Picture a drug dealer in your mind. What does he look like? Whatever the image is, it’s probably not going to be a young white male wearing this summer’s latest footwear, and an untucked “secret wash button-down Coral tattersall” shirt from J. Crew. Doubtful, too, your imagination pictures him as putting aside a copy of Vitruvius’s On Architecture so he can measure out a dime bag of weed. But if you’re young and out to get high, this is probably whom you’re buying from.
In my circle, this is the summer of marijuana. Few people are drinking as much as they used to. Liquor prices have remained constant in Canada, but fewer students are employed, and when they are, their belts are tight. As such, there’s been an increase in the usage of pot—and with the demand, a decrease in the stigma attached to drug-dealing as a part-time job.
While I have never taken an interest in it myself, I do take an interest in making money. And with so few job prospects on the horizon, I briefly considered getting into the drug-dealing game myself. But before I announced it to my friends (how do I do it? do I post it on Craigslist?), I decided to do a bit more research into this “occupation” and see how much I could benefit from it.
One reason why drug-dealing doesn’t seem a likely job for students is that its very illegality would make it difficult to start up. It isn’t. All one needs is a modest bit of venture capital, and since the commodity is a favored one amongst college students (why else the posters of Bob Marley that adorn so many freshmen dorms?), the process tends to build on itself.
I spoke to Harold, a young, white youth at a university outside Toronto. His hair was brown and messy, and he dressed like anyone else you would see in a lecture hall; nearly nondescript, harmless; one would never think he was involved with drugs.
“I buy about $600, $700 worth of weed a week,” he told me in his room, a simple affair: fridge, gaming laptop, bookcase with too few books; the quintessential student quarters. “But that’s only because I’m selling the really good stuff,” he continued, “You can spend less, but the product won’t be as good. I usually make about $300 profit every week”–which is more than enough to cover the average college student’s expenses on McDonald’s and the weekly kegger.
“The hardest part when you’re starting out is getting customers,” he went on, “but word travels fast in university.” After only a few months of being in the business, Harold is considered to be one of the best dealers on campus, already stealing clients from another dealer. As in any business, it helps to be alert to your customers’ needs. “He used to be the best one around,” said Harold. “But he started selling pretty crappy stuff and would answer your calls or texts after a few hours. You were working on his time.”
When I asked how Harold operated–whether he stayed at his place and worked from there or moved about the city–he told me, “I only see people at [my residence] who have been here before I started dealing. If you’re someone else, I go to you. That was also Justin’s problem: You had to meet him wherever he was. A good dealer moves around. It’s safer and it’s more convenient for the customer. You’re always on the move.”
I thought this must be easy as all his clients were college students. He laughed and said, “Yeah, they’re college kids. But remember not everyone lives on campus. Sometimes, I have to go pretty far out of my way.” Suddenly, he no longer seemed like the man in control, but rather, a somewhat glorified, illicit bike courier. “My busiest days are Friday to Sunday,” Harold continued, “which is kind of crappy sometimes because if I’m at a party, I have to go home, pick up, and then go meet this person.”
At this level of dealing, one cannot expect to make much more than Harold. Marijuana, after all, only sells for so much. The typical going rate for a gram is $10. A half-quarter, (3.5 grams) goes for anywhere between $30-$40, and a quarter (7 grams), from $70-$80, “depending on the quality of the stuff,” Harold explained. (Footnote: Marijuana in the United States tends to be more expensive than in Canada, but the cost to the dealer and customer have roughly the same ratio.)
The typical college student will usually buy a gram or two, often more on the weekend. Marijuana, unlike liquor, is an incredibly inexpensive habit to maintain; the average user need only spend $10, $20 at most and be set for the night. Compare this to liquor prices—let alone drinks at a bar–and it’s clear why it’s harder to make a huge profit off weed than it is for selling alcohol to freshmen.
At the end of the day, drug dealing is a job like any other. Most begin it with a feeling of energy and enthusiasm. Hip-hop blares out of the dealer’s room, he holds himself in a certain way, and is eager at all times to make a sale. The rookie dealer reacts the same way to phone calls or text messages as if he had just started dating someone. Every ring or beep is a hopeful signal that someone is asking for marijuana.
But as with all work, as time goes on, the ringing phone (which tends, as in relationships, to ring more often) becomes a cue to sigh. Eventually, the music in his room is lowered and the dealer, once thinking he was “the man” resolves himself to whiling away time at his computer playing video games, always on hand, always on call like a doctor.
At the university level, drug-dealing, especially pot, is a mostly harmless affair. Possession laws in Canada are far less stringent than they are in the United States, and the typical customer is, as I’ve said, the usual college youth. Much like the dealer, he is harmless and only wants to get “high” with his friends while listening to music. When I asked Harold if he ever grew paranoid that one of his customers would rat him out to university authorities or even the police, he shrugged his shoulders. “If you’re buying weed, why would you screw over a petty dealer?”
The risk factor involved for being a low-level dealer isn’t too high. “It’s only at the higher levels of dealing that you have to worry.” By the “higher levels,” Harold means who he buys from, that is, the dealer to the dealer, who typically holds “about 15 pounds [of marijuana] at any given time.” Just under seven pounds of marijuana possession for the purposes of trafficking can lead to a life imprisonment in Ontario.
This leads the dealers-to-the-dealers to be exceptionally careful people, often not giving their real names even to those they sell to. And needless to say, these people stand in clear contrast to the comparatively innocent, naive college dealers. They are more dangerous, and more prone to violence, which is frightening considering the petty dealer will often have to meet face-to-face with them in order to buy his goods. A small mistake, and things could go very badly for Mr. Majoring in Sociology.
While seemingly innocent and easy and exciting at first, drug-dealing, even at the petty level, can act as a gateway to more dangerous environments. I am not suggesting that every college dealer will one day rise to the levels of Escobar, or even get involved in a turf war (maybe in the dining hall, but I doubt beyond that), but he is nonetheless exposing himself to a corrupt and potentially violent lifestyle, one which, with the wrong steps, could lead to criminal, or even in some cases a death record.
It shouldn’t be unthinkable that some students would be willing to take this dangerous path to make some spending money. Many of them do already because, as Harold put it, “taking everything into account, it’s really easy money.” Easy and accessible, which is more than one could say for many job prospects in this economy.
Myself, I do not have the stomach to be constantly watching my back. That being said I would be lying if I denied a constant, easy cashflow is an attractive proposition to make end’s meet.
Daniel Portoraro, 21, is a senior at the University of Toronto, majoring in English. This is the fourth in his five-part series of trying to find summer work in a tough economy.