- 06 Dec 07
Who are the street level dealers and what are they like? In this special report, we get the inside dope, direct from a cannabis dealer.
I am sitting on a double-bed in a non-descript two-storey house in a housing estate in one of the sprawling suburban expanses of Dublin’s northside. There is only a Bob Marley ashtray separating me from what many would regard as the archetypal Irish drug dealer. John is young, but old enough to have become grimly aware of his limited prospects in conventional employment. He is under-educated, unqualified, and, currently, unemployed.
He hadn’t planned to go into dealing, but he couldn’t find work and wanted more than the €180 he was getting each week from the State, so he got himself an ounce of weed, borrowed a scales and began to supply his friends, their friends, and anyone else’s friends he found in need of weed. His initial burst of entrepreneurial zeal has since turned into a steadily profitable occupation.
The weed he is touting is not good. I tested it in my teeth, found it gritted, and told my track-suited interviewee that he was in possession of glass-contaminated weed. He refused to believe me. He said serious contamination was either impossible or ultimately harmless because both himself and his friends had been smoking the stuff solidly for months and no harm had come of it. John didn’t want to know about the vagaries of the trade or the product. As he sat in his happy haze, surrounded by Bob Marley posters, he imagined that he was somehow communing with the lost spirit of righteous Rastafarianism that Marley embodied. Motioning at the iconic pictures, John waved his joint in the air, and declared, with a grin, “This is lovely weed. This is the shit Bob was smoking.”
Of course, both the substance and the spirit were a million miles from either the natural, sun-ripened Jamaican weed that Marley would have smoked at John’s age, or the rebellious reggae he produced. John was smoking intensively farmed, glass-sprayed weed that had been brought into the country by the same trigger-happy criminals who are offing each other at alarming rates on the city’s streets. John is not particularly concerned about where the weed comes from. His motivation is purely economic.
“Where the weed comes from has nothing to do with me”, he scoffs. “Business is business, and at the end of the day, I’m out to make money, they’re making money, everybody’s making money, so everybody’s happy.”
John is surprisingly open about how much he sells, for what price, and to whom.
Indeed, the nature of his ‘job’ results in weed-seeking visitors calling at all hours of the day and night. When he takes a phone call – there are several during the course of the interview – the conversation boils down to ‘how much are you looking for?’ and ‘when do you want to get it?’ When he hangs up, he goes to fetch the scales and the weed. I watch him create two €50 bags of weed; weighing out portions of 2.7 grammes per bag. He then takes out a small notebook, into which he notes that his two newest customers now owe him €50. There’s a list of names in his notebook, each with figures either freshly written or struck through, indicating either a debt made good – or a debt outstanding.
John is effectively a franchisee of the crime syndicates. They sell ounces of weed to him at €300 a pop. Naturally, it comes cheaper in bulk, but John doesn’t have enough capital to invest in larger quantities and, anyway, his customers are similarly thrifty and rarely venture beyond a €50 bag. This amounts to potential earnings of just over €500 per ounce, a neat €200 profit accruing to John for every ten bags sold. In other words, of every €50 bag sold, €30 is going to organised crime, and €20 is going to John.
He tells me he has about 20 customers, some regulars, others not. How often customers come back depends, obviously, on how long their weed lasts. Given that over half of the bag’s weight is accounted for by glass particles, John’s customers receive about 1.2 grammes of cannabis for their €50. Even the very strongest cannabis on the planet – the super-potent ultra-pure Bubblehash perfected in the Netherlands – isn’t this expensive. The value his customers are getting is the equivalent of buying a half-drunk can of Dutch Gold for the price of a bottle of fine wine.
When consumed with tobacco, 1.2 grammes of cannabis will make about four regular sized joints. To give some perspective, moderate to strong weed can be purchased for around €7 per gram in Amsterdam’s coffee shops. When I delicately put it to John that his weed is rather pricey, he says that nobody minds paying the prices because “everybody knows that weed is expensive”. Besides, there’s always the cheap alternative if you can’t afford the ‘Gucci’ option. This alternative is soapbar hash, which is made up of 10% cannabis, 90% whatever else you can find in the garden and a few scoops of coffee to make it all nice and brown.
When he lights up his third joint of the afternoon – straight after his second – it emits a noxious, sickly-sweet smell, as if he’s burning a sugary lolly, coated in diesel, with its plastic packaging still on. It’s certainly not a smell Bob Marley would have recognised. John buys this polluted hash in nine-ounce bars which cost €600 each. At the moment, he has a couple of ounces left (the ‘pillow end’ of a bar), as well as a couple of quarter ounce lumps which he has wrapped in tin foil, and is selling at €30 a pop. John says his customers generally prefer to smoke this during the week, and pig out on weed at the weekends, treating themselves to a €50 bag or two.
A quarter-ounce of soapbar hash in fact contains only about five grammes. This values soapbar hash at about €6 per gramme. The fact that the superpolm hashish, which makes up 10% of the soapbar hash, sells for around this price on Amsterdam’s streets seems cruelly ironic. Nonetheless, at about €2 per joint, John’s hash is considerably more affordable than his deluxe, €12.50-per-spliff weed.
His customers pay these prices simply because this is the going rate. Their previous dealer charged the same rates; now they’re just paying the difference to John and dealing with him instead because he lives nearer. They never meet the people providing the weed. They see John as their dealer and that is where their cannabis universe begins and ends. For John’s customers to source ounces directly would be as unimaginable as a McDonald’s customer opting to source and slaughter their own cow instead of having a hamburger.
From what I can gather (though John is hardly providing spreadsheets) he shifts about two ounces of weed per week, and perhaps the same again of what he calls ‘normal’ hash. This amounts to a fairly impressive profit margin of about €650 per week. Given that he’s also claiming the dole, John is pulling in about €830 per week, well above the average industrial wage.
It is this raw financial incentive which hamstrings any efforts at anti-drug education at conception. Whatever about the moral rights and wrongs, John is a young, working class man with few employment opportunities who has the chance to work from home, pay no taxes and earn more than the teacher two doors down. So he does it.
John is understandably cagey about discussing other dealers’ activities. While he says that he has never been threatened or attacked, he mentions the names of people who he says have been killed for offences as minor as having allegedly insulted members of other people’s families. Because most of the victims are young, working-class men like John, society doesn’t particularly give a shit. Drug dealing was always a risky profession; in today’s Dublin, it is a minefield. John tells me that “most of the big boys are coked off their tits and armed to the teeth”.
Since extreme violence is the quickest route to respect, life has become a fairly cheap commodity. In the nineties, sadism was the preserve of psychopaths – John tells me about a notorious north Dublin dealer who pulled a young girl’s fingernails out because she had failed to pay for her £20 lump of hash – but today, violence is a condition of entry to, rather than a tool of, the trade. Cruel violence commands fearsome awe; the perpetrator becomes a legend in the underworld and a villian in the community. In today’s Dublin, debt is finally settled by death, and the “big boys” have become ever more unstable, their escalating hurricane of violence serving only to whet their appetite for further blood-letting and to publicly illustrate the impotence of the state when confronted with cash-rich, well-armed, pharmacologically fearless egomaniacs.
Faced with this unhappy situation, some have suggested the decriminalisation of cannabis. I try to engage John in conversation on this topic, but his face contorts into a look of bewilderment; the idea had never before crossed his mind. Having clarified the issue to the best of my ability, John finally concluded that decriminalisation would be great insofar as it would stop the cops from trying to arrest people like him, but he didn’t see any need for legitimate, Dutch style cannabis vending coffee-shops, reasoning that it was as good as legal in his corner of the world, where patrons of the local pub are permitted to openly roll and smoke joints. Since John can meet their weed needs, at great profit and (for now) unmolested by the law, the situation is already close to ideal as far as he is concerned.
Lofty policy debate is utterly unimportant to John. He doesn’t watch Questions & Answers or Prime Time. He doesn’t pay attention to the news. He doesn’t read papers or magazines. He doesn’t listen to politicians or campaigners. He doesn’t vote. Whatever media pundits, politicians or members of the intelligentsia may say this weekend, next weekend and every other weekend, one John or another will have bad drugs to sell to his neighbours.
After all, as John said, “Everybody’s making money, so everybody’s happy”.