Highsolation: how coronavirus has affected the cannabis economy
Getting high used to be easy – but demand has skyrocketed for marijuana in lockdown, leaving suppliers in a lurch. This is how weed dealers and smokers are navigating the global pandemic.
On 23rd March, a few hours after Boris Johnson announced the UK’s lockdown protocol, the following message popped up on Sean’s phone screen.
“DUE TO LOCKDOWN make sure every1 stays safe!! My mate wil stil be on if u need bellme wil get him to meet ya 4the next week or 2! Only come out to stock up if u need to.”
In the lead up to the nationwide shutdown, everyone went full panic mode. In an attempt to preserve some semblance of normality in their own homes, supermarket shelves were emptied and stockpiled enough toilet paper to last them years. Did they do the same with drugs?
“Weed is running low with everyone,” says Sean, a 24-year-old from London. He guaranteed his own supply would get him through the first few weeks in isolation.
“Everything was normal up until 26th March, now [dealers] are being long,” he says. “I got given a free pill yesterday – obviously because no one’s going to raves, that’s all they’ve got. Either way, I reckon weed will go up in price in the next few weeks.”
According to Ollie (the founder of Shotta Texts, a now defunct and much imitated Instagram account documenting exchanges between drug dealers and their customers), “usual techniques and systems seem to be in order” to ensure demand for controlled substances is met in the UK during these uncertain times.
“[It’s] one of the most obvious and in plain sight activities I’m aware of. Long gone are the days of linking some kid in a park,” he says. “If you want the best dro [“HyDROponically grown marijuana”], Instagram has got you. Delivered straight to your door, seven days a week.”
Ollie likens the system to Eaze, an LA based cannabis delivery service whose profits have soared since coronavirus took hold of the city.
“We’re currently in a transition period between the drug dealing we grew up with and American middle class white person deliveries,” he argues. “It’s drug dealing, but without the bass.”
In cannabis-friendly states and cities around the world, supply and demand have been mounting. In March, Amsterdam’s weed cafes saw punters queuing around the block to make sure they could get a hold of essentials before the Netherlands went into lockdown.
The US finds itself in a similar position: recreational cannabis sales have jumped 100% in Washington state since mid-March, while High Times cannabis magazine is branching out into distribution with an $80m deal to buy Harvest Health and Recreation’s California dispensaries to service the demand. “People are looking for salvation. They need weed at times like these,” Ollie argues.
Ordering weed straight to your doorstep certainly isn’t a new proposition. When Silk Road emerged in 2011, it paved the way for modern dark web markets to sell illegal drugs online, anonymously. Further removed from the physical risks of selling drugs on the street, the dark web constitutes a “safer” way to purchase them; plus, it’s relatively hassle-free, which ticks major boxes in terms of lockdown consumption.
Jesse, a 28-year-old from London, uses the dark web to buy cannabis every couple of weeks, “if buying in bulk for myself and friends.” Is this the most secure way to procure it amidst a global pandemic?
“I find it safer buying off the dark web in non-pandemic times, too,” he says. “You actually know that what you’re buying is good quality, due to user feedback, and it’s more convenient. You can avoid having to go and meet somebody – obviously that’s a bonus right now.”
A recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction outlines that cannabis sales on the dark web have increased exponentially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. By tracking Agartha, Cannazon and Versus (three of the largest EU cannabis markets on darknet markets) the report concludes that market activity increased by 25% from January to March 2020 – 47% of these sales came from the UK alone.
While Jesse hasn’t noticed a sizable increase in dark web cannabis prices (“no more than a fiver, nothing unmanageable”), The Extract, a website which specialises in covering cannabis-related news, reported that the average price for an ounce of cannabis was expected to rise between £150 – 180 to £250 – 280 due to lockdown.
Some street dealers have been making sure that dropping off is worth their while. Lucas, a Bristolian cannabis dealer, has been only accepting orders of at least £60 in the last two months, “rather than the usual £20-£30,” he says. “I’ve also been working reduced hours to keep a low profile as there’s way more police out and about.”
It’s in this very spirit that precautions are being taken to sell lockdown party packs: some dealers have been wearing masks during drop offs – to protect their health, sure, but also to protect their identities, too.
Further research into how dealers have adapted to social distancing measures has been undertaken by Release, the UK’s centre of expertise on drugs and drug law.
By setting up a confidential survey, they were able to monitor changes in drug related behaviour and supply in light of Covid-19. The results so far reveal some changes in drug selling etiquette: 37% of subjects interviewed used gloves in order to limit transmission and one in five dealers preferred to be paid via PayPal or bank transfer as opposed to the traditional cash exchange.
Whether these precautions will play a part within the cannabis economy post-pandemic remains to be seen. But as new normals start to take shape, there’s one thing that will stay the same. Pandemic or no pandemic: people like to get high.
The British government may have dropped the “stay at home” slogan in favour of “stay alert”, but we’re a long way from the finish line. May dealers continue to help us cure boredom, pain, anxiety or lack of sleep. Because what’s the best way to take the edge off reality? Getting high.
Names have been changed. Shotta Texts Zine Vol.2 out soon.