What typifies a drug dealer? Ask a baby boomer and they'll probably lend the fidgety, dirty-nailed, lone ranger cliché we've been fed by movies and television. Ask a 'millennial' and the e-fit would be a lot different.
Their drug dealer is a lot younger. Lower middle, approachable, trying to bring home the bacon en route to a degree. If not a student, then a mixer and partaker of ‘student life’. A twenty-something, with friends and family, a part-time job in club promotion, a full head of hair and maybe even a girlfriend. Not a gaunt reprobate from Britain's most broken home.
Out of the 2.3 million students living in the UK, three-quarters have admitted to having taken drugs.
This is no shock. The notion of the customer becoming the merchant, however, is something we see in Scarface, not Superbad. The reality is that UK universities have such a dismal rep for failing to appease the goals of graduates that this sub-genre of dealer has now become a trend.
The old taboo has been overhauled by the self-checkout generation and dealing can be counted as a lucrative hobby for the future doctors, lawyers, and teachers of our country.
As former student Eliot put it very simply to me: “Student halls are literally the best place to sell drugs. You’re in a student bubble and nobody is threatening.” He isn't wrong. If you were an up and comer who wanted to sell a lot, for not so little, and very quickly, can you think of a better place than the Ritz of avid 18-year-olds that are a uni accommodation hall?
Such is the sum of business to be made there that punters are even known to enrol in degrees simply to bag a student loan and gain access to the clientele.
THE BEST PLACE TO SELL DRUGS”
Eliot's initial participation, like many others, was a financial formula. He had a £500 student credit card debt that needed clearing and discovered the best way to go about it was to contact an old dealer from home and have 4.5oz of weed delivered to his uni sticks which could then be sold on for a bigger interest. “The debt was paid off in no time but the dealing went on for over two years.”
Things were less cushy once second year loomed, and he moved into the less comfortable world of student suburbia, with no henchmen or CCTV. Eliot once even found himself the victim of a home invasion by “five guys with balaclavas and bats”.
Notwithstanding the risk of living in a house with single-glazed windows and doors the strength of plywood, the demand endured and the cash still exploded from every corner, even considering the obstacle zero-hours dealers like Eliot faced with the student timetable. During summer, he would admittedly turn over “fuck all. £250 a week max”. During term time, £1,000 - £1,500 a week was more the norm. A tax-free profit split between himself and a drop-off assistant, who ultimately ended up moving back home to Manchester just to sell weed.
This seemed to be a motif for the ever-so-slightly older punters who still resembled undergraduates studying archaeology. A few years ago, dealer-cum-father Ben - armed only with a consumer's student pass to get through security - decided to set up camp near a London university to sell hash. For him, business boomed a bit more. "I'd say it would be in days as weeks are so different but on a good day you're looking at £500-700. On an average day, £200-300. And on a bad day, £50-100 maximum."
Ben’s approach, however savvy it is, has turned out sour for others. In November 2016, two men were sentenced for selling heroin, cocaine, MDMA and cannabis from a Cardiff student house. Segun Salako had moved into a spare room in September 2015 and operated there with mate Dean Markland-Langley until April 2016 when police conducted a search and discovered drugs with a £20,000 street value.
Along with the non-student, student dealer there exists the short-stinted clan. Those who tried it for a laugh, reaped big rewards and then flaked out of pressure.
Former student Curtis exemplified this type. More, for want of a better term, ‘now’ than the others I spoke with, Curtis exclusively dealt NOS while attaining his film studies degree.
“We used to go to flat parties with 1,000 canisters at a time, spend the whole night sober dishing out balloons for £1 a pop," he says. "When we got down to 200, we’d put them up to £2 a balloon and then £5 for the last 50 or so. Everyone got so hooked they’d just pay it.
“Made a fucking fortune, but then stopped because my conscience got the better of me and I thought it was only a matter of time until someone kills themselves. I didn’t want to be responsible for killing anyone. No-one died but someone did throw up on their girlfriend.”
The heavy conscious, alarmingly, barely acts as a barricade. The idea of being responsible or partly responsible - insofar as middlemen are concerned - for someone becoming sick or worse is unpleasant for most, but if you're a young dealer who hasn't even earned a six-figure profit yet, busting your balls trying to land something you know isn't at least a fraction washing power is out of the question. If you want to go anywhere with this, you're going to have to disassociate your moral standards from your monetary, lest your possessions be taken away by the council for not having paid tax.
At the same time, student dealers can't exactly off-load a bunch of phony gear and then split. In many ways, you're not just selling them an "experience" but are also a part of it and taking that risk of seeing a mutual mate go west in a taxi following a deal everyone knows was made at pre-drinks is never going to be worth it. Third-year student Ash confirms this: "You don't wanna be one of those dealers who takes a little safety dab because, among other reasons, it's just gross.
“You've got to know what's what. You've got to be able to instantly tell if something is the real deal or if it's a slap in the face. I really care about people feeling comfortable coming to me.”
Ash and the people he knew fell prey to the waste-men who pursued them in first year - the shady, puffa-jacketed, 4am, smoking area, lurkers and the drive-by ‘fam, take my card yeah’ chancers. "When you're new to a city, and that young and don't know anybody it's obvious that you're gonna take those opportunities and be like, 'Yeah, go on then mate'," he says. "Then you find out it's all bumpy and tastes awful, even by normal standards.
COMING TO ME”
“Most don't care ’cause doing them alone is enough to impress and cement your reputation early on.
“If someone buys some MD, takes it and then has an episode - that can be seen as a good thing in a stupid way. It's like, ‘Oh last night I fucked up man. Did loadsa mandy but it must have been something else’. All that try-hard shit goes out of the window towards the end of first year and then entirely in second. Then people want to one-up their mates by securing a really good, trustworthy dealer. It just happens that the people they trust the most are fellow students.”
Ash was lucky in that he didn't have to commit to bar work on the side of lectures during his first year because he'd spent a gap year before it grafting his bollocks off. “Second year hit me like a train, to be honest,” he says. “I was never too into drugs to begin with so I decided I may as well start selling and see where it took me. It started off pretty shit but then literally within weeks I'd have people knocking on my door almost every other night.”
Although Ash supplies pretty much everything "except heroin… fuck that" weed remains top-dog.
“Weed's the big draw, I'd say. Weed's the one thing that pretty much all students smoke even if they might not smash harder stuff, you know. And it's much easier to confirm, if you know what I mean? Shit weed is instantly recognisable. A lot of Class A stuff will be as well, but you're usually fucked by the time you're on them. People will buy weed to enjoy and chill out with. It's not a means to an end.”
In January 2014, a 22-year-old third year history student called Michael Thompson had a £600 order of ecstasy intercepted by UK Border Agency officials. Police later raided his flat and discovered a further £1,400 worth of Class A drugs, as well as a machine to load powder into capsules. He admitted at Sheffield Crown Court to possession with intent to supply and was sentenced to 37 weeks in prison. Ash, also in his final year at a northern university, was not aware of this story, not that he particularly cared when I told him.
I asked him whether he finds his whole situation a tad ironic given the fact he’s studying towards a law degree. “Yeah, it's funny. That's how things are now,” he replies.
“I reckon drug decriminalisation will be a sure-fire thing in 15 or 20 years judging by my clients, and myself. There's this idea that drugs are only for fledgling art students but it's actually the opposite.”
I doubt he cares about the consequences or having some coppers smash his door in, and maybe that’s his strong-suit: nonchalance. He explains that he doesn't intend to carry on dealing once he graduates and will probably "go on holiday" and think about how he wants to "go about sorting myself out".
“I don’t wanna play the victim card, but things are notoriously hard for this generation, whatever you want to call them. I’m doing a 'proper' degree but there’s a decent chance fuck all will come from it. It’s stressful and some of us are just looking for that release.
"I know it seems terrible and irresponsible to older generations but they have to accept that we invariably see things, especially drugs, very differently.”