We Asked Some Balinese Shroom Dealers How They Stay Out of Jail
"The police, they don't care as long as it's mushrooms. Anything else and you are in big trouble, son."
Bali is a bad place to sell drugs. The past decade has seen a stream of both foreigners and locals incarcerated for trafficking, with the most famous example being Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran who were executed in April.
Yet these strict laws seem a little inconsistent. On any night in Kuta you'll see all sorts of guys selling magic mushrooms, which contrary to popular belief became a type drug last year. As the head of Denpasar's drug section told the Jakarta Post in December, "If we find any people selling or consuming magic mushrooms, we will arrest them."
So how are locals getting away with it? One possible conclusion is that the police and dealers work hand in hand, but we wanted to test this theory for ourselves. So we asked some dealers to share.
Nyuman: Looking for some mushrooms, brother?
VICE: Maybe. But aren't they illegal?
Nah, mushrooms are no problem bro.
What about marijuana?
No, not here. If you want marijuana go to the Gili islands, the police are not so strict. Here, mushroom are OK, brother. But marijuana and ecstasy, ice [meth], these are all bad; you'll end up like the Bali Nine.
How long have you been selling mushrooms?
Eleven years, bro, I started when I was 17. I have a guy not far from here. I call him and tell him what I need and he brings it. His friend picks the mushroom fresh, the best in Kuta. Everyone here is selling the same mushrooms, we're all working together. There are some that go on their own but this means too many problems. It's better to work together.
Do you just sell to tourists?
No, many Indonesians buy from me, especially those coming here to party from Jakarta.
Do you have another job besides dealing mushrooms?
Yeah bro, I also have rental motorbikes. You want to rent a motorbike?
Hey Jordi, aren't mushrooms illegal?
Jordi: Nah, brother, it's not illegal and the police don't care.
How long have you been doing this?
Many years. I must feed my daughter, brother.
Do you take the drugs yourself?
No, my wife would kill me.
Are you selling the same stuff as all the other dealers on the strip?
Mushrooms yes, because most of us get it from the same guy. But cannabis no, the other guys don't want to sell the cannabis or any other drugs, they're too dangerous.
So why do you sell them?
Because they're only dangerous if you sell or if you take them through the airport, but you're just a tourist and you won't have a lot. If the police stop you they'll just want a little money, maybe around 500,000 rupiah [approximately $40 USD]. They won't take you to the jail—too much work for them. They are lazy brother.
So you're saying the police are corrupt?
Corruption is a dirty word. It's more that they don't waste time on small problems. Police are men, and every man is different. Maybe you can get one in a bad mood and he can cause problems, and that's why it's better to stay in your hotel and smoke.
If selling is so dangerous why did you call out to me? I could've been a cop.
I know all the cops. You're an Aussie boy, you're here for the surfing and the Bin Tang.
You know all the cops? So are you paying them to sell?
It's like paying rent. They know I sit here, and I don't move too much. But this is more for the other sellers—we respect each other's areas.
Hey Wayan, how are you selling in public without getting in trouble?
The police, they don't care as long as it's mushrooms. Anything else and you are in big trouble, son.
But it's against the law right?
Yes it is. But most police either eat the mushrooms at their own homes, or they'll take money from the dealer to look the other way.
Wait, the police take shrooms?
Not all, but many do and they buy from me. But of course they get it much cheaper than you can. And I take them too. It's a nice feeling.
Do you think you're doing something morally wrong?
Brother, mushrooms grow from the ground. God thinks this is OK. I think it's worse to drink beer, so is the bartender wrong for selling beer?
The Indonesian government seems to think mushrooms are wrong.
The Indonesian government? They can't say what is wrong. Look at all the people living here—do you think they would choose stopping the drugs or stopping the police corruption?
You tell me.
The corruption man! It's everywhere and in this country, if you have money then everything is OK and you can do what you want. I know it is like this in many places but here, the people just want the police to do their job. The police don't do their jobs, so we must do what we have to, just to eat. I don't think I am a bad man. I think it's the police who are the bad ones.
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