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As Coronavirus Spreads, Street Dealers Spy an Opportunity

Can you still get high during a quarantine? Sure — but someone has to make sure the supply keeps running even in tough times

A couple of days ago, Sam, a pseudonymous 20-year-old drug dealer in East London, stole some disposable rubber medical gloves from a hospital en route to complete a sale. He’s still kinda resentful about it.

One of his most reliable customers is a woman who works in advertising. Now, with the coronavirus outbreak showing no signs of slowing down, she’s insisting that Sam use hand sanitizer and wear gloves whenever making her weekly delivery of weed and coke.

“She also asked if I can use clean baggies,” Sam laughs. “Like, what does she think, I reuse ones I find in the street?” Some of his other clients have made similar requests. In one case, they asked if he could wear a surgical mask; in another, he had to accept a bank transfer because a customer didn’t want to physically hand him cash.

Their concern isn’t necessarily unwarranted. COVID-19 has characteristics that make it airborne, meaning it could be easily spread via EpiPens and/or vapes. Indeed, outside of life-and-death concerns, a growing number of people are wondering: Can I still get high during a quarantine? And it’s up to dealers like Sam to make sure that, even in tough times, the supply keeps running.

Weed, in particular, seems to be in demand (and definitely more so than usual in the U.K., where it’s generally an afterthought compared to pills or coke). “People aren’t going out a lot for obvious reasons,” Sam explains. “And because they aren’t going to get off their tits in front of their mates, they aren’t buying pills.” For the first time in over a year then, he’s making a profit on weed. “I’m selling an eighth for $30 to $40 — and making maybe 60 or 70 percent profit on each sale, which gets bigger because most people are buying for stockpiling,” he continues. “I had a guy who bought 5 [grams] of bud last weekend.”

But the surge in demand isn’t just about a potential quarantine — and the fear that there won’t be enough weed to get through garbage Netflix movies. The coronavirus also represents the first major test for the global weed industry, and so far it’s not faring so well. That is, because China manufactures the majority of weed specialty equipment (vape pens, vaporizers, etc.), there’s been both a huge decline in these products as well as the value in cannabis companies and weed stocks.

Similarly, along with fears that the virus has infected physical stock, there are also concerns that poor-quality inspection — or worse, that the virus could spread via the atomization of cannabis oil — could collapse the entire industry. This, of course, is less than reassuring for investors already suspicious about the viability of legal weed and its volatility on global stock markets.

That’s not to say that the street dealer will return to their former glory, or that flower is going to experience a resurgence post-coronavirus. Of the dealers I spoke to, most don’t foresee fears of a quarantine lasting long enough that they’d need to reconsider their business model. “Give it a few weeks and the only stuff I’ll be selling are ket, Mandy, maybe Xanax or whatever other pills come in,” one tells me. Again, that’s partly because these drugs tend to be more popular in the U.K. and Western Europe, and partly because large volumes of them can be easily moved in social situations like parties and raves. Furthermore, another dealer predicts a pretty obvious course-correction: “If people are going to be stuck in their houses for ages, some of them will be itching to get out and go raving. And that means you can sell higher than usual.”

In the meantime, Sam is anticipating a busy couple of weeks. He’s received tens of messages on WhatsApp and Snapchat asking for drugs, with some customers offering more than double his usual rate. When I ask Sam if he’s worried about catching coronavirus or his supply becoming contaminated, he laughs and reassures me that of all the people unlikely to catch the disease, dealers in his opinion rank near the top of that list. “A lot of people think that drug dealers are unclean and don’t care about hygiene,” he explains. “But dealers are probably some of the cleanest people around, because measuring has to be precise. Plus, a clean supply keeps the product clean.”

And more importantly, he adds, “It keeps my customers.”