Mainly due to my area of study and activities with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, I spend a lot of my time writing and talking about drugs, government policies, and the effects of these on societies in general. I do this with little first hand experience, I choose to keep my personal life separate from illicit drugs. So I thought I’d actually try meeting people involved with 'illegal' drugs. After making a number of phone calls, I managed to arrange to meet a cannabis dealer at a location that was neutral to us both.
I must admit, I was a little worried as I was travelling to meet them, I didn’t really know what to expect. When I arrived at the location I was met by “Joe” (named changed to hide identity), a rather friendly individual in their early 20s. For obvious reasons, at the beginning of our conversation Joe seemed a little reserved as they tried to gauge me, but after a while they began to be more open with me.
By their own admission, Joe is not your stereotypical drug dealer. They were brought up in a middle-class family and had started dealing cannabis whilst at university due to financial difficulties. I’m told they wouldn’t have been able to finish their course if they had done the usual 20-hour a week, minimum wage job, especially after having spent time working as a non-skilled worker which they had hated.
It all started for Joe when they thought that maybe they could sell a small amount of cannabis to cover the cost of their own use, just dealing to friends. “And for a while I didn’t make any money off of it” partly from being ripped off by the people Joe bought cannabis off and partly from simple mistakes that are made by someone doing something for the first time. Within a small number of months though, things seemed to have picked up for Joe, as friends passed on Joe’s number to other friends and is now struggling to keep up with demand. From what I’m being told it appears Joe rather enjoys this job, spending most of the day travelling round chatting and smoking with the people they deal to, and whom I’m informed are generally interesting folk.
What’s apparent from talking to Joe is that dealing cannabis is something that they have done as an active choice. It’s common to talk about those individuals, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, who have become involved in the drugs trade due to lack of alternatives. I personally like to use the phrase “drug dealing is the only equal opportunities employment in some places". However Joe’s story, where someone starts dealing to fund their own use but then it grows into something bigger is not one I’m unfamiliar with. This can have terrible consequences with addictive drugs where people try to encourage other people to use so they can pay for their own addiction.
As time has gone on, the paranoia that comes from working in a black market has built up on them. “I do have nightmares about getting caught, dreams where my place gets raided or I’m in court.” Most people have a story about someone they know who used to deal drugs and they got caught by police or attacked by rival drug dealers, and I get a real feeling of worry from Joe as they tell me about these stories being recalled to them.
We also discuss the ethics of being a cannabis dealer. Despite for all intents and purposes Joe seems a good person they’re fully aware that higher up in the drug ladder some less nice people will be operating. Joe insists that cannabis is not a damaging drug like heroin or cocaine, and that they would feel awful if they were dealing drugs like those to people who were ruining their lives through drug use. “I’m not a criminal, I would consider myself a good person, I try to live my life in a good way…”
It’s at this point Joe’s phone rings, makes their excuses and leaves.