NEW YORK (AP) – In a city where you can get just about anything delivered to your door – groceries, laundry, Chinese food – a pot smoker named Chris finds comfort in knowing that a quality buzz is just a phone call away.

His call to a pager prompts a return call from a cheery dispatcher who takes his order for potent strains of marijuana. Within a couple hours, a well-groomed delivery man – sometimes a moonlighting actor or chef – arrives at the doorstep of his Manhattan apartment carrying weed neatly packaged in small plastic containers.

“These are very nice, discreet people,” said the 37-year-old Chris, one of the home delivery marijuana customers who spoke to The Associated Press on condition only their first names be used. “There’s an unspoken trust. It’s better than going to some street corner and getting ripped off or killed.”

He is among a growing legion of otherwise law-abiding professionals in New York and elsewhere who rely on door-to-door delivery to meet their marijuana needs. Though the phenomenon isn’t new, home pot delivery become more prevalent thanks to a shrewder brand of dealing that has transformed the operations into corporate-style businesses.

“It’s certainly been the trend in the past 10 years in urban areas that are becoming gentrified,” said Ric Curtis, an anthropology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in the drug culture.

As pot smokers have become more genteel, so have the dealers, adopting distribution methods designed to put their customers at ease and avoid the messy turf wars associated with other drugs.

The corporate model – and its profit potential – was demonstrated late last year when authorities announced they had taken down an organization dubbed the Cartoon Network.

Federal agents arrested 12 people after wiretaps, surveillance and undercover buys exposed “a highly sophisticated organization,” said John P. Gilbride, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office.

Authorities estimated that since 1999, the ring made a fortune by delivering more than a ton of hydroponic marijuana. Some of it was grown in the basement of a Cape Cod-style home on 10 acres in Vermont, where, an informant reported, the smell of the crop “was intense and overpowering.” An indictment sought forfeiture of $22 million in cash, homes, cars, motorcycles and a boat.

The dealers, working out of a roving call center, allegedly processed 600 orders a day – from doctors, lawyers, Wall Street traders – even on Christmas. Authorities refuse to give names, but in one conversation overheard last October, a courier boasted to a possible recruit about the ring’s upscale clientele, court papers said.

“We know comedians. We know celebrities,” the courier said. “So you might meet a rapper, a singer. We go to a lot of people.”

One former customer named Lucia, an employee at an entertainment cable network, recalled blatant deals done at its Manhattan headquarters. Executives and employees alike would pool their orders as if buying lunch together, then await the arrival of a courier to make a transaction behind a closed office door, the 30-year-old said.

The cost was $60 per one plastic case holding two grams of marijuana – a steep markup, but worth it because of convenience and quality, she said.

“It was kind, kind bud,” she said. “Yummy stuff.”

The emphasis on customer service and satisfaction was evident at one stash house, where agents found “more than 30 pounds of marijuana, in open and plain view, and already packaged for retail holiday delivery to Cartoon Network customers,” court papers said.

The packages featured the network’s cartoon character logo and the greeting, “Happy Holidays From Your Friends at Cartoon!”

The operation’s alleged mastermind, John Nebel, “should have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company,” said his attorney, Steve Zissou. Instead, because he allegedly dealt in such large quantities, the price of success could be a minimum 10 years in federal prison. Nebel is awaiting trial.

At the cable network, employees were “bummed” by the news on Nebel’s bust, Lucia said. But worries that the office might get raided evaporated and other dealers surfaced, though “their product does not hold up to Cartoon,” she added.

Investigators seized customers’ names and addresses from Cartoon Network computer logs. But those people face little risk of prosecution, authorities said.

Authorities also concede the home delivery trade will likely survive the takedown thanks to smaller operations eager to capitalize on high demand for marijuana and the low penalties for dealing.

Under state law, most marijuana offenses “are not treated as very significant crimes,” said Bridget G. Brennen, the city’s special narcotic prosecutor. “That is why you see the marijuana delivery services proliferating. Their exposure is slight.”


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