From the buyer’s perspective, the dealer is simply the source: a rather unknown figure who often operates under a generic pseudonym. You may see their face, but you won’t know anything more about them.
The dealer’s perspective is much more interesting. Their view is like that of a one-way mirror used in crime scene interrogations: although they can’t be seen, they can see who’s buying what kinds of drugs, when and how much of them they’re buying. It’s from this vantage point that I wanted to get a look.
After chatting to some acquaintances in Rotterdam’s underground electronic music scene, I was able to acquire the numbers of a couple dealers. The first one I contacted on WhatsApp never responded to my messages – I later found out that he’d actually gone to jail after his second run-in with the authorities. The second contact, surprisingly enough, welcomed my request for an interview. After setting strict conditions of anonymity under which the interview would take place, Contact number 2, who I will now refer to as Anthony, agreed to meet me at my house on a weekday night at 9.00 pm.
That evening, I prepared my questions and waited to receive Anthony. I was just minutes away from interviewing a drug dealer in my own home when I received an unwanted message from him. He was now saying that we could only do the interview if we did it in his car. This was the scenario I’d been trying to avoid, but I could also see why Anthony might have changed his mind: maybe he thought a sting operation was awaiting him in my home. Despite some nerves, I decided to go ahead and meet him on an unsuspecting street. He greeted me with a smile and a handshake and I stepped into his coupe under the dreary Rotterdam sky. Anthony wasted no time turning the keys in the ignition and once the engine was running, we drove into the night to talk about the life of a drug dealer.
If I was a drug dealer, I would never want to do anything that might risk getting myself into trouble. That’s why I’m curious as to why you agreed to let me interview you?
“I was a normal guy and a student like you. I started selling to other students and my business just kept growing and growing. I’m still just a normal guy with a family. When you contacted me, I thought: ‘If I can tell my story and help you out too, then why not?”
What are the main drugs people my age are buying?
“Cocaine. Ecstasy too, of course. In Amsterdam, we sell a lot of ecstasy because there are big parties every weekend, but in Rotterdam, people are more home chillers. And well, cocaine is really popular. I’d say 70…no 60 percent of what I sell in a normal week is cocaine. But when the festivals come I sell a lot of ecstasy, speed, GHB, LSD, ketamine and cocaine.
Anthony reaches for the radio, turns it off, and turns onto the Maasboulevard.
What about Ritalin? Do students buy Ritalin and drugs like these from you?
“Yeah, yeah, a lot of Ritalin. Students buy a lot of this stuff too, especially during exams. It’s funny because I knew I could get a hold of Ritalin so I thought ‘why not put it on my menu and see how it sells’. And I have to say, I always sell out.”
I’m curious whether you can see a difference among young people between their social groups and the drugs they take. As in, have you been able to see a pattern in what type of social groups like to do which types of drugs?
“A little bit, yeah. Basically, you have students with less money and you have students with more money. The students with less money to spend usually want to buy speed because it’s cheaper or they pool their money to buy one gram of something more expensive. The students with more money buy cocaine…pure cocaine. Sometimes we deliver in extremely expensive apartments – these are the kids with really rich parents.”
Do you ever sell to someone and then, after a while, you see their condition getting worse and worse?
“People have asked me before what I’d do if I saw someone really getting fucked up on drugs. And I’ve asked myself, ‘where do I draw the line?’ But it’s also not my job to tell that person to stop. If I don’t sell my drugs to the customer, he’ll find them somewhere else. The thing is, I know that my customers are safe. I get everything I have tested at the GGD.”
“Yes. It’s really important that I can sell quality stuff, but also, it’s really important that it’s not dangerous. I don’t want to have it on my conscience that someone has a really bad evening or, in the worse scenario, maybe ends up dying. So, for me it’s really important that my stuff is clean. I guess it’s nice that I haven’t seen anything bad happen to any of my customers yet, but I think the reason why is that I began by selling to really nice people. I sold to students and people with money, and they then give my number to their friends – also people with good jobs and money.”
“If I’d started selling at the bottom to people with less money, or to junkies, then I might have been in a different situation. I don’t have to sell to these kinds of people. The people I sell to have good jobs and money. They’re stable. They know what they’re doing. And nowadays I have people deliver for me. I just get the orders, but I usually don’t deliver so it’s hard for me to see through my phone if people are doing badly. But no one orders from me like three times a day, so that’s a good sign.”
He fiddles with the volume knob and turns the music back up slightly. A lush woman’s vocal speaks over a guitar sample.
Is it hard to lead a normal life when you do this type of job?
He lets out a sarcastic laugh
“Well not anymore actually. At first, I did everything myself. I always had to be available from 1 to 1. Regardless of whether I’m at a party or doing something with my kids. If I get a message, I gotta go. It’s a fast business. If people can’t get it from me, they’ll get it from someone else.”
That probably messes with your sleep as well.
“Not so much. Early on I thought to myself ‘No, I’m not leaving my house past 1 in the morning any more.’ I set that boundary to preserve my sanity.”
This probably sounds like a classic question for a drug dealer, but Biggie Smalls famously said ‘Never get high on your own supply.’
Do you follow this mantra?
“Well yes because I really don’t like drugs. I’ve tried them, but I don’t think my body is made for it. When I do ecstasy, I’m fucked for a week. If I do cocaine, I just don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I just stick to my protein shakes.”
We both laugh. The mood in the car becomes a bit lighter.
I can’t imagine that you’d want to deal your whole life. Is there an end point for you and is there a dream you want to pursue?
“For me the most important thing is that I can provide for my family and that I can be successful in the future. I’m using this money to build a future for me, my family, my kids and my mother. I’ll do this until I think I have enough money, but the question is: When do you have enough? We’re all humans, we all like money and the more you get, the nicer it gets. Will I ever stop? That depends. Maybe one day I’ll have to stop for my own safety.”
I tried to contact a different dealer before I contacted you, but he didn’t respond. I later found out through someone else that he was in jail. Does that ever worry you?
“Of course. Let’s say I think about it every day, but not all day. I’ve been doing this for quite a long time and it’s become quite normal. But the thing that really scares me is getting locked away and not being able to see my children. That thought kills me. They’re young and every day, every month, it’s amazing to see how they’re growing. And to miss that part of being a father would kill me.”
Waiting at the traffic lights of a quiet crossroads, an ambulance with lights and sirens zips past.
“I’m the same person as everybody else. I’ll help people when they need it, I’ll hold the door open for an old lady. Of course, you have drug dealers who are really shitty people and that’s actually one of the reasons I chose to do this. There are bad drug dealers who give people a terrible feeling, who act disrespectful. The thing is, people will always be doing drugs. You can’t stop drugs. The war on drugs? It’s never going to stop.
“But what you can do is let people like me sell drugs to the people who need them. Because it’s better that I sell quality drugs to you and your friends then if Youssef over here with his Gucci hat sells you crappy cocaine and that you have no clue what you’re taking. I care for my clients. They can order safe drugs from me and I’ll deliver them to their house, unlike other dealers. If someone has to sell drugs, let me do it. I can make some money and people who want drugs can take them safely.”
As a rare exception, this interview was conducted under the condition of complete anonymity. The real name of ‘Anthony’ is unknown to the editorial board.