Desperate situations can often lead to drastic measures. With college expenses adding up to thousands of dollars a semester, funding an education can become an enormous pressure for students already preoccupied with schoolwork. While financial aid provides some assistance to struggling students, many are forced to supplement their income in create ways.
The Paisano sat down with one UTSA student who chose to finance his education through a job many consider taboo, drug dealing. To protect the privacy of this student, his name has been changed to John.
“To the public, I’m a criminal… I’m a marijuana supplier to a lot of people in this area,” says John. However, John sees himself differently. “I’m not a criminal. I’m not making a career out of this; I’m just trying to go to school.”
Marijuana is more acceptable than it has been in the past. As a dealer, John sees the legalization of marijuana as a double-edged sword. “I’m honestly for it. It would run me out of business; I would have to get a new job, but I’d rather marijuana be legal.”
Within the UTSA area, John has come to dominate a market for a product in high demand. “I don’t necessarily like to describe myself as a drug dealer,” says John. “What I do takes up a lot of my time and really is a job. It’s really sporadic, but I could spend about 30 hours a week. It’s a lot of driving; it takes up a lot of time.”
Operating at night, John must be ready at a moment’s notice to take a call from a customer. “A lot of people in this business, they want it right then and there. If you can’t get it to them, they’re going to go somewhere else, and that’s two or three hundred dollars that you’re missing.” Of his market, John states, “My main focus is the UTSA area.”
However, John does not sell a product that everyone can buy. “A lot of times I meet customers through a friend of a friend, but they don’t even know my real name,” John explains. When it comes to finding people to buy his product, John does not advertise in any way, but instead relies on word of mouth.
“In the beginning, you have to find people, but once you set up what you’ve created, you just sit back … I’ve been working so hard for the last two years in this area. I’m now at the point where if you don’t want to do business with me, I don’t need your business.”
How did he first came into the business of selling marijuana? “I started at an early age, maybe around 15, but I didn’t just start out with weed. Now I focus strictly on weed; it’s a lot easier. With harder drugs, you work with people who are a lot harder to deal with; they’re more willing to cause violence.”
John continues to sell marijuana as a way to of support his lifestyle and pay his college tuition. “It pays for my life; it pays for my college. I don’t have any other money to pay for these things. A job won’t cut it.” John believes he would not be able to maintain the same privileged lifestyle if he stopped dealing drugs.
He also worries about having debts in his name post-graduation. “I don’t want to risk debt. It’s more important to get out of college debt free.”
According to John, the drug industry can be seen as an extensive network with many independent sellers operating on a chain within this network. The process of getting marijuana to sell can be difficult and dangerous.
“Starting out at the bottom, you just have to scrounge around. I was fortunate when I moved to this area that I met the right person. I had a mentor, someone who was ready to have things flowing in an appropriate and safe way that he thought was manageable.”
John describes the structure of the drug network in San Antonio. “It’s coming from everywhere, from out of state, out of the country, locally. There is not just one central place. There are multiple types of people on the same chain and there are multiple chains competing. That’s why you want to get to the people as fast a possible with the best quality and the best price.”
John also explains that the majority of marijuana that comes to San Antonio comes primarily from California and occasionally from Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal.
While Mexico neighbors the south Texas border, rarely will the dealers he interacts with have product from Mexico. “It has a lot of chemicals, and it’s just not a good environment,” John says of doing business with sellers from Mexico. “You’re messing with a drug cartel. They will kill you, and it’s not good weed. People are looking for hydroponic weed coming from California.”
“I can say that my weed comes specifically from California, but it takes a lot of effort to get it here. The logistics are crazy. People are paid to live in certain areas just so that there’s an address to ship (marijuana) to.”
He explains that transporting marijuana is often so dangerous, that he would rather pay more money to have someone transport it for him than run the operation himself.
So where is his place on this chain of drug dealers? “I’m really fortunate; I only have one person above me.” How many people are below him in this drug chain? “I could count them on my hand. Less than five.” Each of these people in turn have others working below them.
In a state where possessing marijuana is a crime, being convicted of trafficking drugs comes with heavy consequences. John is careful to take safety precautions so that he cannot be easily tracked. “I try to never bring it up,” John says. “To be honest, sometimes it’s hard. You want to talk about it. You want to get it off your chest. Sometimes you just can’t help it. I never do business out of my house. A lot of people don’t know my identity; they don’t know where I live, my number, or even my name. I want to do whatever it takes to be safe.”
To John, protection means developing a completely different persona so that his personal life and work life don’t ever cross paths. “I’ve been in situations where one person says my real name, and another person says my fake name. I’ve been doing it for two years now, and it takes a toll on you.”
The dangers in drug dealing extend beyond fear of the law. Because the drug industry cannot be protected by law enforcement or insurance, dealers must take matters in to their own hands. Over the summer, John was set up and attacked when he went to deliver his product. “I went to drop something off … someone came up behind me and beat me up and took my backpack.”
With all the dangers associated with dealing drugs, John hopes to deal only during his college career. “I want to be done before I graduate. I want to be able to make savings and be more mature and maintain my saving. I do not want to be selling marijuana past my graduating college,” says John.
“I am a college student. I have above a 3.0 GPA. I’m going to make something of myself, and I’m going to contribute to society,” says John. As a struggling college student, John does not consider himself a criminal.
However, the Texas criminal justice system would view John differently. If his business practices are discovered and he was tried in the criminal court system, John can be charged with a third-degree felony, a fine of no more than $10,000, or two to 10 years in a state prison