I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that some students get away with an enterprise that is extremely profitable yet seriously illegal, often without many of their classmates knowing. It must be great work if you can avoid getting caught and you can handle the pressure. I conducted some interviews with people who dealt drugs while they were at university because I wanted to find out more about the people who have taken the risk, and I wanted to hear their stories. I wondered if they were lured in by high profits, the access to the drugs, or because it was the most feasible way of paying their fees. Mainly, I wanted to shed light on the small number of people who are in operation at every university, but the nature of their activities prevents them from having their stories told in the open. And truth be told, with university fees expected to rise to £7,000 per year, I also wanted to be able to offer some first-hand advice for the increasing number of kids who are inevitably going to consider serving up as a way of paying their way through university.

Illustrations by Gabriella Pearl.

Stephen, 26, graduated this year with a 2.1 in Cultural Studies

What did you deal?
1st year- Green [weed]. 2nd and 3rd years Mandy [MDMA] and Yang [cocaine].

Where did you ‘work’ from?
Mostly my house but often at local house parties, occasionally the odd night out.

When did you first get into it? Did you deal much or at all before university?
I have always dabbled in it, juggling for a profit. All your mates want something, you sort it out for them and make a free bag, which is how I acquired the contacts. University was my first experience of getting a load in without knowing if I would get rid of it all and having to actively create a customer base.

What made you decide to deal at university?
Essentially after weighing up my options I realised that I needed to make money to fund myself, but knew that spending twenty hours a week at a part-time job receiving just above the minimum wage would have an adverse effect on my studies. I was determined to do well, and knew that for the relative little time put in, I would get the funds needed to see me through the academic year.

What are your experiences in dealing to students in particular?
I was surprised at the universal level of maturity expressed by those in the student body who did take drugs, their range of experience and outlooks on life. I had a lot of experience of the non-drug takers from the societies and sports clubs that I was affiliated with, and most of the people were always somewhat naïve with very materialistic concerns like looking good, and had primary interests in sports and clothes. No doubt this is very generalised and there is some cross over, but overall I think the situations in which one takes drugs and the events that happen in the course of seeking them is a whole world of experience, being at the same time as real as it is dark. University is a very sheltered existence, especially campus life, but drugs are a leveler.

How much money were you making from it?
Making on average £250 a week, so that’s £12,000 a year and £36,000 over three years.

Did you ever get into any kind of trouble for what you did? Do you have any good stories to tell?

Luckily, thankfully, I escaped serious reprimand. But in the first year when my mates and I went to an outdoor party between Birmingham and Leamington Spa, I took along a lot of green in a Tupperware box. We had a great night, addled by the various substances. After meeting a girl we decided to take her home to Lemington at about 9 in the morning. The friend whose car it was felt she couldn’t drive whereas my other mate felt fine and designated himself the driver. As we were driving down the lane to reach the road, a police car was in front of us going the same way. They were from the local constabulary, obviously doing their duty by being a presence, not threatening in any way. We happened to be driving the same way as them and they pulled over to let us go past and as soon as we had, they put on their sirens and lights to indicate to us to pull over. Obviously shitting ourselves, as not only was my Tupperware box in the boot (about six or seven ounces in it), but we also had the aforementioned assortment of drugs on our persons. But we managed to switch on the middle class charm and began talking to the police as they ran some checks. The driver, unfortunately, was not allowed to drive as he didn’t have insurance for the car, and my mate whose car it was tried a breathaliser test to see if she was okay to drive, but was still over the limit, meaning that they were going to have to impound the car. Fearing that once impounded they may do a search of the vehicle I asked the police man if I could get my ‘things’ out of the boot, to which he replied ‘of course’. Opening the boot I emptied a plastic bag, moved the box in it with some jumpers that were in the back and the little bit of food we had, just then the police man came round the back to have a look. As he did I had finished packing the bag, swept it from the boot, took a big bite out of an apple and asked if he wanted one. ‘No, no you’re alright son’. And luckily I was. We then had a journey in the back of the police car to the train station with the box full of weed at my feet.

Would you say the risk was worth it? Does it beat a regular student job?
I don’t, in all honesty, think the risk is worth it. Getting caught would be jail time and even though one can be cautious and risks are minimised, there is still the possibility that things could go tits up. On the other hand, compared to working in a bar or in a shop, or worse still in a call centre, helping friends to get high is not as damaging to one’s soul and general sense of well being (unless the worst of all happens and someone OD’s). But there is a definite type of social responsibility that I feel comes with the territory, in which one should monitor their customers’ intake and refuse to sell to, or have a compassionate word with anyone who may be taking too much. Still, getting caught would damage one’s quality of life experientially. It’s a hard call to make, but I figured that the pros outweighed the cons. For example, the area I was living in was almost a student village: people are coming and going to their mates’ houses all the time even if one isn’t plying an illicit trade, meaning that side of the business did not stand out. Also, the customer base is totally non-threatening with a low risk of being robbed. It’s not as if one had to admit ‘dodgy characters’ into one’s abode to attain a profit. In terms of the fiscal return to the time and effort put in, it’s second to none. I would stress however that it definitely plays on one’s nerves and requires a calm disposition that alleviates anxiety and paranoia.

Did you regard yourself as a ‘dealer’ or not?
I hated the connotation of being called a ‘dealer’ and the knowing looks I’d get from students after they found out I served up. There is no one term that I used or preferred, except for hustler; I always felt that had quite a ring to it. In reality I was just the guy who saw a niche, was willing to take the risk, and that meant I funded myself through university, and some extra. I used it as a means to an end. In that case, call me a pioneer of an illicit trade in substances…