Thanks to coronavirus, borders are shut, making cocaine distribution even harder than usual. For farmers in Colombia and Peru, this has resulted in a 70 percent reduction in the value of their coca crops. Because if cartels and gangs they can’t move the product, the product drops in price.
Here in Australia, where it's always been hard to sneak in a container load of coke, moving product out of Sydney (where it usually comes in) has become near-impossible. But according to a Daily Telegraph interview with the former Head of the NSW Drug Squad, Nick Bingham, "one thing is for certain, [dealers] will not just shut up shop, they are too greedy."
Internationally, Australia is listed among the top-10 highest users of coke. In 2019, drug testing of 52 sewage plants across Australia found cocaine consumption higher in New South Wales than anywhere else in the country, with an unsurprisingly high concentration of usage in Sydney.
To understand how dealers are attempting to meet this demand during lockdown, I interviewed Tran, a meth dealer who has cocaine use disorder. He told me he racks up an 8-ball a day and snorts even more on weekends. On FaceTime he showed me a packet of Mevius cigarettes and a small mountain of cocaine he had poured into a Supreme-branded ashtray. Then he put me in touch with Cas, an inner-city dealer on Wickr, who then put me in touch with his boss, Ali, an interstate drug runner.
Tran / 28 / Cocaine user
VICE: Hey Tran, have you noticed a change in the gear?
Tran: The supply is getting weak. I cooked [the coke] back to suss out the purity. For the first few weeks, it was good. We were only losing about 30 percent so it was really strong stuff. But we’re losing more than 40 percent now.
What happens when you tell the dealer?
There’s two issues, one is I’m getting it at cost because I do him some favours. The second is, they say it’s a different stamp so it’s just a different batch and they can’t control it. But usually that means they jumped on it and rebricked it. Some people are saying that they have heaps of coke stashed in Melbourne but they’re using the excuse of coronavirus to raise the prices.
Do you think prices will go up?
I think prices will always stay at around $300 a gram, or a thousand for a ball of uncut. People will just cut it more. There’s a lot of competition these days. And I really can’t imagine a shortage. A lot of the time, the gear is cut with different uppers so as long as people feel buzzed and it lasts for enough time they usually don’t complain.
Have you been using more or less since the pandemic?
Well, I’ve been using less on the weekends because I haven’t been having mates come around and shit. Went pretty hard last weekend because Travis Scott was on Fortnite so got fucked up for that. But during the week, yeah just pretty much the same.
Cas / 25 / Wickr Dealer
Hey Cas, how has coronavirus affected your business?
Our supply is still good. The customers in Melbourne have gone down though. Selling way more Xanax and weed. People have been getting into the downers. But on weekends, there’s still heaps of people buying coke. I just have to get it to them when the shops are still open so I don’t get pulled over.
Where are people meeting you?
If it’s night time, we’ve been meeting in car parks. I’ll tell them to go into the shops and text me their license plate and I just leave it in their glovebox. Usually just do the same thing at local parks and shit like where people will be exercising. It’s pretty chill but I’ve been keeping my distance.
Has anyone complained about the supply?
Not yet. I know the quality is getting weaker though so I’ve been giving my buyers .8 grams but not stepping on it so the quality remains high. Before coronavirus I would be cutting it back about 20 percent. I can’t afford to do that now because I think the higher ups are getting anxious about how long the borders are going to be shut.
Ali / 24 / Interstate Drug Runner
Hey Ali, how has coronavirus affected your drug runs?
I’ve had the same run in Sydney for a few years. But most of our money comes from runs to Melbourne. I usually drive down for some of my Asian mates and make about five grand a week for the trip. It’s too much of a risk to try and get through it now. So yeah bro, I’ve lost a lot of money. Some blokes have been paying off truckies but it’s a headache because the cops are pulling people over non stop.
Have you noticed a shortage?
I can’t imagine there will ever be a massive drought in Sydney. But I can imagine something like that happening in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Sydney has so many different people pushing nowadays someone will get it in. The ports are open. It’s coming in. But it’s trying to get it to Perth and Melbourne, where the money is, that is becoming an issue. A lot of the blokes at the top import with ideas about how much is going to Melbourne and Perth. How much of a return they are going to make before they front the next load. There’s money in Sydney don’t get me wrong but there’s a fuck load of competition. Once you’ve done the hard yards of getting it through the gates, you want to maximise it’s worth.
In what ways are dealers operating differently?
There’s definitely more rips happening. More people are getting stood over. People aren’t paying their tick because they know it’s harder to get someone and get away with it while the cops are patrolling everywhere. But there’s more street level dramas. The people on top are not going to get their hands dirty in this time. They are just going to cut the gear and relax.
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