I’ve heard kids completely lose their minds about a drug dealer.
“He shorted me!”
“I can’t believe I just paid $60 for this.”
These are just a few of the statements hinting at the tumultuous relationships students have had with drug dealers that I have heard in the past two-and-a-half years as a student/community member/friend of marijuana users at Duke.
So when I came across Kevin*, needless to say it was nothing short of shocking. I’ve known about him since freshman year. You hear whispers about drug dealers all the time, but none had the reviews like him. People love Kevin.
He was so unlike most dealers I had heard about because of the plain and simple fact that his buyers did not hate him. “He’s the best!” “I love Kevin!” “He’s awesome.” All high praise and all for Kevin.
Why? What did he do or sell that made students so comfortable not just to rave about his products, but also to pass around his number and give him reviews restaurants would kill for on Yelp?
I hung out with a fraternity last Spring that all bought from Kevin, minus one guy who brought in his herb from California. I have had co-workers that buy from Kevin. I lived in an off-campus house this summer with people I had never met before in my life: two of the three people in the house bought from Kevin.
When it comes to Duke, Kevin is the guy.
I set up a meeting.
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Nothing out of the ordinary, just a casual lunch out on the town between acquaintances looking to get the most out of their respective lives. Except “lunch” was 9 p.m. and “out on the town” was a fire lane on West Campus. Close enough.
When he pulled up and I got into his passenger seat, I’m honestly not sure who was more nervous, even though I had no need to be. I was there as a journalist looking for an interview. “Ten minutes and you’re out,” I told myself. “And don’t scare him off.”
My initial reaction getting into Kevin's car was that it smelled pretty nice. It wasn’t dirty, there were no bags on the floor, no wrappers strewn about and everything was nice and tidy.
“Maybe he cleaned up for me,” I thought.
I start off by saying anything he wants to be on- or off-the-record, he needs to let me know and that I’m just here to have a conversation. I can hear his voice is a little shaky, but on the whole, Kevin is exactly as advertised: a nice guy who works a 9-5 job and just so happens to sell weed at a top-10 university.
“I was working pretty much a minimum wage job and it doesn’t pay enough. To live comfortable, you won’t make it off $9 an hour. You’d have to live below means,” he said. “I still work—I just do both. Because [selling] don’t do it either. This doesn’t pay enough either. It’s just like a second job—supplemental.”
That sounds a lot like what school seems to have become for me during my time as The Chronicle's sports editor—supplemental. Five seconds in and we’re already connecting.
In 2007, the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment surveyed Duke students about their personal marijuana usage and what they perceived to be the typical marijuana usage on campus. Of the respondents, only 7.3 percent of Duke students said they used the drug at least once a month, though responders estimated that 63.4 percent of their peers smoke with that frequency. The dissonance between the reported and perceived usage on Duke's campus hints at how infrequently marijuana is talked about.
“People have a certain secrecy level,” Kevin said. “Around here, it’s crazy who smokes and who doesn’t.”
I nodded and agreed, because I knew exactly what Kevin was talking about. It is crazy. And I don’t need the top marijuana dealer at Duke to tell me that.
At Duke, drug use is not something handled or talked about publicly. There is no set group of stoners, but rather a culture submersed in secrecy, bound not to talk about the recreational use out of fear of ruining a future job or internship. People are not interested in being the poster boy for a currently illegal—at least in North Carolina and 45 other states—activity.
Think of Duke’s users like That '70s Show—an eclectic mix of intelligent people (minus Kelso) partaking in one of the nation’s most popular and hidden rituals of the past 50 years. But instead of the Formans' basement, smoking—and eating, if they’re into edibles—is happening in cars, on benches, under trees, in Central Campus and off-campus apartments, throughout the Gardens and pretty much anywhere else a police officer isn’t. And despite the notable use on campus, the pressure of Duke academics and a resulting future hanging in the balance is enough to send students to great lengths to keep their marijuana use hidden.
And this aspect of Duke's culture isn't new.
Back to the Future Pt. 4/20
Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek, Trinity '76 and Grad '78, noted that the University's marijuana culture today is very similar to what it was like in the '70s.
“The culture around marijuana at the time, and probably in some ways as it is today, if you wanted to find it, you could, and if you wanted to avoid it, you could easily do that as well,” she said. “It was not an in-your-face, all-day-long, everyday type of thing. But my sense was that if people wanted it, they could get it and they could find it.”
Not a lot has changed since Wasiolek was in school at Duke, where she would eventually go on to serve as a resident advisor.
“I was an RA in the nursing school and I was teamed with a 65-year old house counselor at the nursing school,” Wasiolek said. “She would stand out in the front of the nursing school with a baseball bat if the fraternities came in to do a quote ‘panty raid.’ They would see her on the front porch and turn around.”
Strike what I just said. Things have definitely changed a lot—for the better.
Part of what has changed—aside from the current lack of “panty raids”—is the public perception of marijuana users. Wasiolek said that the 1970s were a judgment-free era, and the 1980s were the time in which the War on Drugs started to attach a permanent negative connotation with drug users. This started to shift back in the 1990s, and today the shift represents more than just public acceptance, with the legalization of marijuana in Oregon, Alaska, Washington and Colorado.
Per a Gallup Poll that was released in 2013, 38 percent of Americans admit to having tried marijuana, which does not represent a large deviation from the 33 percent that admitted to it in 1985. The main change is that of the lack of condemnation from the general public.
“Maybe five years from now it will be legal in North Carolina, but it is not today,” Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta said. “And I think for the most part, it’s not a strong arm. And I think you’ll find that it’s a pretty thoughtful and enlightened approach to trying to keep people safe.”
Maybe in five years it will be legal. Maybe in 20 years. Maybe never. Who knows? I’ve lived in North Carolina for almost 21 years now, so you’ll have to excuse me if the concept seems weird.
Regardless of if or when the bill comes through Duke's home state, Kevin will be there selling, and students will be lined up buying. Our toughest decision as a student body is whether to talk about it or continue to hide—and smoke—in the shadows.
But back to Kevin
As our conversation carries on, I start to see what makes Kevin such a widely loved presence in the marijuana community—he cares.
Not an I-just-want-your-money-so-I’m-forced-to-be-nice type care, but a genuine care, one that comes from a conscious not driven by money, but by a caring soul. This is the driving force behind his decision to sell students only weed, passing on the opportunity to turn a bigger profit on specialty drugs.
“I have to constantly tell people [I just sell] weed. Stop with the [other drugs]. They do a lot more. I see a lot more requests for other things,” Kevin said. “I know with weed, you can’t smoke yourself too bad. With everything else, something could happen. It would be too much for me. My conscience would kill me.”
Kevin said the three most commonly asked-for drugs aside from marijuana: cocaine, mushrooms and acid. An interesting mix, no doubt. Ultimately, Kevin is not trying to get you hooked. He’s just the supply to Duke’s weed demand.
But part of satisfying that demand comes with a steep price. One that Kevin has paid—twice.
In North Carolina, if you are charged with the intent to distribute and have fewer than 10 pounds of product, you will to serve three-to-eight months. If one is charged with the intent to sell, it is also a felony and worth four-to-eight months behind bars. If a person is convicted of an offense that falls under the mandatory minimum sentence, the judge must sentence them to said time.
The one run-in with the law I could get Kevin to talk about stemmed back to Duke.
“I was just talking with the kid—he was a big frat dude and he was buying pretty much for his frat. I was pretty much serving him an eighth, eighth, eighth,” he said. “He was buying for everybody in his frat, so he was wiping me out every time.
“And one time I was going to see him and he was just asking me a bunch of questions, and as soon as I left from him, the police got behind me right on the freeway, followed me for five or six miles. Another one switched from him-to-him, they followed me for another four miles and they pulled me. And I was dirty.”
What made the arrest so difficult to talk about for Kevin did not rest solely on the fact that he got caught—that was an expected risk he knew he was taking. What made it so hard was the fact that it was one of the students that turned him in.
You see, there is always an unwritten rule among friends that one will not snitch on the other. Of course, when the police are breathing down your neck, dealer-client confidentiality seems a lot less important. So when Kevin was busted, so was the trust he had with all the students.
Following his arrest, he was forced to start from scratch. He did not know who else would snitch, so he was forced to assume the majority of people associated with that person would.
“When stuff like that happens, you’ll cut off a whole group of people,” he said. “Maybe you get a weird vibe about them or you don’t know who did it. You know who didn’t do it more than you know who did it.”
But when you’re in the business Kevin is in, you can only stay low-profile for so long.
Once his number started making its way around the Duke circles again, it spread like wildfire. Everybody found out he was back and all of a sudden, Kevin was really back.
Kush and the consequences
Kevin's nighttime profession poses certain legal risks, but students also take a gamble every time they choose to approach his car.
In North Carolina, marijuana is illegal. No way around it, medical or recreational. There are a set laws by which specific amounts of weed will land one with specific penalties. Anything under half an ounce is regarded as a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $200. But more than half an ounce and a fine will come with jail time ranging from 45 days to eight months. Add an intent to sell on that and you could land yourself in jail for years.
Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of student conduct, deferred comment regarding the student conduct process to Wasiolek.
Wasiolek said the process Student Conduct uses to determine the severity of any given marijuana-based punishment is not a set sanction, as it goes with North Carolina state law. Rather, it is a grey area of case-by-case dealings in which everything from a slap on the wrist to suspension can be handed down, though the latter is rare for first-time offenders.
In the 2012-13 academic year, 72 cases regarding drugs and drug paraphernalia went through the undergraduate disciplinary system. Of the 72 students, 21 were found responsible and were disciplined accordingly. Further information—on the types of drugs for which students were reported and the types of sanctions they received—was not available.
“Throughout my time at Duke, our approach to drug use has been much more therapeutic than it has been punitive,” Wasiolek said. “That hasn’t really changed over the last 40 years. That being said, we will hold students accountable. Our hope is that we can work with students and support students in such a way that they can deal with whatever’s going on, if it is habitual, if it is interfering with what they’re trying to accomplish and if it is interfering with the rest of the community.”
Getting caught smoking—at least as a first-time offender—is far from the worst thing that can happen to you at Duke. That being said, the normally relaxed administration does draw a hard line when the money starts flowing in.
“If someone’s dealing, and we’ve had that—not a lot lately—but when we have, that we take much more seriously because sales bring in unsavory outsiders," Moneta said. "Generally if you’re selling, you’re buying in bulk. The people you buy in bulk from aren’t the people you want walking around the campus. So we are much harsher when it comes to sales than we might be when it comes to utilization.”
Wasiolek noted that Duke is currently experiencing a slight uptick in marijuana use.
“Again, I don’t necessarily have the numbers to back that, and even if I did, I’m not sure how accurate those would be," she said. "But I think there is a slight uptick in marijuana use.”
Which brings me back to Kevin.
At this point, our conversation—which, need I remind you, is still happening in a fire lane—has crossed the 10-minute mark and shown no signs of slowing down. He’s opened up to me, and I to him, and we’re actually having the kind of conversation I thought we would not have: a real one.
So with a new view on Duke students following his bust, I decided to ask him what else surprised him about the people he sells to.
“From lawyers, to doctors and nurses,” he answers. “[I serve] a lot of doctors and nurses.”
Aside from the loyal customers at the Duke Hospital, Kevin’s main service comes via undergraduate students. And undergraduate Duke students’ social lives revolve around one thing: exams. You think you’re the only person who suffers when midterms rear their head? Think again.
“Duke students are really set on a schedule,” Kevin said. “Their smoke schedule works around their study schedule. [After midterms] it picks up. And you can tell when they gotta cram. It’ll be really slow.”
(Glad to hear even the righteous stoners of Duke have their priorities in mind better than myself.) We move on to the students’ buying habits, and, unsurprisingly, it turns out students spare no expense when it comes to getting dank or getting stems.
“Duke students are more like, ‘Do you have anything better?’” he said. “I’ll pay for whatever if it’s better.”
This makes me double back to part of the conversation I had with Moneta, during which he spoke about drugs being tied to socioeconomic status. Whenever Kevin gets a new batch in, he’s quick to share it with his student buyers because A) his prices are allegedly $80 cheaper per ounce and B) they can afford a little extra if it does cost more than usual.
Kevin’s clientele are extremely loyal. Although it may not seem this way, there are multiple outlets from which students can purchase marijuana on- and off-campus. But even with these other options, Kevin’s kids will wait as long as two extra days just to buy from him. And this plays back into the trust and comfort he has built in his time at Duke.
Oh yeah, time. That concept pops into my head.
“How long have you been doing your thing here?” I ask.
He tells me two years at first. Then pauses and looks at me and says it just feels like two and has actually been four. So your guess is as good as mine there. With the connections he has established, I’m going to guess it is closer to four.
And with him in the game just long enough for one class of students to cycle through, I decide to bring up the idea of maturation, because, despite however cool seniors may seem, even they entered college as scared little freshmen who couldn’t shotgun a beer without giving everyone within a five-foot radius a lukewarm Busch Light shower. So with freshmen facing a learning curve when it comes to handling weed, who better to learn from than your own supplier?
“I always have to coach them up, because a lot of times they’re really scared or they want to run up to your window or have it in their hand when they’re getting out of the car,” Kevin said. “In their texts, they’ll be really reckless with how they ask for it and stuff. They’ll be like, ‘Hey man, can I get some weed?’”
We laugh about that, but we both know just how serious that can be for Kevin and the student alike. He tells me that because of reckless kids, he switches his phone every couple months as a precaution. But ultimately, when kids are reckless, he says he recognizes that they just don’t know better. He doesn’t cut them off or get upset, he just shows them the safe way to do things—providing them with the tools to be responsible marijuana users.
When you teach someone how to do something, chances are a mutual trust is built. With Kevin, that trust—for the most part—is lasting, sometimes even past graduation.
“It’s always interesting to see them growing up. I see some of these kids come in frail and little. Well, not little, but they’re still 18. Young people,” he said. “Then I see them grow up to where they’re about to go do an internship or go abroad. They call me when they get back. Alumni. I definitely got alumni that every time they come in town, they call me.”
Alumni hit him up after they graduate, as in on Alumni Weekend and Homecoming. I let that sink in. It’s taken this whole Duke community dealer to a whole new level. It’s like he’s a professor of sorts, having taught them all they know in the subject of blazing, and they’re calling him to catch up.
Which brings us to the end of our conversation. And like the end of any conversation, we looked to the future.
“I wish I could hang in until it was legal and be the first branded store close to campus,” he said. “I would be able to get the amount needed. I kind of know somebody in Colorado that deals with the legal side, regulation and all that stuff.”
But with North Carolina anywhere from five-to-20 years from even voting on the legalization of marijuana, Kevin knows waiting on that may not be the smartest thing.
“If it got hot for me, I would just stop that day and wait it out or not do it any more,” he said. “Because I’m definitely not pressed to do it. Pretty much, in life, I’m not pressed to do it like I used to be. Pressed like feeling like I don’t have anything or can’t pay for my house and stuff. But I’m almost there in life.”
He closes the interview telling me he’s looking forward to the future and is finishing up college. Although weed may have been what’s allowed him to break even, he’s past that and is ready for life post-illegal marijuana sales, should that day come. If it’s ever legalized, the idea of Kevin being first to set up his shop next to Chipotle or LoYo makes me chuckle. I have a feeling that he would do pretty well.
As I step out of the car, I look back and nod at Kevin as he starts up his engine. Then I turn around, walk past a Duke University Police Department officer and continue on my way back to the office.
*Editor's note: The source's name in this story was changed due to the illicit nature of their profession.