Powder to the people: the new deal for the cocaine market

Drug dealers, too, are having to change in the face of the on-demand economy

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

It’s Notting Hill Carnival this weekend. Two days of skanking, dutty dancing and daggering (the dance, rather than the weapon).

No carnival experience would be complete without rum punch and jerk chicken, or for that matter crime, cannabis and cocaine. Drugs are part of the fun at Europe’s biggest street festival. There were 76 drug arrests at the festival last year, and 88 arrests made before the party even started as part of a dawn raid seizing machine-guns and crack.

Not that partygoers are about to let a little thing like the law get in the way of their bank holiday. A survey earlier this summer from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs claimed London is the city with the highest concentration of cocaine in sewage in Europe. If you sample weekend sewage only, Amsterdam overtakes us, but we can raise our heads high as the most prolific habitual users on the continent.

So, boom times for drug dealers? ’Fraid not. A surge in the use of technology that allows drugs to be bought online, on top of a steady supply of cocaine, MDMA and cannabis shipped in the traditional way, has led to a very crowded marketplace. With drugs available to your door via the dark net and new dealers emerging as a result, people are no longer willing to stand on a street corner waiting for a rude boy to turn up 50 minutes late. As one down-hearted dealer puts it: ‘cocaine dealing ain’t what it used to be’.

As cab drivers have had to adapt to a post-Uber world, so the old-school dealers are having to adapt to compete. Some are employing marketing schemes almost worthy of Saatchi & Saatchi. I have a friend — acquaintance, say — who likens buying drugs in London to ‘ordering a Domino’s pizza’. Text your postcode, and you can have a dealer at your door within the hour, he says. Regular users receive a ceaseless drip-feed of marketing texts from dealers. ‘3g for £150 ALL WEEKEND,’ read one text a friend showed me. Another said: ‘£30 discount off the RRP! Charlie — the name you can trust!’ Recommended retail price? The name you can trust? It sounds like a supermarket. One buyer tells of an awkward moment in his office after he linked his iMessages to his computer. When his dealer send a text with a special offer at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, it flashed up on his screen for everyone to see.

Across the city, desperate sellers try to make their service the most enticing. If you change dealer, it’s not uncommon to receive a courtesy call asking why you’ve decided to buy elsewhere. One dealer operates an ‘internship’ scheme and an Uber-style rating system on the delivery driver to measure customer satisfaction. Others are taking a leaf out of the Breaking Bad business model. The main character of the hit TV series, Walter White, made his crystal meth blue. Some British dealers are trying the same approach; one makes ecstasy pills that are bright pink and cherry-flavoured.

Of course, all this extra effort doesn’t mean the drugs are any good, so a two-tier market is in operation. Your average gram of cocaine, with a mere 10 per cent purity, fetches £50 in London; higher quality stuff is available for around £100. Think of it as the difference between Tesco’s value range and their ‘finest’.

All this goes on quite blatantly, but why not? The police just don’t seem too bothered about cocaine. Kate Moss, Nigella Lawson and even Lord Sewell appear to have got off scot-free despite being caught red-handed with the white stuff. David Cameron refuses to answer questions on his own drug history, and the government has delayed a report on cocaine use in the UK in order to focus on other projects.

Across the pond, one authority is attempting to beat the dealers at their own game. McIntosh County Sheriff Stephen Jessup recently launched a new wheeze to deal with drug crime in Georgia. He took out an advert in a local paper calling on drug dealers to anonymously dob each other in to get rid of their competition: ‘Attention drug dealers. Is your drug-dealing competition costing you money? We offer a FREE service to help you eliminate your drug competition!’ His scheme has been praised by advertising supremo Dave Trott, former chairman of The Gate London, as making ‘perfect marketing sense’.

There’s a thought for David Cameron to chew on during the bank holiday, as he relaxes away from his Notting Hill property.

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Show comments
  • Roger Hudson

    Society needs to tackle drug abuse. Excess alcohol is such abuse, so is regular smoking.
    The problem with drug use is lack of moderation.
    Ban smoking because it’s always harmful, not just to the smoker; replace by ‘vape’ or for cannabis with tea or cakes ( perhaps even tea and cakes with saffron and crumbled resin, lovely).
    Tackle abusers not moderate users.

    • MC73

      Who says who is an abuser or a moderate user? You? No thanks.

      “Secondary smoking” is bullsh1t. Smokers harm only themselves. If drug users do not commit any other crime, they ought not to be criminalised.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        “”Secondary smoking” is bullsh1t. Smokers harm only themselves.”
        Absolute, total and utter drivel. A smoke-filled environment always triggered a migraine headache in me. A knock-on effect was the shunning of social contact and society in general. So every cloud has a silver lining. So take your misguided, selfish, illogical opinion and shove it up your donkey. And I say this with all due respect. Because no respect is due.
        Jack, the Japan Alps Brit

    • Adam Bromley

      Conviction for possession of a class A drug like cocaine carries up to 7 year prison sentence and unlimited fine, conviction for supply and production up to life imprisonment, unlimited fine or both. Interdiction efforts S.America and the Caribbean have resulted in 10,000s of deaths. That’s pretty serious and it doesn’t work.

    • Richard Eldritch

      Shut up Roger.

    • Sofia Guerrieri

      (“Smoking is always harmful, not just to the smoker”? Ahh, people spew so much tripe… Brainwashed into believing smoking to be the root of all evil, they don’t seem to consider how much the air they breathe is polluted by car-engines, airplanes, industry…. Atmospheric pollution from smoking is in such minimal quantities that it cannot even be measured, while when I clean the OUTSIDE of my windows the sooty, greasy, black dirt covering them is almost impossible to remove. It doesn’t come from cigarettes. And YOU are breathing it. And so are your children.
      Did you know that every year 7 MILLION people are killed by air pollution? 9,500 in London alone? http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/15/nearly-9500-people-die-each-year-in-london-because-of-air-pollution-study
      So, have you ever told a car-driver that he’s poisoning you? Or someone
      who takes 10 flights a months that he’s killing your child?)

  • JabbaTheCat

    “Text your postcode, and you can have a dealer at your door within the hour, he says.”

    Back in the day people just used the phone to verbally arrange the same service…

  • Malcolm Knott

    It’s not like ordering a pizza. The people who make pizzas do not torture and murder those who cross them. Blood is spilt so that your friends can shove stuff up their noses. Why don’t you remind them of this, next time they show you one of their engaging little text messages?

    • Adam Bromley

      People will snort it regardless I’m sorry to say.

  • zoid

    it’s ridiculous that, in order to satisfy the demand for cocaine (and it’s not just ‘the evil west’ that likes it), whole nations have been destabilised and their inhabitants put at risk by the various cartels from colombia to mexico.

    if the un were sensible, it would abandon its prohibitive stance, allow coca to become a cash crop, benefitting the farmers and cutting out the narcotraficantes, thereby starving them of their biggest earner.

    and who in their right mind would buy a pint of beer if only 10% of what’s in your glass was actual beer and the other 90% could be anything?

    • Adam Bromley

      I think cannabis can be legalised and the result would be a net positive. But cocaine can quickly create psychological dependence and is pretty harmful on the body. If you decriminalised it or even legalised it, the price would drop, the purity would rise and usage would surge. So you’ll end with more addicts and more cocaine related deaths etc. But that doesn’t mean the current approach works and I’m not sure anyone has come up with a good answer yet. Waging proxy wars in Mexico and Columbia which have caused close to 100,000 deaths is certainly not the way forward.

      • Phil T Tipp

        The genie’s out of the bottle. So legalise Coke and let the anticipated rise in the curve occur – so there will be a few casualties, in the short term, but once the novelty fades, the curve will flatten out. The long term gains are measurable, economically first-rate, and eminently better for people everywhere (excepting the police/courts/prison industry complex).

        • Callan

          Legalise it? Then the family of any idiot who buys off a drug dealer and croaks as a result can sue the government for indirectly causing his death. The legal parasites will be advertising on tv for that one. Or perhaps it will be sold in approved chemists in which case the manufacturers of the drug, the drug companies will have to set a price appropriate to its production, packaging etc. Which means it will be cheaper for the junkies and smackheads to buy it off the drug traffickers. And round and round we go.

          • MC73

            “Then the family of any idiot who buys off a drug dealer and croaks as a result can sue the government for indirectly causing his death.”

            That doesn’t happen now with regard to alcohol or cigarettes, why should it with any other substance.

          • Callan

            Because alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking for adults have never per se contravened any statute. To legalise the possession and imbibing of something which was formerly against the law would to my mind be a different kettle of fish.

          • kevinlynch1005

            No. The courts would be reluctant even to countenance a judicial review of, or challenge to, a democratically enacted parliamentary measure such as legalisation, so long as such measures were undertaken in accordance with proper parliamentary procedures. Even if the courts were to conduct such a review, it is extremely likely that the applicant would fail in any event, unless perhaps he/she could persuade the court that some fundamental right was somehow being curtailed. In short, they’d be onto a loser.

          • wildcolonialboy

            The courts don’t have the ability to meaningfully review primary legislation (statutes enacted by parliament). The most they can do is issue a declaration of incompatibility that the section or act in question is not in accord with ECHR convention rights. Drug prohibition in the UK comes from the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971 I think) and thus the courts could not overturn its provisions.

            The courts can review secondary legislation (regulations, ministerial orders, Orders in Council) but as drug prohibition is in primary legislation judicial review is not an avenue to challenge the drug laws.

            I think you’re right to say that the case would be a loser (assuming, based on Callan’s comment, that the cause of action would be a tort rather than a JR). If the family asserted that the government, by way of negligence, had led to the death of their family member, the treasury solicitors would argue that it fails on the question of causation. The chain of causation is broken because the the most recent link in the chain is the decision of the deceased to purchase the drugs; the novus actus interveniens of the deceased breaks any link

            Also, legal causation and remoteness would be in issue, I don’t think you can take a matter of high policy which has been decided in parliament and then sue the government because the act in question has had other undesirable consequences. It’s non-justiciable, a question of policy to be decided democratically not in the courts.

            The government would also offer the defenses of ex turpi causa non oritur actio (from a dishonourable cause an action does not arise. It would be wrong for someone’s estate to profit from their decision to break the law) and also the defence of volenti non fit injuria (there is no injury to the willing. The deceased consented to purchasing the drugs knowing the risks).

          • wildcolonialboy

            Actually such an individual (or their family or estate) would have no basis to bring such a claim. There would be no way to substantiate a tort, both because it is a matter of policy (governments have never been liable in that way for policy decisions) and because it would be impossible to establish legal causation. The chain of causation between the government’s actions and the death would be broken by the novus actus interveniens of the deceased (their buying the drugs; it is the proximate causative element). The government could also have it dismissed on the basis of volenti non fit injuria.

            That leaves aside the logic failure in your comment; if drug prohibition is repealed then the drugs in question will be tightly regulated, sold in precise quantities without poisons or impurities. Far fewer people would die from overdoses or poisoning than do now.

            As to “junkies and smackheads” (what a charming individual you are) continuing to buy from drug traffickers, that seems highly unlikely. The most troubled drug addicts would simply have their drug of choice prescribed by the NHS as it prescribes other medicines for drug treatment now. Also, how many people today buy illegal tobacco or illegal alcohol? Very few, it’s far easier to buy the legal product rather than go through the hassle of obtaining an illegal product. That would be the case for most drug users in a legalised system, and the networks and syndicates involved in importation and trafficking would disappear fairly quickly so even if they wanted to buy illegal stuff it would probably be difficult to obtain.

            As to “legal parasites”, can I take it that if you were hit by a car driven negligently and became a paraplegic, you would be content not to seek damages? Or would you seek the services of one of these so-called parasites?

          • Callan

            Just a few responses and I shall leave you to fulminate, “Junkies and smackheads”, never heard that contemptuous, common description? Presumably the drug users of your acquaintance are all wage earning citizens. I nearly said responsible, law abiding but that would be a non sequitur.
            “Most troubled addicts would simply have their drug of choice prescribed by the NHS” Only the “most troubled?” If it’s free I suggest every user in the country would instantly queue up to qualify as “most troubled”. Any idea how much that would cost the NHS i.e. the taxpayer?
            Further, if I were unfortunate enough to be involved in a serious car accident, ( serious crime or rape accusations being most unlikely) I would ask our non parasite, non ambulance chasing, well respected family lawyer to attend to the matter.
            And you say very few people today buy illegal tobacco or illegal alcohol. Really? HM Customs and Excise would be surprised to hear that.
            Finally I would recommend any of Peter Hjtchens’ articles on the subject of drug use.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Peter who?

          • Mary Ann

            I’ve not heard of anyone suing the government because someone died of alcohol abuse or lung cancer.

        • wildcolonialboy

          If we are to legalise, I would advocate that drugs like cocaine, amphetamines/ecstasy and opiates be available without prescription but only in a diluted, liquid form (analogous to a beer). These would be available at licenced outlets.

          If someone wanted to obtain the hard stuff, powder drugs and the like, they would have to get a prescription from their doctor and it would be monitored.

          I don’t think it’s an implausible idea; during prohibition in America people tended to go for the strongest liquor available (and organised crime sold it because it’s more valuable, takes up less space, to distribute hard liquor). When prohibition ended, beer became much more popular and spirits less so.

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      • zoid

        i agree that the ‘war on drugs’ has been lost….we’ve had robust drug laws since the 71 misuse act, but since then use has spiralled.

        but i have to disagree about your conclusions on coke…all you say is true, but the two key words you missed were ‘personal responsibility’….no one forces addicts of any sort to carry on using to their own detriment and that of those around them…

        • No fight we’re fighting is lost. There are costs to criminals and we pay them in jail and harassment and fear. This war is waging.

          • zoid


            drug taking is at an all time high (no pun etc) and crims are making billions out of it. the least we could do is stem the profits to them and re-route them into the exchequer.

    • Ron Todd

      The majority of a glass of beer is water; if it were 100% alcohol one pint would be lethal. Legalize a drug and it will still have a cost the addicts those at least that can’t or won’t hold down a regular job will still have to find money to buy the stuff. If it did end up cheaper that would increase demand there would be more users and they would use more of the drugs. It would presumably only be legal to sell to certain people so there would still be an illegal market to sell to the rest. And as there would b an illegal market any farmer growing the stuff would have a high cost of security otherwise he would end up with his crop stripped bare overnight.

  • thomasaikenhead

    Freud was an avid cocaine user for many years1

    • Tway

      It doesn’t show.

      • thomasaikenhead

        Actually it DOES, as several academic and popular studies of the career of Freud have shown very clearly!

    • Frank Marker

      Oh simply everyone was doing it darling.Please read Marek Kohn’s account in his excellent book Dope Girls of how London was awash with the stuff during the Great War.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Sherlock Holmes?

  • James Chilton

    No carnival experience would be complete without rum punch and jerk….etc.

    I believe “carnival experiences” are best avoided.

    • Frank Marker

      You betcha. I always get out of the area when the ‘fun n frolics’ starts. I have never seen so many white people trying a little bit hard to be ‘rhythm n ting’.

  • James Maclachlan

    Interestingly no inflation for past 25 years, now with free delivery costed in. Suggests traffickers ahead of the game. Imagine such efficiency in legal commodity markets

  • Tway

    Cocaine enlarges the heart. So does regular exercising, but cocaine does it in an abnormal way that increases the risk of sudden death.

    • Richard Eldritch

      OH NOOOOOES!!!

    • Mary Ann

      Package it, put a warning label on it, tax it, sell it and let people make their own choices about risking their lives. Tax money to the NHS

    • Frank Marker

      Plays have havoc with your septum too.

  • Frankfurt 13

    Are there any drug price comparison websites up and running yet?

    • Rockin Ron


  • Richard Eldritch

    Coke is great for a while, but after ten years it gets a little boring.

    • blandings

      Switch to pepsi – worked for me – invigorated.
      Alternatively, take up philosophy – cheaper high.

      • Richard Eldritch

        Never met a philosopher who didn’t have a coke habit.

        • blandings

          The philosopher’s paradox:
          The more addled my brain the more sense I seem to make.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Singer, song-writers, too.
            Or as we say in Japan; sing-a-song writer.

        • You never met a philosopher then. Idiot.

    • Frank Marker

      Indeed, it’s only the unfortunate sober people who have to listen to the crapola spouted by coke-heads who are are bored sh**less.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      More of a wood-burner, myself.

  • Blether

    “Many advocates for decriminalizing or legalizing illicit drugs around the world have gloried in Portugal’s success. They point to its effectiveness as an unambiguous sign that decriminalization works.

    But some social scientists have cautioned against attributing all the numbers to decriminalization itself, as there are other factors at play in the national decrease in overdoses, disease and usage.

    At the turn of the millennium, Portugal shifted drug control from the Justice Department to the Ministry of Health and instituted a robust public health model for treating hard drug addiction. It also expanded the welfare system in the form of a guaranteed minimum income. Changes in the material and health resources for at-risk populations for the past decade are a major factor in evaluating the evolution of Portugal’s drug situation.

    Alex Stevens, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent and co-author of the aforementioned criminology article, thinks the global community should be measured in its takeaways from Portugal.

    “The main lesson to learn decriminalizing drugs doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster, and it does free up resources for more effective responses to drug-related problems,” Stevens told Mic.”


  • wildcolonialboy

    Drug dealing has never been a particularly attractive business. In Britain (speaking particularly about the Class A retail drug businesses, mostly run by second-generation Jamaican Brits in my area) the boys who are the runners make pretty ordinary money, probably about the same as someone on minimum wage or even lower. Most of the runners still live with their parents and what they earn is about enough to cover their living expenses and a little bit extra spending money to afford cannabis or alcohol.

    The only people who really make any money are the ones who own the business. For everyone else, what they earn gives them a reasonable but not lavish lifestyle by any means. And for what they get paid, it’s a pretty rum deal given the likelihood of ending up in prison.

    Independent dealers (one-man bands) do make a pretty reasonable living. The one I’ve come into contact with lives in a very nice area, but it’s also a different world in that he sells a different line of products to the people I mentioned in my first and second paragraph. But being a dealer of that sort, you need to always have your phone on, the working hours are unusual and antisocial.

    The only people who make the really good money are the traffickers, the wholesalers and importers. But they have a corresponding risk of imprisonment. There might be a handful of people in the country who enjoy a substantial income from drug trafficking with very little risk of incarceration, these would be the guys who are at the very top of organised crime syndicates and have arranged their affairs such that they have absolutely no involvement in drug-related activity but receive a percentage cut from drug-related enterprises by people in their syndicate.

    All in all, selling drugs is an absolutely awful business to be in. The pay is low unless you are taking huge risks vis-a-vis wholesale quantities, you are liable to be incarcerated. You may be injured or killed. You have absolutely no recourse to the courts system if someone rips you off.

    Just regarding the switch over from street dealing to online, it’s fair to say more people are resorting to online methods but I suspect the old ways have plenty of years left.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      He read Freakonomics.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Hence the expression, “Drug Dealer Alloys”.

    • And a corresponding risk of being beheaded, depending on how close they are to the drug source, and to Mexico. Drugs are nasty, nasty business, and anyone that says otherwise is wilfully blind.

  • Child_of_Thatcher

    The guy who had the text message at work would be fired if he worked for my company

    • sidor

      During a toilet visit?

      What is your company doing? Assembly line?

    • Richard Eldritch

      I’m sure he could find another market stall to work on.

  • Charles Hatvani

    All drugs should be sold legally!

    • Blether

      Fine. Cyanide to your enemies, first.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Quality control, Quality consistency. Advertising. Competition.
      Fill your boots. After all, this is a capitalist consumer society.

  • Jonty Cecil

    legalize it dont critisize it. but nationalize it. that’d be the kicker

    • Mary Ann

      And don’t forget to tax it. The extra money could go to the NHS

  • Vinnie

    Am I reading the New Statesman?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    At least drug dealers are prepared to use metric measurement terms.
    So not all bad.

  • ‘A rude boy’… or, for that matter, a criminal boy willing to pull a knife on you and demand your money. Why anyone would buy drugs — or anything — from these lowlifes is a mystery. Drugs are dark and unsavoury and sometimes deadly, and so are the people that deal them. Why so many people find this all attractive enough is, again, a mystery that marks them off from rational existence. The sad thing is that many are reasonably sensible otherwise (I’m thinking of James Delingpole, though he is not a man I would want as a dad let alone a husband).