According to a 2019 report, Europe's drug trade is worth at least £26 billion a year. In the US, in 2017, that same market was estimated to be worth around £122 billion.
Where exactly all this money goes isn't clear to your average user – the type who clambers into the back of a BMW 3 Series every other week to pick up a wrap of stepped-on Peruvian flake. But someone must be raking it in: 9.4 percent of the UK population aged 16 to 59 took a drug last year – so whose pockets are they lining with all those Friday night cashpoint trips?
With there being, unsurprisingly, no official record for the average wages of your friendly neighbourhood shotter, I used encrypted messaging apps to ask a few about their off-the-record earnings.
VICE: What job did you have before you starting dealing?
Kev: Rubbish corporate stuff.
How long were you doing that before quitting to focus on dealing?
About a year. I got to the point where I was making more money at the weekend than in the week, so I couldn't justify getting out of bed at 7AM each day to do something I pretty much hated. I dealt for another year before stopping.
How much were you making over a weekend?
I was making about a grand at the weekend and a grand over the week.
Were you a hard worker?
I was relentless. I would roll out of bed about midday and start answering texts at 3PM. I'd probably call it a day about 3AM on the weekends, maybe by 11PM or 12AM on a weeknight. I collected dealers. I liked sorting them out because they would buy ounces, meaning I could shift more gear and keep buying in bulk. You make so much money off the tickets [single bags], though, that it's hard to stop.
That all sounds quite profitable.
Hmm, well, reinvesting in stock is a huge outlay, so I had to keep most of the cash for that. After rent, probably about 95 percent of the rest of it went on my lifestyle.
When I finished "work" for the night I'd go to whichever house my mates were partying in with a load of booze and coke. I ate takeaway three meals a day for a year. Every journey was a taxi ride. The only thing I bought were some Xbox games.
So were you dealing cocaine?
Fuck no. I sold mandy, ketamine, 2-CB and pills. People who buy coke never leave you alone. Mandy people just want to buy once, and then you won't hear back from them for a week or two.
So you checked out with nothing?
In the end I left with about £2,000 in cash, which is ridiculous, as I could have earned that in a week. The lack of savings is a big regret.
VICE: Hey Ali. What drugs do you sell?
Ali: Ketamine, in bulk.
Can you give me an insight into the quantities you buy and the profits you make on a monthly basis?
I buy a box [a kilogram] for £8,500 every two weeks. I'll sell half of it for £5,000 straight away, which makes the ounce price on the other 18 just under £200 each. I sell them for £350, so I make around £5,500 profit a month.
Is this your only job? What did you do before?
Yeah, my only job – I was a student before.
Are you out all hours?
In the daytime only. I only sell ounces to other dealers, so it's not at crazy times at night
Is it just you doing business, or are you part of a wider group?
Do you take ketamine yourself?
No, ketamine isn't one of them drugs where I can sniff all day. I spend about £200 on whiff [cocaine] a week though.
Is there an amount of money you could make where you'd just tap out and do something else?
I'll quit when I have £150,000 and I can start my own business. Selling drugs is only a means to an end.
Good plan. Thanks for chatting.
VICE: What drugs do you sell?
Derren: Cocaine, heroin, ketamine, Xanax.
How much money do you make dealing?
About £8,000 to £12,000 a month. It depends on the month and how much I move. January is the worst and summer the best.
Is this your only job?
I had four years working as a sparky, which I can always go back to, but I make more money doing this. I've been dealing for five years now.
Do you have any savings?
Yeah, about £100,000 in cash that's kept in an empty house. Some goes in the bank for the mortgage and cars. It's cleaned through a business.
So you also have a legitimate business?
Yeah, but I'm not going to tell you what it is!
Can I have a clue?
Fair enough. How many people work for you?
I've got about 15 to 20 people that sell my shit – I never see the end user. They just buy the drugs from me and sell for a profit.
Do you ever get high on your own supply, or is it just business?
Nah, I used to take coke. Most drug dealers waste their money out on the town, but mine gets stashed. I don't even drink anymore, so don't bother with the drugs. It's just business to me.
Is your attitude to work hard for a small number of years then get out?
I wouldn't say a small number of years. I want to make as much as possible for as long as I can. I've got a wife and kid.
You say you've got £100,000 in savings. Is there anything else?
There's also money in the bank, and assets: £14,000 in the bank, £20,000 deposit on a house, a BMW and a Mercedes. I do alright.
Thanks for chatting.
VICE: What drugs do you sell?
Angel: Diz [MDMA] and K [ketamine].
What sort of amounts do you move?
I probably move one Z [ounce] of diz a month, and two Zs of K. I can grab a Z of diz for £800. That works out at £2 for a 0.7 gram shot sold at £20, so that's about £650 to £700 profit from that.
I grab the K for £350 each and put them into 0.7 gram bags. That's £2,000 back, so I make about £1,200 to £1,300 profit from ketamine. I probably make £2,000 profit overall a month, but I end up spending at least £300 a week on the sesh so don't see much from it.
How do you live then? Do you have another job besides dealing?
I'm an estate agent, lol.
How does this balance with selling drugs and your lifestyle?
Usually it's only really busy at weekends, but I'm about every day in the evenings.
Do you have any savings from dealing?
I've got about £2,000. I'm gonna go travelling soon
Is it just you dealing or part of a wider group?
Just me, G.
What do you think you'd like to do in the future?
Fuck knows. At this point in time it's ticking me over nicely.
All names have been changed. Thanks to Pill Report UK for their help with this article.