*Name changed to protect identity
Joe Lansdown sold his first ten-bag of weed aged twelve. He believes he carries out good business practice; never cutting or under-weighing his merchandise, and testing it himself before selling onto others. “One time when I first started selling weed, me and my mate we sold some girl an 1/8th of weed, cooking herbs and crushed fish food. It was such a joke.. I mean it literally stank of fish but she still bought it. That was funny… we even shared a small joint with her out of it. Fucking weird… don’t smoke fish food is my advice.” At the moment Joe is only a small time street dealer, selling weed and occasionally a bit of MD and pills. At one point he was involved in a ring that imported ketamine from Pakistan and put MDMA directly from source onto the streets of Bristol. “It was just taking over my life. It was a full time 24 hour job and it started cracking up other parts of my life.” It wasn’t until he was sixteen that he faced the real consequences of selling drugs. A deal gone awry resulted in him being threatened with a knife after school. “It was then I realised that being a dealer meant you couldn’t just ride along well laid back. From then on I knew always to pay upfront every time. There’s no way I’m getting in anyone’s pocket. It’s not a good place to be.” Since then he’s been robbed multiple times and found himself paranoid to the point where he won’t return to his own house through fear of finding the police there. He tells me how it’s best to work with other dealers, to keep to your own turf and out of trouble. His dealing is kept from most of his family, but at the same time they don’t question his sources of income.
Joe usually heads out to clubs to sell his gear where he can make £400 in a night without ‘having to push it much’. He claims it’s possible to make a grand ‘if you push it right at a big night’. Dealing means Joe has to be available at all sorts of hours, though he won’t go anywhere unless he feels it’s worth his time, and is only happy for very familiar people to come to his home.
Initially Joe didn’t think about the consequences drugs had on the lives of people he was selling to. “I made a judgement that it wasn’t as bad as people say…Once I had that in my head I had no worries selling it to people.” Now 24, he has a more conscientious view, though he strongly believes people are ultimately responsible for their own actions. “There have been a couple times I’ve thought ‘that guy shouldn’t be buying drugs’, and.. I haven’t sold to them. An old girlfriend made me buy some M-CAT back off this one guy whose gurn stressed her out too much. It’s sad when someone dies, but if you’re foolish to eat four pills then do a load of other shit and O.D, it’s your own fault really. The saddest ones are people who’ve got fucked and like fallen into the river… you’d think your friends would be keeping an eye out a bit more. It’s all risk though. I’ve been in some bad situations with drugs. I ended up trying heroin once even though I knew I didn’t really want to. It was a serious experience. I’ve never felt anything like it. It was incredible. But not worth it. After, I found I was always thinking about it and got really low. I had to start myself again psychologically and sold a lot of things I owned and kind of cleared out my material world. I have never tried it since.” In 2011, Joe was selling cocaine and became dangerously close to being addicted. After ending up in hospital he realised he had to stop. He feels his personality isn’t of an addictive nature but is aware that the solution is not so simple for others. That said, he tells me: “I will always smoke weed. Always. I absolutely love it.”
In the case of addicts, Joe believes society should only help those who want help themselves. “I think that the NHS should deal with it and we should pay for the NHS with taxes. The NHS is the best thing about the UK. I don’t see what would be so bad in the country putting some of their money towards sorting out the majority of the proper drug problems. Even if taxes stay the same, don’t spend like £3billion on an aircraft carrier; spend it on people who end up with these problems that come about because of problems in society anyway.”
Joe says he would be happy for his child to consume drugs at an appropriate age as long as they had been properly educated about the consequences and proper usage. “I wouldn’t want my child to be in a lot of the positions I have been in, but then again it’s all good life experience!”
Joe believes the legal drug classes have no scientific basis and are made by people “scared of what they don’t understand. I don’t think drug use is bad. I think drug misuse or abuse is bad, but the problems aren’t necessarily the drugs themselves. Probably, there’s something else that’s causing an issue. I think drugs should be legalised. If you treat drug problems as a medical, rather than criminal problem, you’d sort a lot more stuff out. I’m all about quality not profit so if you could just buy well nice drugs from the pharmacy or wherever I’d do that and make money some other way.”
Despite the existence of Avon and Somerset’s ‘Atrium’ drug squad, Joe doesn’t feel any hostility towards the police. “I understand the police are there to help society and make it safe and I think that’s good obviously, but they’re fighting a losing battle. They should focus their efforts on more important things than some of the drug stuff they respond to.”
Joe functions in the informal economy because he was introduced to it at a young age and because personal circumstances have kept certain opportunities away from his reach. He recognises the UK functions on capitalist values, but as he finds the most important things to him are not of monetary value, and he believes people are worth more than their job, he finds it difficult to comment on the coalition governments unemployment reduction tactics. Joe also works part time as cleaner and in hospitality industries. He hopes to go to college and study graphics.
“I only exist in my universe, that I am sure of. I guess that means something like ‘live your life as your only life’. Take whatever meaning from this you want”.