This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Paul is an experienced global importer of cannabis resin, also known as hash or hashish, into the UK market. He specializes in smuggling boutique, small-batch Moroccan hash, although he also imports high-quality weed and other cannabis products. We spoke to him about how coronavirus has impacted his business and how he finds it impossible to ever relax.
Hey, you around?
A non-business call, how refreshing. All is well, thanks for asking. I’m happy not to be in a major city, the lockdown would be difficult for me, as I can’t sit still. COVID-19 has changed many things for me and my small team.
Where are you on lockdown?
Sorry, I’m not saying.
How long have you been doing this job?
I got into the cannabis trade young – over 20 years ago. I had trouble at school, and I was expelled for reasons that were completely unjust. That injustice created a rebellious nature in me. I was so angry at being excluded by the system. It destroyed me – I went off the rails.
What is it you sell exactly?
High-quality, boutique hashish. It comes into the UK in bales of 30kg. The THC level is extremely high – many, times stronger than normal hash in the UK. We sell it on to dealers. The street price, if you buy it from smaller dealers, is £250 an ounce. People who like high-grade hashish are no aggravation. I’m not involved in importing the cheap, commercial hash that’s less than 5 percent THC, that business is connected to all the arrests, robberies and debts. It’s a trail of carnage.
What are your profit margins?
The margins now are awful – about 7 percent gross. It was 30 percent seven years ago. It fell because of the rise of the illegal cannabis farming industry in the UK, which meant more people bought weed and less people bought hashish.
How do you deal with the stress of the job?
I deal with stress poorly now, as I don't drink or do drugs. The gear and beer were perfect medicines in moderation. I can’t sleep. I feel psychologically affected all the time. The stress is caused by fear of my family finding out. I’d say about 80 percent of my worry is family-based. 10 percent is arrest. 10 per cent is a fear of lifestyle loss, because I love to travel.
Do you smoke yourself?
No. I can’t smoke. I get paranoid and in fear of the law. I can’t have more than one puff. I really want to smoke though.
How do you spend your downtime?
I have every mindfulness app and book, and I have therapy, but I can’t relax. I love non-fiction, and read loads of books. But I work 14 hours a day, there’s not much time left. I have a close-knit group of managers who handle the clients well. I treat people with the utmost respect and do all I can for people’s safety and peace of mind.
How do you spend your money?
Fruit, vegetables, a motorbike and travel.
How do you get the hash into the UK?
I can’t be specific. But a while back we stopped using the big lorries – which are often shared by other smugglers – because all the gangster shit was too bloody. People robbed the lorries. People got tortured or hurt. It’s awful. Around the turn of the millennium, British gangs jumped into the cannabis trade in a big way. If I knew then what I know now I would not be in this industry. I am not a tough man or a gangster – that side of it troubles me. Me and my team, we’re all normal men. We shy away from ego and crime. If anything, we are at a point in our lives now where we regret what we do.
How is coronavirus affecting the trade?
New COVID-19 checks were responsible for the fact our transport agent lost our first consignment at the border in a long time. Officials did a secondary check because of new regulations, and they were caught. Borders are closed, or more monitored in many cases. Smugglers use traditional means of transport. These are slow or restricted by the new restrictions brought in by the virus.
How is business apart from that?
Overall, the hash trade, today, is crippled. Even before the lockdown, there was a shortage of hash. Now, traditionally speaking, it may never be the same again. Last year, when I asked about the lack of hash, my two major suppliers in Morocco simply said: "The road is closed." They said it in a weird and mystical way. That may be because the bribery system over there is changing. And the EU has been giving grants to Moroccan cannabis farmers to stop growing it and grow other plants.
What impact has all of this had?
I’ve had people who used to sell cheap hash begging me for a single kilo of any grass I can get them. I’m talking connected, experienced people who usually bring in hash by the ton. Many big earners who relied on the cheap hash trade have seen a huge drop in their core revenues. Because of COVID-19 there is an even bigger demand now for domestic cannabis in the UK. I expect UK retail weed prices to increase by 20 percent very soon. Hash prices will increase 40 percent. But new products are becoming available...
What new markets?
Markets have to innovate and diversify in response to change. So, I’m importing and selling concentrates and vape pens, called Shatterpens. They contain pure cannabis oil, extracted with C02, no solvents. We use only organic terpenes. As a smuggler, I can move one liter of this pure cannabis vape juice into the UK and it’s the equivalent of 5kg of pure flowers. We only use pure flowers to make it, not trim or trash like most people.
What do you see happening next, as supply and borders tighten?
The UK’s Albanian grow gangs will triple their output maybe 500 percent when all the cheap hash runs out. They run grows with thousands of lights, often with stolen electricity. Borders closing means nothing to them because they grow it here. These lockdown conditions will be like steroids for Albanian weed growth in Britain.
What do you like best about being in the hashish trade?
It’s a pleasure to serve my community in a safe, humble and honorable way. I like the quality hash market as it has a low impact on health and the community. I see the world. I am my own boss. All I need is a bag and a smartphone. The freedom is what drives me. This flexibility, having no boundaries, is intangible, but it’s the most precious thing I own.