The stereotypical view of a drug dealer is that of a stocky, skin headed, leather jacket wearer with an even stockier pit-bull terrier chomping at the bit to tear you limb from limb, right?
The stereotypical view of a drug dealer is that of a stocky, skin headed, leather jacket wearer with an even stockier pit-bull terrier chomping at the bit to tear you limb from limb, right? Since becoming a student in Leeds three years ago I have found this to not be the case. Walking to the shop I was approached by a rather joyful fella asking me how my day had been. Little did I know that a minute later he would be giving me his ‘business card’—any drug, anytime, any place, call this number.
Is this the reality of student drug culture in Leeds? After doing some research, meeting friends of friends of friends, I finally came in contact with a local supplier who was willing to meet up and talk about his lifestyle. After meeting him for the first time in a public place I soon came to find that Ron* literally was the least likely drug dealer (based on appearances and stereotypes). A small, skinny, twenty something year old, that looked like he wouldn’t harm a fly. I found it hard to believe that he sold anything more than a few bags of cannabis now and then; nevertheless we arranged to meet the next day at his house. I thought this to be a completely normal arrangement but, as time went on, leading up to it I couldn’t help but have the nagging doubt that maybe going to Ron’s house may not be a good idea. I couldn’t risk such an interesting lead get away, the next day I just told myself it would be fine and pushed any nagging doubts to the back of my mind.
*name has been changed for confidentiality purposes
The house seemed respectable—it wasn’t in the middle of a council estate or a block of flats and there was no rabid pit-bull at the door. In fact, when I entered the house there were two, big, floppy eared, white bunny rabbits for company. I was greeted with a smile and welcomed in to sit down—the house was clean, tidy and had a rather homely feel to it. We cracked open a beer and before I knew it we were talking like we’d know each other for years. I reminded myself that I was supposed to be recording the conversation so I reached for my Dictaphone and asked if I could turn it on. Ron seemed slightly unsettled by this, but obliged and we continued.
We started talking about his motivations for his lifestyle choice: “Just to get by really, pay rent, to afford to go out and have a good time just like any other normal person.” These seemed like reasons why “normal people” would get a job. Ron seemed like an average, happy go lucky bloke, but the fact was, (and he said it himself) he wasn’t—an average person doesn’t supply students with drugs.
So why didn’t he get a normal, legal job? “The concept of having a 9 to 5 job is foreign to me,” he says. “I did work for a few years but I also dealt drugs at the same time. I did eight hours in some call centre, then go home and make double the money I did that day in one deal.” I couldn’t help but agree with the fact that this would put you off your job, especially if you didn’t enjoy it. But, what about the risks involved?
“The longer you deal in a certain area, the more people you get to know within the scene, the greater the chance of getting caught there is,” Ron says. “I’ve had friends, well more like acquaintances, that have gone to prison. It actually feels like I’m the only one that hasn’t been caught.”
When I asked generally about risks, Ron instantly assumed I meant the risks he faced, but what about the risks for the students he supplies to? “I can empathise with the habits people form,” Ron said. “For example, my ex housemate who was a successful manager at a restaurant, started to take way too much mephadrone; she would knock on my bedroom door at seven in the morning before work to buy a few grams. I knew she was taking it at work and I didn’t wanna sell it to her, but if I didn’t she’d just go elsewhere, maybe get ripped off and have to deal with people she didn’t know. It’s a double edged sword all the time, you have to constantly try and morally justify what you are doing.”
Some would argue that there is no moral justification for being a drug dealer. I felt that putting this argument forward may not be the wisest idea and could jeopardize the relaxed, open feel of the discussion so far. Instead, I asked whether he ever had to go against his moral instincts because he needed the income. “I try not to think about it to be honest,” Ron chuckled.
I got the feeling that his chuckle really meant that he was thinking about this all the time. “Normally its ok and I manage to get by, but the last couple of months haven’t been too good.” What would Ron describe as ‘not too good’? I naively asked. ‘Well it’s my financial situation; I was a student when I first moved to Leeds and if I ever needed to pay off a debt (to a supplier higher up in the hierarchy) I had my student loan to fall back on, but now I don’t.”
I asked Ron whether his drug selling and consumption ever affected his studies. I was beginning to have the stereotypical view that he must have dropped out of university with all the drug taking and supplying. I liked to think I had more of an unbiased, open view, but without moments thought during the conversation I assumed he had dropped out. This was wrong of me to do, I would argue that our generation had a more open mind on such topics, but my instinctive assumptions were proof otherwise.
However Ron confirmed my assumption. “My studies were definitely affected, I mean, I dropped out. Regular cannabis use kills your motivation, you start to find yourself choosing to sit and smoke with your friends over going to uni. It’s hard enough to get yourself into uni after a night out drinking, let alone if you’ve been up on stimulants all night!”
I felt that the discussion was starting to veer more towards Ron’s consumption of drugs opposed to his drug selling—I tried to get it back on the track I wanted.
I decided to quiz Ron on his feelings about what his drug supplying might do for students, would they follow his route to dropping out? “Definitely, there is a very real chance of this, but I have found that most people get all their crazy partying out of their system in the first year,” he says. “Not many still take the same amount of drugs they did in first year, however, plenty do. It’s impossible to say that drugs don’t have a negative effect on studies; regardless of what drug you’re using, the last thing you’ll be thinking about whilst on them is pending uni work.”
He was obviously speaking from his own experiences. The double edged sword of morality, that was referred to earlier must be balanced according to his own experiences which, in the view of successful studies and drugs were not good.
According to the BBC, Leeds is the party drug capital of the UK, no doubt due to the vast number of students residing in Leeds. This in mind, I put to Ron, what it was about the student lifestyle and culture that makes drugs so appealing and popular. “For some, curiosity; others, to try and ‘fit in’, but most, I’d say a new found sense of freedom that comes with starting University. The number of people when first arriving to halls that were anti-drugs and within a matter of days, had experimented themselves is high. Their views reversed on drug consumption and with this, often a bad, uneducated attitude. I’m not saying that all student accommodations are full of druggies, but if there is one person in your flat that takes drugs, all it takes is one inebriated moment of curiosity and you are tempted to give whatever a try.”
Ron didn’t need to push drugs; he didn’t need to be a manipulative dealer, giving people a taste, tempting them and leaving them wanting more. The university lifestyle did this for him.
I asked Ron what his views were on the current laws on the drugs he sold, comparing it to something else that is legal but seems to go hand in hand with drugs, alcohol. “In an ideal world all drugs would be legal, but we would have had to have had very different upbringings that change our viewpoints.”
This seemed like a rather crazy view and alien to me, instead of questioning this I let him elaborate. “I feel guilty if someone spends more money than they would have liked on the drugs I sell them, but you don’t see a barmen feel guilty about pouring someone one too many pints. It’s what socially acceptable in our society and that’s what’s really wrong. I like to think that I sell drugs for two main reasons, to make money and help people have a good time. Is that not what a barman is doing?”
I couldn’t argue his case. “I feel sorry for police officers; as much as a lot of them are wankers they are just doing their job’. So why are they wankers? ‘It’s not a personal vendetta of mine, but if you give anyone a position of power more likely than not they’ll abuse it.”
So why feel sorry for them? “Well most of them must realise, that the laws they have to enforce are stupid. I mean there’s proof on bloody Crimewatch! You watch five officers, who are getting paid ten pound an hour, break down a door, which they have to pay for and all they find is a tenners worth of cannabis! This is what people are paying taxes for and where can you see the benefits?”
There is no question that Ron does put people at a certain level of risk supplying them with drugs. I questioned how much guilt/worry this gives him. “I do all I can as a drug dealer, when I supply people, especially with 2CB*, I always advise the customer on how to take it, how much to take and when to take it. That’s as much as I can do for them and of course some people won’t follow my guidelines, but if I have told them, I’ve done all I can.”
Some would argue that if Ron was doing all he could, he wouldn’t be selling drugs at all—I put this argument to him. “Drug taking and selling is going to happen whether I’m involved or not.”
*2CB is a man-made drug said to be a mixture of ecstasy and LSD. It is a Class A drug in Great Britain under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
Was this the life for Ron? Was this short, skinny, well-spoken and seemingly well-educated man ever going to stop supplying this crazy variety of uppers, downers and hallucinogen’s? “The plan is to be out of it by the end of this year, that’s why I am moving away,” he says. “It’s too easy living this life in Leeds with all the students who participate in the drug culture. I could keep doing this for the rest of my life, easily. Don’t get me wrong I have an amazing time, I feel like I can do whatever I desire, but this lifestyle makes me not want to do much other than take drugs and wait for the weekends; but in the week I just seem to not do anything at all really other than take drugs and wait for the phone to ring.”
Ron seemed to be clued up, he planned on quitting whilst ahead, but the fact was, he wasn’t really ahead, he was having fun and getting by. Ultimately, Ron was planning on quitting whilst he wasn’t in prison and hadn’t become too consumed in the lifestyle to get out.
If you know someone who needs help with a drug problem, visit the Frank helpline web site here or call 0800 776 600.