The cottage industry that is student dealing flourished around 2008; partly as a result of a decline in academic values within many British universities and partly due to the arrival of the student-favoured cheap stimulant mephedrone.
By 2009 reports began to surface claiming that some people actually enrol on university courses with the sole purpose of selling drugs – the student loan serves nicely as a start-up fund we’re told. By 2014 I think everyone had to admit that casual dealing amongst students had become commonplace.
But what about when it all goes horribly wrong?
I spoke with Peter*, he’s a 24-year-old Londoner who went to university in Nottingham. He is an old-skool smoker; we all know at least one. He favours bongs over vaping, his baggy jeans are littered with crevices produced by hot rocks – marking him out as a long-term habitual user – and he will definitely steal your lighter.
In Nottingham he spent half a decade as a successful mid-level university ganja dealer during which time he supplied an immeasurable number of students with their evening smoke.
Peter begins the interview by informing me that he has “moved away and knocked it all on the head now” adding that he still has “nightmares about getting robbed”. I asked him to share his most harrowing experiences.
“I knew the guy, I’d sold weed to him before. He came round, knocked on the door and said he was going to come in and smoke a spliff. Then he just got a gun out and said “get your weed”. He only got 11gs, that’s all I had at the time. I didn’t want to get the police involved because I was too scared but my girlfriend did. So the next day we rang the police and it eventually went to court.
“Every other time I was too scared to call the police because what I was doing was illegal. It shouldn’t be illegal because it is just like a business, trading a commodity like everything else, isn’t it?”
“Another time some people came round, one guy had me on the floor with their boot on my neck and my flatmate, who used a lot of ketamine at the time, ran away upstairs. He jumped out of the second floor window and broke one of his arms and legs. It was pointless because the robbers left literally a minute later. I don’t see him anymore.
“I think the police let locals rob student dealers so they can find out which students are dealing. They’re aware that there are groups preying on the student dealers. They wait for it to happen and then they’ll do something about it after they’ve found out who the dealers are. That’s why I was afraid to call them the first time.”
“The first time it happened I’d just moved out of halls and tried to get some weed off a local, about six hundred quids worth, and he just gave me some grass he picked off the ground. Then he started sending me messages like ‘you should watch yourself’ and that was the first time I got robbed, by around 10 people in balaclavas.
“I was asleep upstairs at the time. They knocked on the door, my housemate answered it and they just steamed in. The second time was about two months later by a guy who had just come out of prison, he had a hammer. It was really scary.
“The incidents really affected my studies and my sleep. I had loads of sleepless nights and if I heard a little thing like a car door slam I’d always expect the worse. It’s my own fault for doing it, I know that. It really is unfair though when people come storming in like that, dealers get penalised when they are not doing anything that bad. I never hurt anyone.”
“If I could go back I wouldn’t do it at all. If I could go right back to halls I just would not do it. I’d still smoke a bit of weed but that would be it. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone; it’s only a short fix for money and it’s going to get you in trouble. I still think that it is unfair that students are always targeted. If you’re a student you are a target anyway regardless of if you deal. If you are a dealer then you are making yourself more of a target.”
As with any lucrative black market product the root of the problem can only be tracked back to prohibition. To what extent can we morally stand under a system in which harmless subsections of society are criminalised and therefore indirectly afforded no state intervention from violent assaults?
*Names, places and pictures have been changed to protect the identity of the subject.