It’s midnight in Texas, the air smells of dang (hot road kill mixed with beer and truck exhaust), and as I hurry to my car I can’t help but skip. I always get this excited when I’m about to pick up a great sack of schwag, especially because this time it’s actually green and a little fluffy. A fifty-dollar investment will last for a few days and I’ll certainly get about ten fat blunts out of it. You see, in Texas blunts are quite popular, as they allow for increased sharing possibilities in a social situation, and getting both your tobacco and THC fix simultaneously.
I read my directions from a used napkin and drive through half of a Queen album before arriving at my dead end, where a person I know nothing about leans into my car and tosses in the bud. I don’t hand him the money, as I’ve been instructed to “gangsterly” toss it on the hood, so that nothing is exchanged through hands. This is all new to me and a little shady, but I was hooked up from a friend I trusted, and I really don’t have any other options.
Typically, my experiences with schwag dealers tend to vary, but most are short and sweet, with little time for inquiries on the current status of politics or the economy. In Texas, it’s important not to get attached to a particular dealer or supply, because more often than not, they will disappear one day, never to be heard from again.
It’s time to cruise home with my illegal greenery, hoping to make it. A long drive for schwag is required because there’s a drought right now, and unfortunately the county I travel through has the second-harshest penalties for marijuana possession in the state of Texas, and is well known for prosecuting to the full extent. The large amount I picked up creates a greater risk, but there’s a certain thrill in it all, a juvenile excitement in the process of tracking down buds. In some instances it’s almost sexual, a kind of turn-on you only feel from the possibility of getting caught. Maybe that’s why I take the chance with such a cheap, harsh sack of schwag.
To understand the affection for such low-grade cannabis, one must get into the full element of the Southern pot experience, including the lingo. The first question all potential purveyors ask is “’dro or reggie?” “’Dro” could mean just about anything, and from that point must be specified as either hydro, kind bud, chronic, or a specific strain. This is expensive, imported or home grown, and for struggling stoners like myself is reserved for birthdays, holidays, and tax seasons. “Reggie” is what I’m looking for; as opposed to paying $75 for 3.5 grams of good stuff, I’ll settle for the less flavorful weed with God-knows-what inside of it. I don’t know why, but even when I have money, sometimes I crave schwag. It’s strange, but there’s a feeling of bargain-hunting pride from grabbing that 28 grams for $50.
Five miles from home, my nerves start to really kick in. I’m so close to ripping the bong, and everywhere I look there are police. Police here are like Starbucks – they’re on every corner, and sometimes even parked next to each other for no apparent reason. I get this nervous feeling because I’ve been arrested for schwag before, and I still didn’t learn my lesson. The charge was for “Possession of Marijuana”, and what I possessed at the time was a roach, about the size of my pinky fingernail. My punishment would span across two years, and includes supervised probation with random urinalysis testing, home visits/searches, 50-dollar monthly probate fee, $3,500 in fines, two Texas drug and alcohol classes (an additional $300), 90 mandatory Narcotics Anonymous meetings within 90 days, and 250 hours of community service. I was not allowed to leave the county, let alone Texas, without permission from my probate officer. These traveling privileges were few and far between, and typically are only awarded to first-time offenders who test clean on urinalysis appointments. In exchange for completing all of the terms of my probation above, I would receive deferred adjudication, or a “clean slate” as they say. I say, what good is a clean slate when all you want to do is drench it in a smoky haze?
The painful truth of the South is that we have the harshest marijuana possession penalties in the United States, but we also produce/distribute some of the worst weed in the nation, with disturbingly low amounts of THC. In essence, tons of smokers are busted everyday for herb that might not even be herb at all. On a potency-level scale out of 10, schwag ranges from a 1-5. For those non-recreational smokers with debilitating illnesses, living in the south creates a problem when trying to find your medical-grade cannabis, as it typically must be smuggled in from California or Seattle. Because of the risk, the prices skyrocket, 1/8’s seem smaller, and quality goes down from improper storage and handling. Because there are no dispensaries (yet), attaining cannabis of this nature can be strenuous, reminiscent of a rat race, and end in disappointment over the quality of the product.
Eventually, many revert to the schwag out of sheer convenience, and even I wondered what it was about schwag that made it worth my while to sit in a jail cell thinking about it. Was there any possible way I could put in a plea of “not guilty” of possession of marijuana based on the fact that what I was smoking wasn’t really that good? “What”, “where” and “how” were the easy questions to find answers for, but the “why” is what interested me most. Why on earth do I choose to contribute to the perpetuation of schwag when I have tasted great buds from the heavens with my own lips? What about my toker friends who purposefully ONLY smoke schwag – why do they do it? Some say it’s because of cost, while others can find really good schwag with no problem and see little difference between it and kind bud. Some refuse to touch schwag with a ten-foot pole.
Schwag goes by many other names, including but not limited to: shwiggity, shwah, reggie, regs, Tex-Mex, junk-skunk, dirt-weed, dirties, skank, and killz, just to name a few. It’s typically brown (just like dirt) when it’s bad schwag, and a dark forest-green when it’s dough dough or shwah. Schwag has few crystals (if any), and most is chocked full of seeds with half of the weight being in stems and seeds alone. Male and female plants are mixed together in the planting of schwag, and when harvest time comes, there is little regard for typical growing methods of finer plants. In fact, they are grown in such a half-assed manner, smokers will sometimes find various other plants such as sunflowers, bluebonnets, or wild Indian paintbrush chillin’ in the bag, partying with their weed! It’s difficult to place names and strains on schwag, because most of the time it’s so compressed from cargo travel methods, identification seems impossible. In fact, travel plays quite a comprehensive role in determining what exactly you are getting when you purchase schwag.
Schwag is shipped across the Mexico-Texas and California border, compressed tightly and hidden in various parts of motor vehicles. Some bricks weigh in upwards of 150 pounds and are shaped like the giant tires they are sometimes shipped in. Instead of picking out a gentle bud to puff on, one sometimes needs to utilize the likes of electric turkey carvers to slice the bud into thin disks before smoking or distributing.
JP, a self-proclaimed schwag connoisseur and purveyor, told me, “I’ve seen schwag that’s been shipped in sheet metal, compressed between two gas tanks, all the way from the border.” JP has been a schwag-specific smoker for about 12 years now, only smoking quality buds on his birthday and holidays. Like myself and many other Texas smokers, he has also been to jail and served time for his herb-loving ways.
JP is fond of schwag for several reasons. “I’m Mexican, and I smoke Tex-Mex weed because I like to have a lot around to share with friends. It’s cultural. I can’t pull out expensive bud and share it with everyone, but I can afford blunts and blunts of this stuff,” he said as he rolled one up.
As For the quality of the schwag, JP said, “You find all sorts of shit in your weed, like dead roaches, sticks, spider webs – and one time I even found a bird feather. But I don’t care. I’ll still smoke schwag, and always will.” In addition to JP’s own found objects, I’ve heard some other wild claims of almost everything imaginable in bags of schwag: rat-tails, cockroaches, sticks, dirt, rocks, cough medicine (pawned off as a strain of kind bud), lead (for weight), gasoline, hair, beer tabs, feathers, knitting yarn, fingernails, pesos, oregano, nuts and bolts, and even a birdfoot!
Random objects found in pot are presumably for the purposes of weighing it down to spread further. JP noted that the profit lies in northern cities; because schwag still gets you high, it can be sold for inflated prices the further north you travel, and sometimes even carries a 100% markup value. Schwag in a border town will run $40 by the ounce, while it can easily be sold at up to $15 a gram in Colorado or Oklahoma. Incredible profits and markups keep the schwag industry in the south running at full force, with no end in sight.
Going from a smooth, chronic high to a thick, rough schwag high has been known to cause shock and stress disorders in visitors from the north who were unaware that cannabis also came in the flavor nasty! Having just returned from Vancouver, British Columbia, where I smoked the best buds of my life, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and try to feel the difference in the hits. The schwag is harsh and thick, similar to smoking a Marlboro Red, with the smoke settling in the back of the throat. Reggie smokers agree that the harshness grows on you, and after smoking southern “regs”, you can smoke just about anything.
There are also some people who refuse to smoke schwag. Stanley Glass, a glass purveyor and cannabis connoisseur, explained: “ To me, smoking that first bud of ’dro was like the most amazing sex, and all those years I spent smoking schwag I may as well have been jerking myself off!” As he loaded bowl after bowl of delicious buds with hints of mango, he became increasingly enthusiastic to describe how it felt to jump into the world of hydroponics, chronics, and clones after years wandering through the schwag deserts. Glass sold schwag in high school, and says that when he graduated, he graduated from schwag as well.
“I just found that ’dro was a more functional high with good flavors and very clean,” he says. He also points out that he and his friends were purchasing hydroponic buds at $240 per half-ounce, so he dedicated his lifestyle to bringing down that price and bringing up the quality. His theory is that if you’re going to risk everything, you may as well smoke good chronic. “Dank isn’t all about the money, it’s about variety of life and the wonderful flavors that come from it,” he says. “Schwag is just a negative cycle; a lot of violence comes with it, because it‘s all about quantity, not quality. It‘s all about making money, not the bud itself…you never know what’s in it, or what you’re getting. Chronic and ‘dro are just cleaner highs, more functional”.
However, it is generally agreed that most of the truly great buds are imported from throughout the northern US and California, but in order to get to it one must break through the barrier of low-grade competitors flooding the Gulf Coast with high volumes of cheap schwag. Because of the high volumes passing through, there has been an influx of sellers that don’t smoke their product and only focus on the distribution. With all these ignorant dealers, about the best salesman for schwag I can find is the shady guy at the dead-end street I just paid a visit to.
It’s understandable that chronic home-grown is hard to find, as growing good bud is not always easy with electrical companies that will not hesitate to report high-electricity readings to the local police. This creates problems for indoor grow operations because it is still highly illegal to grow even one plant, so people just don‘t want to risk it. Growers in Texas beware: spending life in prison for a couple of plants is not unheard of, and judges tend to favor incarceration over rehabilitation because of the profit-driven structure of our prison system. Also, by releasing marijuana offenders from prisons, the state would have to admit a failure in their staunch reputation for being tough on marijuana crimes.
Southerners are lagging drastically behind in the fight for marijuana reform. Not just a reform for legalization, but a reform of quality, and a change in mood among the community. Schwag is in abundance, and is quickly becoming the generic ‘fast food’ of pot. Nice buds shouldn’t be an expensive rarity; they should be bountiful, easily attainable, and identifiable. Before we can heighten quality, we must first educate ourselves and fight for the right to grow properly.
Photos by Frmrboi and Guppy Fish.