6 Unexpected Things I Learned From Being a Drug Dealer
Cracked reached out to a group of drug slingers from all walks of life, verified their identities, assured our bosses that "verifying their identities" didn't mean "doing coke in the bathroom with them," and then learned some surprising things ...
Drug Dealers Don't Look Like Drug Dealers
Most of us have figured out that the stereotypical drug dealers from heavy-handed PSAs aren't a particularly accurate depiction of anyone, but we still carry around a specific image in our heads: They're underachievers who never cared about school, or they're too perpetually stoned to keep a job. Or maybe they're just mean, heavily tattooed, and enthusiastically pushing their chemical of choice on whoever happens to stumble by. Maybe you buy your drugs from a fine, upstanding citizen who just happens to have a stable job and a healthy home life, but, well ... Tomas the Jovial Acid Dealer has to be an anomaly, right?
That's the kind of face you could hand $500 for a very special bottle of "Visine."
Cairi, who ran heroin from Mexico to New England for years with her husband, describes herself as "Totally the opposite of what you would think of as a drug dealer -- a straight-A student from New Hampshire." Roy, who deals at his high school, doesn't even use drugs, aside from one toke from each batch of weed to make sure what he's selling is worth the price. (Hey, quality control exists in any good business.) Aaron, a meth dealer from Australia, didn't get into the business to build an empire: "It started with a geeky guy we played board games and MMOs with. One day I came home early and saw him conducting a sale. A fortnight later, I lost my job, and one thing led to another."
And then that other thing led to meth.
That stereotypical dealer wouldn't be a terribly effective one: If you act like the dealers in those commercials and try to bully people into doing drugs, they'll just rat you out. As a dealer, you're facing way more jail time than a casual user would, so there's absolutely no reason to get pushy.
Researchers in Washington, D.C., America's Terrifying Drug Basket, surveyed over 11,000 people charged with street-level dealing back in the 1990s. They found that three-quarters of these dealers had full-time employment. And they weren't flipping burgers, either; most of them were considered skilled workers, doing fairly well for themselves before they even started dealing. Drugs are a part-time job for most dealers. Yep: The same reason a bored housewife gets a job at New Seasons might be why your dealer is doing it, too. Hey, gotta do something to get you out of the house, right?
The bathroom of a nightclub certainly is "out of the house."
The Cops Are Not a Dealer's Main Concern
Whether you see the drug war as a valiant crusade of justice against a corrosive cultural cancer or the brutal arm of a totalitarian police state bent on nothing more than the eradication of everything fun, you probably imagine that the cops are the biggest thing drug dealers have to worry about. After all, they have guns and helicopters and fast cars and mustaches and other seriously intimidating battle gear -- who else could drug dealers possibly have to worry about?
And Omar, obviously.
Since dealers can't exactly calls the cops for help, they're at the mercy of anyone who feels like ripping them off. As a high school dealer, Roy makes a conscious effort to stay away from certain groups of kids who know about his dealing. He knows they'll leap at any opportunity to beat the shit out of him and take all his drugs and money, so he has to stash cash and drugs in various places around his high school just to keep them safe. Cairi's brush with unruly dealers was a tad more extreme: After her husband got arrested, her clients knew that she was home alone with a ton of cash and drugs. "A couple of people -- I think I know who it was, old clients -- showed up in ski masks, held a gun to my head, ransacked the house, took a bunch of money, and took off." We're not asking that you shed a single tear for the plight of all the poor drug dealers out there; we're just saying that most of them are like spiders: more scared of you than you are of them.
And capable of spinning complex webs with their asses.
Our meth-dealing source, Aaron, recalls one of the rare times they let someone make a house call to pick up his dose of crystalized pep. The buyer arrived drunk and wound up planting his car halfway up the ass of another car on the way out. This led the police to search Aaron's house when they found where Mr. Drunky Speedy had come from. While they didn't find anything that time, the local PD did start doing regular police drive-bys of Aaron's neighborhood, which is easily the second worst kind of drive-by.
And that nerdy guy who got Aaron set up in the meth business? He also took Aaron out of the meth business (thankfully, it wasn't by dissolving him in a vat of acid). The guy came by one week to drop off a fat sack of meth in exchange for a fat stack of bills. They did the deal ... and then overnight, he stole it back, as well as all the meth he'd sold everyone else in town. He skipped away with the money and drugs and presumably went on to fund a really intense CCG.
Or he was devoured by crocodiles within the hour. With Australia, it could have gone either way.
The Market Isn't What (or Where) You'd Expect
Nick was a cocaine dealer in early 1990s Baltimore. Obviously we immediately started pestering him, wanting to know exactly how much like The Wire his life had been and whether he knew Omar personally, but it turns out Nick worked outside the city, in the suburbs.
"Baltimore County deals differently than the city. I'd get loaded up with drugs at about three in the afternoon, and I'd drive around on my moped with my beeper until 2 a.m. to deliver stuff to people. Every night I'd park my moped in front of a fancy restaurant and eat at around 8 o'clock. And then a couple hours later people would start leaving the bars and want coke."
The best way to end your night is by prolonging it several hours via powerful stimulants.
The Wire shows street-level dealing the way it was done in the inner cities, but that's just a fraction of the national drug market. Middle-class white people are actually the single largest group of drug buyers in the country. Statistically, white people do drugs at a greater rate than anyone else. Yes, the suburbs are that boring.
And even though J is a high school drug dealer, his customers aren't just students -- on more than one occasion, he's sold to faculty. "A friend of mine told me that the [special education] teacher would go smoke weed in his car in front of the gym," said J, "so I went up to the guy and said 'I know you have weed, I can prove it, would you like some more?" That's either the least intimidating threat or the most aggressive sales pitch we have ever heard.
The standard unit of measure for marijuana is "forearm," right?
Dealing Drugs Can Be a Practical Career Choice
No matter what we say here, or how sympathetic we make these people out to be, at the end of the day, drug dealers are criminals, and crime is generally illegal. It's a shocker, we know. There are plenty of legitimate ways to make money, so drug dealers break into this terrible profession for one reason and one reason only: pure, unadulterated greed. Normal jobs are good enough for the rest of us, but drug dealers want more -- they want fancy coats, fast cars, hookers, and ... to pay college tuition?
Mo' money, mo' credit hours.
J, an 18-year-old high school senior, has been trying to get a job since he was 15, but where he lives, that's just not possible. "We are right next to [a military base], so every time all the soldiers are deployed, we have nothing.... No one buys anything, the stores close, we don't have jobs." He has three siblings and two parents on disability, and he wants to go to college -- drugs are the only way he can see to pay his tuition come the fall, at which point he hopes to be able to find a normal, legal job. "If I can get a job, I won't have to sell drugs anymore, and I can just be a regular college student," he says hopefully. "It really sucks to do this, to be honest."
Weirdly enough, that big drug dealer study also found that the most profitable dealers tended to make more money at their normal jobs. If you can hustle blow and weed and E, you've probably got hustle at whatever you do in the legal world. After all, being a good drug dealer takes skills that are useful in any professional environment: social skills, initiative, discipline, and being able to tell at a glance if somebody is about to buy a shitload of drugs.
Sometimes Dealing Drugs Also Means Dealing Drug Awareness
Like we've been subtly alluding to during this whole article, anti-drug PSAs and anti-drug education don't paint a terribly accurate picture of drug use, the surrounding culture, or the repercussions. So part of drug dealing is, believe it or not, educating people as to how to use drugs safely and responsibly -- you don't want your clients to overdose because that's bad for business, and also because drug dealers aren't all cartoonish monsters with no souls.
"You want souls? That shit'll cost you another bill, maybe two."
"When I was in [a school anti-drug program], they spent an entire month on marijuana, then three to four weeks on every other drug, then one day for alcohol," says Roy. "I once had a buyer who thought Reefer Madness was a documentary. ... I offered him some weed, and he acted like I was trying to kill his family with a spoon. ... I spent 45 minutes, maybe an hour, explaining to him how wrong that was."
But it doesn't stop there, because once kids find out that they've been lied to about weed, they assume they've been lied to about everything else, too. "I had a sophomore come up last week and ask for an 8-ball of cocaine. ... I'm not giving a sophomore that cocaine. Kid's like 5 feet 2 inches, 100 pounds. He would die." When all drugs are lumped together, kids start to think of them as different flavors of ice cream, when in reality they're more like different species of snakes. Weed may be as harmless as a garter snake whose heart is filled with love, but meth is more like a king cobra whose venom sacs are filled with meth. "Once or twice a semester someone will say, 'Give me all the meth you have!'" Roy tells us, because apparently his high school is populated by enthusiastic 1930s businessmen, "and I'm like 'I don't have any, and I don't want to have any. Please don't buy meth!'"
Cracked Pro Tip: Smoking rock candy is a great way to gain all the social benefits of meth use with none of the open sores.
No, we didn't go looking for a drug dealer at the stupidest high school in the country -- according to studies, this is exactly the effect anti-drug campaigns have had on youth. One of the biggest impacts of the 1990s anti-drug PSAs was actually to convince kids all their friends were smoking pot. "All the cool kids are doing it," the PSAs told us, and we immediately booked out the window to score weed. "But that doesn't mean you have to," the PSAs finished, too late.
When You Go Down, You Go Down Hard
Drug dealers are pretty much the terrorists of street-level police work, so when the cops finally get a chance to bust out the door smashers and heavily armored vans, they don't hesitate to film hilarious fan fictions about themselves using them. When C's husband got busted, it was like being on the receiving end of a full Die Hard.
Or at least a Live Free or Die Hard.
"They looked for him a few times, came to our apartment, always in the dead of night. The times he wasn't there it was only three or four officers," she says, describing the time when her husband was on the lam. "And when they finally found him thanks to a tip, there were easily a dozen officers, some who looked like a SWAT team. ... The street was just lined with police cars and undercover cars, and there were a number of cops that stayed outside."
C's husband had no criminal record aside from drug charges -- no violent crimes, no reason to believe he had weapons; he'd never even been in a bar fight. But it didn't matter, because the cops wanted to show off how big their truck-muscles were -- and apparently that's not that weird. Imagine yourself in the SWAT team's position: You have all this intensive training, crazy body armor, friggin' black urban tanks ... and they're all just sitting around gathering dust, because not every day can be a bank heist day. They're probably just bored, and as a drug dealer, you're today's entertainment.
But their gas money and army costumes are paid for by drug busts, so it's fine.
Related Reading: Yesterday Cracked took you inside the life of a bomb technician. We also helped a doctor tell you all the things he dare not say in person. We took a trip inside Scientology, with a member of its secret space navy and we also shared the story of a woman raised in a fundamentalist cult. Got a story to tell Cracked? We're always listening.
Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.