As usual, the Big Kahuna is sitting shirtless in his chair, flexing his large forearms around a giant glass bong. He takes a deep hit from the device and exhales powerfully into a 1-inch-thick plastic tube that he has rigged to a spot in the wall near an air-conditioning unit. “That stuff can go outside,” he explains, nodding at the smoke. “I don’t care. It’s legal.”

Just then, his cell phone rings. The Big Kahuna spends the next 20 minutes explaining the various benefits of different strains of marijuana to a repeat customer who agrees to buy a quarter ounce of a sativa strain. “There are two major groups of cannabis: indica and sativa,” he tells me after hanging up. “Most of the weed coming into California and being grown in California in the past 20 years was all indica because people wanted to get stoned and sit on the couch. But if you give that indica to patients who are in pain, in misery, already in a bad place, it takes them down and makes them depressed and suicidal. Sativa is an upper, like coffee. It kills the pain and leaves the patient awake and aware and motivated instead of mellow.”

The person who just called has ordered a few eighths of a sativa strain, the Big Kahuna explains. “This guy has a metal rod inserted in his back, and it’s fused to his spine,’” he says. “He’s been on painkillers for 10 years and is trying to get off them. He’s a regular customer; this is his third or fourth time. He orders from us every couple of weeks.”

Nathan Santistevan
Nathan Santistevan

A former pot dealer who spent time in jail after being set up by a customer, the Big Kahuna is an expert in what is legal and what is not-so-legal when it comes to medical marijuana. He’s determined to stay on the legal side of things—unlike, he asserts, the hundreds of LA cannabis dispensaries that have opened in the past several years, many of which have been subjected to raids by both state and federal law-enforcement authorities. “These dispensaries offer everything,” he explains. “Food, drink, tinctures, concentrates like hashish, and all that stuff isn’t outlined in the law.”

The law in question, State Bill 420, which was enacted last year to regulate medical marijuana, only allows dispensaries and clubs to grow and provide to their members dried cannabis. For that reason, the Big Kahuna can only obtain marijuana from members of his club, all of whom must live in Orange County. He can’t buy pot from growers, say, in Los Angeles or Northern California. He can deliver the locally grown pot to as many members of the club who live in Orange County as he wishes, so long as he has each member sign a form designating him as their primary caregiver. According to California NORML’s website (, there are nearly 150 delivery services throughout the state, most of them in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Orange County is home to 24 delivery services, as well as about a dozen walk-in dispensaries, according to NORML.

The Big Kahuna complains that the big LA dispensaries are also delivering marijuana to customers in Orange County, despite SB420 stating that designated caregivers can’t cross county lines. “It’s the Wild West up in LA,” the Big Kahuna says. “They are getting busted because they are bringing 5 pounds of weed in the back door and selling it out the front door, whereas we don’t do more than an ounce, which is what a person could truly consume.” While the Big Kahuna acknowledges that half of his club’s members “just want to get high,” he says the other half are legitimate patients.

*     *     *

Racer X drives a beat-up truck with a satellite-powered global-positioning device mounted on his dashboard. The GPS beeps every few seconds and provides a constant stream of directions. “Turn right, then turn left,” it might say, or “Now arriving at destination.” When Racer X misses a turn, usually because he’s too busy talking, the machine alerts him to his error with the word “Recalculating.” “That’s the last word I want to hear,” he says. That word means he’s getting lost and losing time, and time is money.

He delivers weed for the Big Kahuna three days a week, in shifts that last from 3 to 8 p.m. His busiest days are Fridays, when he can make as many as eight deliveries and earn up to $200. For each eighth of an ounce he delivers, Racer X earns a $10 commission. Sometimes, people tip him $20. Once, a pretty girl ran after him with a $20 bill that he’d mistakenly given her when counting out her change. “This is yours,” she said. “I was going to keep it, but you’re the last person I want to piss off.”

Today, Racer X is eager to stay on schedule because a few days earlier, he missed an entire shift—seven deliveries, a lot for a Wednesday—because the springs in his garage door broke. He’s grateful that we reach the day’s first customer—the man with the metal rod in his back—in just a few minutes.

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