Jack Levin knew that what was good for General Motors was good for this country, but he wasn't so sure about rolling papers.
So the 64-year-old Levin, a Chicago sanitation engineer and used-car salesman, was downright displeased in 1969 when his son Don abandoned Oldsmobile and the fleets of cars he was selling to Avis and hertz to take on a new career as a purveyor of smoking paraphernalia.
Levin didn't know much about rice paper - the nearly transparent wrapping with which earlier generations hand-rolled their cigarettes - but he did understand that the job brand papars his 21-year-old son was selling were aimed clearly at the burgeoning marijuana market.
"For a young fellow he had a beautiful position in the car business, and it seemed foolish to drop a sure thing," the elder Levin said. "But we shrugged our shoulders - he always did what he wanted."
Now, however, the father has gone to work for the son, and the family tune has changed, largely because Don Levin's Adams Apple Corp. grossed $10 million last year through head shops, concenience stores and outlets like the Peoples drugstore chain.
With the trend toward decriminalization of marijuana, the supplying of accoutrements of the drug has quickly become big business. "You'd be surprised how many people change their minds when it comes to money," says Don Levin.
Burt Rubin got on the bandwagon when he was 24. That was six years ago, and he was doing a lot of travelling for New York's International Mineral and Chemical, trading non-ferrous specialty metals such as vanadium, titanium and nickel on the international market.
"Everywhere I went," he says now, "I noticed that people always stuck two pieces of rolling paper together to roll a joint. So I figured, "Why not make the paper wider?"
Rubin quit his job, scraped together $100,000 from his family and friends, and a year later started marketing E-Z Wider rolling papers. He estimates his gross sales at $5 million last year, much of it through Seven Eleven stores.
Two years ago The Wall Street Journal put the rolling paper market at at least 150 million annually. That was based on sales of 106 million booklets. The most recently published government figures put the market at 150 million booklets annually.
Both Rubin and Levin say that getting rolling papers into convenience outlets like Seven Eleven and Peoples Drug Stores was an important sales coup.
"When we started out," says Robin, "we went through the usual channels, especially head shops. We worked very hard to break into Seven Elevens. Now our papers are selling all over the place. You can't hold off too long on a product with a 30 to 80 per cent markup."
People's Drug reports that Job and E-Z wider papers are "good sellers."
"Our decisions are generally based on public demand," says Peoples president Bud Fantle. "On the moral question of whether people use these products with marijuana, we do not try to play judge and jury."
Alan Lilies, public relations director for Seven Eleven's parent Southland Corp., is less direct.
"I'm not saying that our stores don't sell these products," Lilies says. "But each division is autonomous. I have moral questions about his particular things.
Nevertheless, Washington Baltimore division manager Dan Medlock says that E-Z Wider papers are "an authoriized item," and adds that "we probably do sell quite a few packs of papers."
Marijuana has become so middleclass," says Don Levin. "You know, it's out of the closet. People in suburbia aren't afraid to have it on the dining-room table. The retailers know tht. There's just so much money in it. It used to be a real problem: 11 o'clocks, no papers, and the refrigerators is empty. Now you can just go to the Seven Eleven and get some papers and a carton of donuts."
E-Z Wider ads have a brown and white booklet of papers resting on a pile of chocolate chip cookies with a glass of milk on the side.
"That says it to the people who know," says Rubin. "You have to be very innovative in packaging. We developed a special box that has the packets drop down to replace the one that's just been taken out. It doesn't take up much space, but our users always spot it in the store because they know our colors."
In fact, marketing has played a large role in the success of both Job and E-Z Wider papers. In a field with hundreds of competitors, these two brands seem to be the most visible.
"These two guys are very smart," says Keith Stroup, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "They don't put marijuana leaves on the package and say "Far Out," anymore."
Rubins's Robert Burton Associates, for instance, sponsors a race-car team, a hang-gliding team, and rock concerts. Anyone writing to the New York office gets a complimentary pack of papers by return mail; servicemen who write in receive a box of 25 packs. And the company has conducted several market surveys.
"How can I explain our success?" asks Rubin. "Why does one company make it and 10 others fail? All I can say is that we covered all the bases. A lot of people in this field don't run a business. They're merchants or traders, but not marketers. And then there can be certain misconceptions. Just because you smoke pot doesn't mean you're truthful and honest."
Meanwhile, Rubin is in the process of readying a $13.95 hashish pipe that will hit stores in about two months.
"Nobody would have thought two years ago that we'd see hash pipes in legitimate drug stores," he says, "But you just watch."