Seaweed – Key West, Florida

Seaweed – Key West Florida

Key West was a doper’s paradise in 1975. Celebrated in song by Jimmy Buffet (load that last ton), pot smoke would waft down Simonton every night and joints would be surreptitiously passed around down by the shrimp dock. Weed was everywhere.

You’d get two types of weed in Key West. Good Colombian bud for $25 – $30 an ounce. Hardly any leaf or stem. A few big, beautiful brown ‘tiger stripe’ seeds but they were fun to have. And it was fresh off the boat, loosely packed, so the buds held their shape and were still aromatic and sticky. Very potent, a hit or two in the morning and a few more around dusk and your entire day would be miraculously transformed into Key West time.

Or there was seaweed. Key West was a convenient stop on the drug highway between Colombia and Miami. The Keys had many isolated bays and beaches, perfect for a late night rendezvous. Fishing, diving and pleasure boats were readily available for hire with no questions asked. But sometimes pot smugglers would get nervous and dump their load of 50kg bales overboard. Tons of Lumbian mersh would literally wash up on the beaches of the Keys.

It still worked, of course, but it would be musty and smell like dead fish. Not the best, but you could get quarter pounds for $25 or so if a fresh load had washed up and the finders wanted a quick sale.

With all of this money around, corruption was rife, especially amongst the native Conchs in Key West. In September of 1975 undercover DEA agents busted the Key West Fire Chief, Joseph ‘Bum’ Farto, for selling cocaine out of the firehouse. As the City tow truck arrived to haul away the Chief’s car, the DEA agents confiscated the tow truck as well. The good ol’ boys were peddling dope all over town. Code-named Operation Conch, a total of 28 community stalwarts, including Manny James, the City Attorney and son of the Police Chief, were arrested.

James would eventually spend nearly a decade in prison on unrelated drug charges. The Fire Chief disappeared the following February. ‘Where is Bum Farto’ tee shirts are big sellers on Duval Street. Miami Vice was still seven years in the future.

Published by Phil Parent

Phil Parent is a geographer residing in Queenstown New Zealand.

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