone who went abroad brought back hashish. As far as the heat within the U.S., it was practically non-existent as long as one looked clean-cut. Only hippies, blacks and Hispanics were hassled. Racial profiling goes back 150 years or more, all the way to the Chinese coolies who smoked opium to ease the pain of their back-breaking work.
Back in the '60s there was no DEA. The agency then in charge was the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, one of the most corrupt government agencies in American history. They were in bed with the mob, the French Connection and God knows who else. If the police did bust a dealer and there was a lot of ganja and money involved, nine times out of ten they would just confiscate the money and drugs and let the dealer go free. They would then sell the drugs to their own dealers. Often they would leave the dealer enough product with which to build himself up again, so they could return to rip him off again. New York has always been the largest drug market in the world, and its law enforcement and local government were as corrupt as any third world country.
The heroin was going to the ghettos, so no one really cared. It is now well known that the CIA and other foreign secret services, through acts of omission, facilitated the movement of heroin from the Golden Triangle to the streets of Harlem. There, it was cut twenty times or more, and sold in minute amounts for three to five dollars. The profits were enormous. There are many types of slavery and one is heroin addiction. It was just as Peter sang in one of his songs, "The Man is Dead, he's long gone, he's turned on, Oh, the Man is dead, the revolution is over, The Man is dead, He is in your head."
It got too crazy even for Peter at the Chelsea, so he bought a loft across from the Fillmore East in the East Village. A lot of the top acts who played the Fillmore partied before and after at Peter's loft. Peter partied while I handled all the business.
Someone estimated that a ton of ganja was smoked in New York City every day. There were many kinds of dope around. The first Jamaican sensimilla started to appear on a commercial level. We were getting five-gallon paint cans, each holding five pounds of the finest Jamaican Kali. It was beautifully packaged and labeled, and commercially sealed.
In the 1960s in New York, hashish was much more readily available than marijuana. By the late 1960s, higher grades of marijuana overtook the hashish market. I guess it's a matter of taste, but I will always prefer a bit of hash myself. In my personal stash I had dozens of different kinds of hash and marijuana samples. I would smoke Lebanese hash during the day and Afghani hash at night. Around that time, Peter started to get Nepalese temple ball hash and Nepalese finger or rope hash. Anyone who has smoked Nepalese hash will never forget their first time. I remember mine: the rush was so strong that I had to sit on the floor and hold on. What a taste! Stuff like that sold itself.
Peter was in the studio recording his new LP, Dealing Blues, and I kept busy selling Nepalese hash. Rather, it flew out of my right pocket and filled my left pocket with loot. Selling Nepalese hash has, and will always be, a blessing.
Sire Records was backing Peter's new album with ads in all of the major rock & roll magazines. The record's first song was its title cut, "Dealing Blues." The lyric included the lines, "Spent my life dealing, got kilos stacked up to the sky," and we did.
Dealing Blues was released. On the front cover was a Lebanese hash stamp of three camels striding into the desert. The back cover had a huge picture of Peter in a Panama hat holding open a huge bag of Mexican Earnest's best sensimilla. The album received a lot of airplay as a result of full-page ads, featuring a huge picture of Peter holding the bag of sensimilla, which were run in all of the national rock magazines. Dealing Blues was an even bigger hit in Europe. There was talk of a European tour, including Amsterdam and Hamburg, and of me being the tour manager. The only hang-up was Peter. I think he had stage fright. It was one thing playing in his living room or at the recording studio, but audiences weren't Peter's cup of tea. His excuse was that he was making too much money to be on tour. Peter was more interested in his next load of Nepalese hash, which was due to arrive shortly.
Over lunch one day, Peter complained about all the pressure he was under as a result of his new LP. In addition, he explained, his Nepalese connections were a real pain in the ass. He asked if I would be willing to help him. He said he needed someone to go to the airport and pick up some cargo, and asked whether I could manage to do it. I told him that for the right price I would do just about anything. That rash statement would change my life forever. I became a marijuana dealer because I loved to smoke it; I became a smuggler for the love of the money.
Peter wanted me to arrange for someone to pick up the next load of Nepalese at the airport. The hashish was built into a wooden crate that contained a rare Tibetan Mastiff. All I had to do was find someone to go and collect it from U.S. customs at JFK, and he would split the deal with me 50/50. When I think back to that time over 40 years ago, I'm amazed we weren't all busted. But the deal was idiot-proof.
I hired two old friends of mine, Frenchy and Paul, to do the pick-up. They would drive out to JFK in Paul's station wagon at night and pick up the dog. Peter and I would follow discreetly behind. We had cased the airport, and I showed Frenchy and Paul exactly where to make the pick-up.
Finally the dog arrived and we proceeded to the airport. We parked in the lot across from the cargo building and watched the whole operation. After about fifteen minutes Paul and Frenchy arrived, loaded the crate into the station wagon and took off towards their place in Brooklyn. We followed them inconspicuously, to see if they were being trailed. If so, the plan was for us to crash into the car that was following them. To my amazement, they got home scot-free. We met the boys back at their place, transferred the crate to my vehicle and Peter and I sped triumphantly back to the City.
We took the crate over to one of Peter's stash houses and broke it open. The hash was actually concealed in the plywood from which the crate was constructed. The crate itself was solid hash, 50 pounds of the finest Nepalese. When I had a chance to talk to Frenchy and Paul, they filled me in on the pick-up details. There was a drug sniffing dog there, but he was too excited by the Tibetan mastiff to pay any attention. All of the customs officers came out to look at the Mastiff, as this breed had never been seen in the U.S. before.
Amazingly, despite being two zonked out, long-haired hippies, Paul and Frenchy didn't attract any attention, so Peter asked me to arrange for another pick-up a few weeks down the road. He told me the hash was being sent by Nat Finkelstein, at whose Chelsea Hotel suite the Andy Warhol film, Chelsea Girls was shot. Nat was very eccentric and a bit mad. He was on the run and hiding out in Nepal, which at the time had no extradition treaty with the U.S.
Peter introduced me to Nat's wife, Jill, who handled all of Nat's affairs in the States. She was there to pick up Nat's share of the loot, and to arrange for the next shipment. I made the necessary arrangements to receive the next shipment, provided a shipping address to Peter and Jill and gave a heads up to the dynamic duo of Frenchy and Paul. Jill then returned to Nepal.
Lo and behold, about ten days later, the pooch was at the airport. We followed the same procedure as before. This time, as I followed in my decoy car, I was completely tense. There had to be a safer and cleaner way to do this deal, but to my amazement everything went off like clockwork.
I had now figured out the safest way to bring the hashish-running dogs in without any exposure to U.S. customs. I would arrange for a customs broker to pick up the pooch. He would deliver it to a veterinarian, who then would check the dog's health and board him until I had someone pick up the pooch. I arranged for all of this over the phone, using an alias. We also used an alias to open checking accounts, specifically for the purpose of paying the customs broker and the vet. We would case out the vet's location to make sure there was no heat on the scene, and a week or so later, someone using the alias would come in, pay the vet and pickup our Mastiff. It was beautiful. It was impossible to get busted. We would see them before they saw us. Maybe Peter was right; maybe the Man was dead.
After handling my second shipment, Peter was supposed to fly to India and meet up with Nat to hand over his share of the loot. But, as usual, Peter was too busy with his music. In addition, he'd decided that he didn't want to deal directly with Nat. Apparently, Nat was a paranoid freak, and being on the run hadn't helped his disposition. So Peter suggested that I go instead, and bring Nat his loot. When I heard Peter's proposal, my mind traveled to India on clouds of Nepalese hashish. I jumped at the chance.
The plan was for me to fly to Bombay, and then on to Goa, on India's coast, where I would meet up with Nat and Jill. Peter got his hands on some Bolivian flake cocaine as a present for Nat. He thought this would help break the ice, since Nat was expecting Peter and not me. I packed the coke in a tube of toothpaste and off I flew.
As I flew to Bombay, my thoughts were on what lay ahead. I had prepared for Nat by bringing along a half-dozen shipping addresses, details of the new pick-up method and, of course, the nose candy. I went through customs in Bombay without a hitch, checked into the Taj Mahal Hotel and proceeded to explore the city. Traveling in India in 1970 was dirty and cheap. My room at the Taj Mahal Hotel cost US $26 per night. I immediately found a willing taxi driver to get me some hash and show me around Bombay. There I was, 23 years old in Bombay, India, determined to rendezvous with my destiny. Two days later I flew down to Goa to meet Nat.
Before I go any further with my tale, let me put 1970 India in perspective. Ganja was legally sold around all Hindu temples under license from the government. It just wasn't taken seriously. As part of the Hindu religion, every year all Hindus must partake in ganja on Shivrati, Lord Shiva's birthday. In addition, Muslims smoked hashish, since Islam forbade the consumption of alcohol. To Indians, ganja was an ordinary thing and had been part of their culture for thousands of years.
Goa at the time was a hippie nirvana. A house on the beach rented for no more than $10 U.S. per month. Of course, there was no electricity, and only well water. Fish and chips with a salad and beer cost about a dollar. In other words, one could live well for around $100 U.S. per month, and that included all of the ganja one could possibly smoke. Between the nude hippies on the beach practicing hedonistic tribal rites, and the full moon acid parties, Goa had to be the wildest place in the universe at the time.
Excerpted from The King of Nepal by Joseph Pietri. Copyright © 2013 Joseph Pietri. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCover - front,
Shiva Hashish & Ganja Centre - Photo,
Eden Hashish Centre - Poster/Shiva,
Eden Hashish Centre - Poster/Krishna,
Hash House - Photos,
The Drug Trail Ends in Kathmandu,
The Banjoe Safe Company,
Love It or Leave It,
Murder at the Palace,
Marijuana Myth and Folklore,
Cannabis: The Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs!,
Ice Wars! or, Who Invented the Bomb?,
Cover - back,