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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Updated: Campus, local drug dealers reflect on experiences, develop business autonomy

    Kevin Brost / Daily Wildcat

    Spending the past few months with drug dealers has been oddly uninspiring. The life of a drug dealer isn’t an everlasting party. But all drug dealers have two desires in common: easy money and personal autonomy.

    Like a new business owner on crack, drug dealers face risks people can’t possibly understand without personal experience. If the dealer conducts himself well and quits while he’s ahead, he might avoid the law or getting stabbed in the gut. Other dealers stick with it too long, and eventually screw up, usually falling into debt or onto the hood of a police car. But there are many kinds of drug dealers, all of whom have varying levels of success. Here are the stories of three drug dealers I got to know during the past three months.

    Hit it and quit it

    Some drug dealers get caught and serve time. Other drug dealers leave the business before they get in trouble. A happy member of the latter group is Jake, an infantry Marine.

    Jake, who declined to be identified by full name, was a drug dealer in high school, from the time he was 15 to 19 years old. He sold cocaine, medical-grade marijuana, prescription painkillers and other pills. After four years of making as much as $2,500 each month, Jake saved up several thousand dollars.

    Jake said it all started with his first time buying weed: “I bought a nug of marijuana and flipped it double to someone else for what I paid for it,” he said. “I figured, ‘Hey, I can use this shit to make money.’”

    Jake also tried the drugs he sold in order to make sure he wasn’t selling anything bad.

    “I wouldn’t sell (a drug) without knowing what it did,” he said.

    Drug dealers aren’t very averse to risk. In addition to the dangers of using some drugs, dealing comes with personal risks. Past the legal ramifications, the trade is by nature a lawless one, where one dealer might screw over or kill the competition — or even his own customers — so the idea can seem daunting.

    Just consider the risk of transporting an illegal product. On a drive up to Phoenix with a kilo of cocaine, Jake had a somewhat close call with the Border Patrol. He was pulled over, but the dogs weren’t called to his truck, so he didn’t get caught. Good luck is a precious commodity in dealing.

    Most of Jake’s customers never knew his name.

    “You had to watch your back and watch your buddy’s back,” Jake said. “Someone could be watching you.”

    In order to avoid suspicion, Jake never used his drug dealing money to make huge purchases — a small trip, food, a couple of college classes and some small investments. He also had another thing going for him.

    “Coming from a wealthy family, I was kind of expected to have a decent amount of cash on me at all times,” he said. “I always put it on that. I never said it was from a secondary income.”

    His family never found out. And he never let his friends get involved, for his sake and theirs, Jake said.

    Eventually, Jake got tired of drug dealing and started looking to the future.

    “I realized that the lifestyle would soon catch up with me. All good things come to an end, right?” he said. “When you’re in that kind of work, it’s always going to come to a bad end, unless you come out while you’re ahead. So I made the choice to get out while I was ahead and not get caught up in it.”

    Jake is shipping out to Afghanistan this year. Once he returns, he’ll be greeted by family, friends and several thousand dollars in savings and investments.

    Dorm dealing

    College kids like to experiment, but unless a student meets a friend of a friend, it’s usually difficult to find a consistent drug dealer. This is where the dorm dealers come in.

    Another student said he sold small amounts of marijuana from his dorm room during his freshman year.

    Unlike Jake, this student was already smoking marijuana on a daily basis before he began to sell it. However, it was just as easy for him to get started as a drug dealer.

    “I started with a few of my friends,” he said. “One day we decided — we knew this kid who could get us ounces — so we just went over and got one.”

    While he liked the quick cash, his friends weren’t the dealing type.

    “We sold the first ounce together, but they weren’t really into it so much,” he said. “I just knew people who bought weed and smoked weed, so I told them that if they needed any to just come to my room.”

    According to the student, the dorm dealing scene was pretty relaxed. For the most part he kept his business between friends and fellow dorm-dwellers. All he had to do to stay safe was keep the door locked.

    “That way, if I was in class or something, people would know (to go down the hall) and be like, ‘Hey, can I get a gram?’” the student said.

    For the most part, his plan worked. Unlike more reckless dealers, he never ended up in the Daily Wildcat’s Police Beat section. Instead, he ended up with approximately $100 to $200 a week and a well-funded spring break.

    “That’s why I don’t really have (the money) anymore,” he said. “Just buying stupid shit like clothes, more weed. I was pretty irresponsible with it.”

    The student wasn’t running a $10,000 operation. He said the only worry he had was being ratted out by someone, which is something that every dealer I talked to admitted was a concern. Still, even though he was a small-time dorm dealer, he ran into a problem that ultimately ended his business when he ran out of weed and found that the frat guy who normally sold to him had also run out. A friend of his offered to front him some, which this new dealer had no right to do in the first place.

    “It wasn’t his (the dealer’s), it was his friend’s, who was also a dealer,” he said. “So (his friend) got pissed at me and there was this misunderstanding.”

    The student ended up owing money and decided to quit because it was near the end of the school year. “I was like, ‘Fuck it,’” he said. “It would have been a pain in the ass to get another ounce and start the process again.”

    But that was his freshman year. During his sophomore year, he started selling from an apartment. However, he quit for the “final” time when he gave up smoking marijuana. Of course, like anyone who truly loves weed, he started smoking again. But his dealing life was over.

    At the same time, other dorm dealers picked up the slack. “I’d say for any dorm, there’s probably at least one or two kids (selling weed),” he said. “When I did, there were at least three or four other guys I knew in the dorms — at my dorm, at least — who were doing it at any given time.”

    No matter what, there will always be a place for students of all backgrounds to get their weed. Not all explorers of the mind — psychonauts — are students, though. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, at least 22 million people in the United States use illegal drugs. So where do the non-students get their drugs?

    Wheeler dealer: Sticking with it

    Ordering pizza is pretty awesome: Suddenly, pizza magically arrives at the door to cure cravings for a small price. Some drug dealers do the same thing, except with a pharmacopeia of drugs. This deliveryman is Tom Ado. Yes, he requested a name inspired by “Pokémon.”

    He’s certainly not your typical shady street dealer, who sits on the corner selling bags of oregano. He’s not one of those rave people who sells pills. He’s not a kingpin. He’s something in between it all, and he loves his job.

    “Even cash-broke, I’ve found that (drug dealing) is what makes me happy,” Tom said. “It’s based on passion. It keeps me moving forward.”

    Tom doesn’t even consider dealing to be a job.

    “I would call it a means to a means,” Tom said. “I’m fundraising … for legal enterprises I’ll have in the future, such as opening a local head shop, or becoming a wholesale distributor of glassware.”

    If you haven’t guessed by now, Tom really loves weed.

    In fact, sharing his love of weed is what got him into the business. Before a Thanksgiving feast last year, Tom smoked in California with his cousin, who is connected to Los Angeles’ medical marijuana scene through friends and a medical card. Just three months later, Tom started transporting high-grade marijuana from California to feed the hungry smokers in Tucson.

    “I was with my cousin and we were discussing our passions,” Tom said. “He explained to me that there is a way, if you’re willing to be self-motivated and work for yourself — which isn’t just all freedom, it’s a lot of responsibility — you’re able to make a lot of money and you’re able to be in control of all the aspects of your occupation.”

    The autonomy, Tom said, was one of the reasons the job appealed to him so much.

    Despite his passion, Tom isn’t making much profit. He ended up owing his cousin quite a bit of dough: $3,500. On average, he only makes $70 a week, though business seems to be picking up.

    Tom’s been expanding his sales to other drugs. He extracts lysergic acid-amide, or LSA, from morning glory seeds. Tom also sells LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA and even the most powerful psychedelic in the world: dimethyltryptamine, a drug naturally found in a vast number of organisms, including human beings.

    Like Jake, Tom also tries the drugs he sells. While he mostly trips for his own enjoyment, trying every drug allows him to test the purity of the product and gives him a better idea of how to market the drugs’ effects to potential buyers.

    “This is an industry that doesn’t have regulations for what you can do to your customers or to your product,” Tom said. “It’s very important that people in this business follow sound business practice, as well as a few other precautionary rules. Otherwise, it could turn into something more dangerous or hazardous, which you’ll see with crappy drug dealers.”

    But Tom’s no used car salesman.He believes that a drug deal is only as shady as the seller and buyer make it and that a typical sale is just like “meeting someone for coffee or tea.” He drives up to the house, or the buyer comes to him, and the two have a good conversation over a smoldering bowl of weed. But Tom still keeps it professional. “I’m not going to keep you up all night chit-chatting,” he said.

    No violence, no paranoia, no problems.

    Unlike the others, Tom plans to continue dealing for a while. He said that eventually, he’ll open up a smoke shop and have other people deal for him while he just skims off the top.

    And as long as Arizona’s medical marijuana program stays in place, he shouldn’t have a problem finding people to buy from. With a medical card, he will trade different kinds of marijuana at pot clubs, where patients and caregivers meet to share their various kinds of medicine.

    “My hope is that we can all become licensed to carry all of these heavily regulated narcotics,” Tom said, “so that this isn’t a legal issue anymore.”

    What it all means

    If anything really seems taboo here, it’s probably that the products in question are illegal. Just imagine if the dealers were selling roses or caviar. Would anybody question it?

    Selling a product people want is an attractive job. Like a business owner, the dealer manages his own finances, can choose his customers and partners and has full control over his operation. This comes with a certain set of skills and character traits that are similar to those of entrepreneurs.

    In fact, according to a study by the University of California, Santa Cruz, drug dealers are 11 to 21 percent more likely to choose self-employment than non-drug dealers. Some of the traits described in the study are the ones Tom expressed: a yearning for autonomy, low aversion to risk and a dislike for working under people.

    The study also found that basic job skills and an education had either little or a negative effect on the likelihood of an individual becoming self-employed. So perhaps drug dealing is good training for future business endeavors. Maybe not the safest training, but training all the same.

    A National Business Incubation Association study found that 80 percent of businesses fail during the first five years. And the UC study mentioned that drug dealers may lack the knowledge of business opportunities and financial capital needed to be successful — or even get started — in business.

    So maybe business students make the best dealers.

    I’m not advising drug dealing as a profession. It’s a truly dangerous job, and every drug dealer I met has had some pretty bad experiences, both financially and personally. However, some dealers find that the danger is worth the money, autonomy and enjoyment they get from the job.

    Editor’s Note: The original version of this article contained the full name of a student. That name has been removed.

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