The names of students interviewed have been changed to protect their anonymity. Â The interviewees choose their aliases and which identifying personal details were included in the article. Â No details on prices, products or paraphernalia mentioned were changed. Â
“Not all drug dealers are bad people,” Winston Churchill, a 19-year-old who sells the Adderall he is prescribed, said. Â “I’m just a college kid on my grind trying to make a little side cash. Â I don’t look at myself as a criminal; I look at myself as somebody who is doing someone else a favor.”
It is undeniable that on a college campus, drugs, be they marijuana or prescription, are not hard to come by. Popular media often portrays drug dealers as unshaven delinquents handing out baggies of marijuana from dark street corners, (think Karl from “Workaholics”, Walter White from “Breaking Bad” and Francis Begbie from “Trainspotting”). Â While these stereotypes are most likely based in some reality, some argue it is not necessarily the reality of a college demographic.
“I was in my Gap clothes selling weed,” Scarlett Johansson, a junior at URI, said. Â “I sold it out of my Louis Vuitton bag, that was the best part.” Â Johansson started selling two ounces of marijuana per week from her Volvo during her freshman year in college so she could smoke for free. Â “I’m not going to lie, I definitely felt cool,” she said, “It was about being a girl and being cute and selling weed.”
The 21st century collegiate drug dealer is arguably no longer exclusively (if they even ever were,) just “some low life.” Â Though the amount of profit they make, type of product they push and methods of distribution vary, the one thing all the students interviewed had in common was their motive: Money. The products they sell between their full class schedule and part time jobs are to support themselves through college. Â All of the students interviewed pay for more than half of their college expenses: tuition, off-campus housing, food and academic supplies.
“People have really bad misconceptions of drug dealers,” Churchill said. “I work really hard. Â I’m not doing this because I’m a bad person or because it’s me against the law, I’m doing it because I need extra money and it’s a way to not have to work every single god damn day.”
Churchill has been selling the 20 milligram Adderall he is prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) for about three years. Â A prescription of 60 pills costs him $2 to fill and when he sells about half the prescription for $2 or $3 per pill, the rest he takes himself, he estimates a profit of about $50 a month. Â He also barters pills for marijuana, usually a Â¼ ounce per month.
“I don’t take Adderall every day, I just take it when I need to get stuff done,” he said. “That’s why I sell, because people need to get stuff done and I’ve been in that boat.”
Wayne Campbell, a junior, also got into dealing his freshman year to financially support himself while in college. “If more of my college education was paid for by my parents, if they were in a position to, that would definitely be a situation where I wouldn’t sell drugs,” he said. Â Between his two food service jobs and the $400 to $500 profit he makes on the Â¼ pound of marijuana he sells every week, he is able to save money even while paying for his tuition, off-campus housing and related expenses himself. Â He in essence launders his money through his restaurant jobs, claiming to his parents that his drug money deposits are saved tip money.
“We all need a little extra money right now and that was my best idea for making it,” he said.
Though Campbell estimates his client base to be around 30 people, he said the fact that the majority of them are his friends makes dealing safer and more fun. Â “I feel confident that people I sell to won’t rat me out or get me in trouble,” he said. Â He only sells to college-aged students and makes the majority of his deals at his or his friends’ houses, which he claims is very safe, however, “The risk is there and it’s always in the back of my mind.”
The risk of getting caught selling drugs is a weight barely balanced by the money and street cred dealers say they gain. Â To cover his tracks, Churchill makes sure to never give out his prescription bottles. Â All three of the dealers prefer not to communicate about deals via texting, and both Campbell and Johanson keep their wares in smell-proof containers, usually in the trunks of their car, when they transport them. Â Though none of the dealers interviewed have gotten caught, Johanson once came close.
“If I ever got caught I would just be like ‘Oh, sorry officer, I’m just a nice little girl,’” Johanson said, citing her belief that her gender made her both more approachable to clients and inconspicuous to law enforcement.
In Rhode Island, getting caught in possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana is considered a civil offense with a $150 maximum fine. Â Possession of between one and five kilograms is a felony with the potential for 10 to 50 years in jail and a maximum fine of $500,000. Â According to Interim Police Major Lt. Michael Chalek, selling prescription drugs is just as illegal.
“If you sell one Adderall, you’re technically committing a felony by distributing a controlled substance without a license,” he said. Â He sees students not taking their prescriptions as an even bigger problem, however. Â “It’s almost like you’re balancing your financial well being against your medical or mental health well being and that’s a huge problem.”
Though recreational marijuana is not legalized in Rhode Island- “Yet,” said Campbell- the fact that it is legal in four states makes it seem like less of a hard drug to many people who justify the risks of dealing. “I never really viewed weed as a hardcore drug,” Johansson, who stopped dealing when she stopped smoking at the end of her freshman year, said.
In addition to the lure of making and saving money, the students interviewed were unanimous in their desire to provide a service to their peers.
“I was in it for the intentions of being a stoner and I wanted to smoke for free and get other people high,” Johansson said. “I would hook people up- maybe give them a little more than they were buying or cut them a deal, I was always reliable and I always had good bud.”
“I like supplying people with marijuana because a lot of people in school are stressed out and a lot of people need marijuana to relax and it makes everyone a little happier,” Campbell, who also enjoys smoking with his clients, said.
Contrary to the beliefs of student dealers who think they are selling below the radar, Chalek said that 36 years into his career, he has no preconceived notions of what a drug dealer is.
“You can’t commit a felony even if you have what you think is a noble purpose,” Chalek said of the student’s justifications for selling drugs. “I think it’s a sad state that people would resort to that.”
“There are ignorant people, people who don’t understand the struggle,” Churchill said. “I’m not hurting anybody, I’m just helping out friends, people that I know who need a little extra help studying and stuff.”