How does corona affect the drug scene? Are people stashing as much weed as toilet paper? Are dealers still welcome in peoples houses? In this Poppi series drug researcher Hayley Murray investigates and shares the users perspective on how they cope with their drug use during corona. This time: social distance and using drugs.
Photo taken of a line up outside The Stud Store coffee shop in Amsterdam Oost, the late afternoon of 15 March 20202
Courtesy of Anna H.
Panic buying is a term that surfaces alongside large-scale catastrophes. It is considered a type of herd behaviour where people hoard large quantities of certain products in the fear of its unavailability in the coming future. In particular, toilet paper gained a lot of attention as COVID-19 and semi-lockdown measures started to grip the Netherlands. Panic buyers (and, to be subtle, the greedy and the daft) were the target of many news articles and TV programmes. But clearly, many other people were panic buying another essential item: cannabis. Late Sunday afternoon, on March 15th, when news broke that coffee shops, along with restaurants, cafes, and sex clubs, would be closing at 18:00 for at least three weeks, baffling queues started appearing outside coffeeshops throughout the country. People were rushing to coffeeshops, out of concern that they needed to stock up on cannabis because the next time they were being told that they could legally buy again would be April 6th—at the earliest.
These photos made something visible to the public: one, stoners did not get the physical distancing memo. Hordes of them, thisclose to each other, I can’t even. And two, for mayors of major cities, these photos served as evidence that cutting off the legal supply would allow the underground drug market to flourish
And they were right. Already, dealers had the ability to provide cannabis to those in need. 06-dealers (those who use WhatsApp to communicate) were on it! That evening, alerts went out to whomever had their contact saved in their phone that cannabis could be purchased for 17.50 euros a gram the following day. Which was quite unusual, as cannabis is one drug that never shows up on their extensive drug menus. For those unlucky ones who waited dangerously close to one another in line only to be turned away due to empty shelves, this message would have come as a Godsend.
Screenshot of WhatsApp status notifying customers that from 23:00 on Monday, March 16th,
cannabis is available at 17.50 euros a gram
However, what followed in the next few days shocked some and elated others: the Dutch cabinet announced that coffeeshops would be allowed to remain open during the pandemic, as essential businesses, but with strict hygienic and physical distancing rules in place. Specifically, customers can still buy their products there- with card only- but are not allowed to stay to smoke it and all customers must obey the 1.5 meter distance rule from each other.
The 06-dealers didn’t wait, and consumers received a new status update: weed can still be delivered to your door, this time at 15 euros a gram. Nice save… but still slightly more expensive than what you can expect to pay in a coffeeshop (8-12 euros per gram).
Screenshot of WhatsApp status from 16:00 on Tuesday, March 17th notifying customers that cannabis is available, this time at a slightly higher price than that of coffeeshops
The notion of drug panic buying grabbed my attention, as I was interested to know how substance users were approaching buying drugs in this new climate. Before this pandemic hit, inviting a drug dealer into your house was, arguably, a tricky and intimate situation to navigate. Typically, in the Netherlands, the dealer comes to your house (in under 20 minutes or your next order is free, take that Dominos!) shakes your hand, perhaps they take a seat on your couch, and they open their bag which is filled with large quantities of various drugs. During the exchange of smaller baggies for cash, you might ask how their shift is going (busy, always busy) make what you wrongly believe to be an original comment about how unpleasant it must be to ride a scooter all night in this rain, and then they attempt to leave through your bathroom door. They are new here, who can blame them? No matter how business-like this transaction can be, many people find it uncomfortable due to the illegality—and keeping your distance from someone you are buying something from hasn’t even come into the picture yet.
Now, each person you come into contact with could be a possible threat to your health. Is it safe—beyond the old normal sense of the word—for a dealer to come to your home, or are you putting your health—beyond the old normal sense of the word—and theirs at risk?
The people who replied to my invitation to be interviewed confirmed that there are two ways to get drugs in this pandemic: there were those who already had a supply at home, or had friends and roommates willing to share, or those who had no supply to fall back on and had to text a dealer.
It was the second group of people, who had weighed out the risks and benefits of ordering drugs (perhaps with a side of COVID?) that intrigued me: how exactly did that interaction go down: Are dealers less available now? Do they still come inside or deliver at the door? Are they wearing protective gear? Are dealers too cool to bump elbows?
Having anyone enter your house who has likely been in several others around the city is not necessarily, currently, kosher. Amit, 37, considered this and decided to act fast—the sooner their dealer could come over, the less likely they would have been called in to other peoples’ houses and come into contact with an infected person. Now was the time to What’sact! Day zero of lockdown, he texted a dealer with an order that was for them, a bit more than normal: 12 ecstasy pills and some ketamine. The idea was to share with roommates and use sparingly. He commented that the dealer, who only the Friday before had delivered some coke with a handshake, now greeted them all with an elbow bump (note to self: not too cool). Sprays bottles of LSD were also ordered to Amit’s household and were directly wiped down with disinfectant.
A different scenario comes from Kyle, 32. Two weekends ago, in the midst of our semi-lockdown, they had friends over for dinner and for dessert they went decadent and ordered cocaine. The exchange with the dealer was like each time before that—smooth and efficient. There was no particular acknowledgement from either side of the threat of coronavirus or physical distancing rules. This setting—friends around the dinner table on a Saturday night—was familiar and could have normalized the experience for both parties.
One thing that was uniformal was that no one experienced a dealer charging more
for any drug. Something to be grateful for in a time where budgets are getting tighter. Always look on the bright side of life!
My next piece will explore getting high at home- what substances are being preferred in this pandemic and why? What are users motivations to get high?
And how are they doing it?
If you have something to offer this discussion around recreational substance use and quarantine, which trust me, you do, please get in touch with me via Telegram @sharewithpoppi or email@example.com. Your anonymity will be guaranteed.
For those of you who already have shared with me: you are great, thank you.
Check back in with Poppi’s blog regularly as, with your help, I’ll continue to explore what this new reality means for recreational substance use(rs) in the Netherlands.