The Dealers Think They're Untouchable Now...

The Dealers Think They're Untouchable Now...
Posted by FoM on February 23, 2002 at 18:49:14 PT
By Tony Thompson in Brixton
Source: Observer UK
The dimly lit waiting area of the south London cab office is thick with smoke and the bittersweet smell of high-grade cannabis. The controller, sitting behind a screen a few paces back from the door, is deep in conversation with a waiting group of passengers. He turns and beckons me over, a large spliff dangling from between his lips. 'What do you want? Draw? Coke? Rock?' Brixton has long held a reputation for being the drugs capital of London but the past year has seen a dramatic change in the way the dealers operate and an explosion in their numbers. 
Once hidden away in shadowy corners or dark alleyways and forced to hide every time a police patrol passed by, they now openly strut around like peacocks, desperate to outdo one another as they boast to customers about the greater potency of their particular product. The triangle bordered by Coldharbour Lane, the Brixton Road and Atlantic Road is now the narcotic equivalent of a red-light district. Each night, without fail, as dusk falls, dozens of dealers appear in shop doorways, railway arches and street corners and it is impossible for anyone to walk more than a few paces without being accosted. Since July the London borough of Lambeth has been the subject of a controversial pilot scheme where those caught in possession of small amounts of cannabis are no longer arrested or cautioned. Instead, they are given a verbal warning, the drugs are confiscated and they are sent on their way. The radical policy is credited with freeing up hundreds of hours of police time and allowing them to concentrate on more serious crime, but many residents say it has given the dealers a new-found confidence and made even hard drugs more widely available than before. Bathed in the glow of the lights from local fast-food restaurants, off-licences and greengrocers dotted along the main shopping strip, the street dealers openly sell single joints and small bags of grass. Harder drugs are only a few streets away and two cab firms in the area, both of which are busy throughout the night, have become notorious as the place to go to buy larger amounts of marijuana or cocaine and crack. It is overwhelmingly clear that dealers are now exploiting the law. Buying enough weed or resin for a couple of joints is easy and takes seconds. Buying enough to last a few days is a slightly more delicate operation as the drugs have to be retrieved from a safe hiding place. Having such precautions in place, none of the dealers I spoke to seemed at all concerned about the police. Many boasted of having received three or four separate warnings since the new scheme began. Few people living in the heart of the drugs area will talk openly about the trade. One shopkeeper agrees to chat but asks not to be named. 'If people see me talking to the press, they'll think I'm talking to the police too and I can't afford them to think that,' he explains. 'In the last few months, all the dealers have become more confident. They think they're untouchable.' The biggest cannabis dealers say they shift a kilo a week, netting them around 800 in profit. Most of the customers are from outside the area, largely middle-class whites. They are drawn to the area knowing that even if they are caught buying, they won't end up with a criminal record. It is good business for the dealers but the real money is made selling crack. Whereas dealers used to stick to one drug, increased competition means they are all diversifying and doing their best to accommodate any request. 'These people aren't stupid,' says the shopkeeper. 'They know that if they sell someone 10 worth of cannabis, they won't see them again for a week. If they sell them 10 worth of crack, they will come back in a couple of hours.' Although official figures sug gest a slight drop in violent crime since the scheme was introduced, many believe this is not the full picture. 'There is trouble all the time. The thing is, most of the victims are dealers being ripped off by other dealers or customers from out of town. They aren't going to tell the police about it, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening. Why take a chance robbing some passer-by when you can see a dealer and know he will have drugs and money on him. Why do you think so many of them hang around in groups?' An internal review conducted by senior officers at Scotland Yard concluded that over the first six months of the scheme, 1,400 man hours were freed up. The number of seizures of cannabis rose by a third while seizures of class A drugs rose by19 per cent. While the number of man hours liberated is seen as proof of the policy's partial success, the increase in seizures has left analysts wondering if more dealers and buyers and coming into the area. The number of arrests for dealing has remained constant but those figures no longer include those picked up for small amounts of cannabis. In the six months before the scheme, 278 arrests for possession were made. In the six months that followed, more than 400 warnings for possession were issued. For many, this is proof positive that the area is now a magnet for drug buyers across London. When he first devised the policy, Commander Brian Paddick admitted that some people would see Brixton as the place to come and buy drugs. He hoped to put them off by driving home the message that thanks to a confiscation policy, they might not be able to leave with them. Either the mes sage has fallen on deaf ears or users feel it is worth the risk, particularly as all they have to fear is a formal warning. Coldharbour Lane traders Neil Kindness, who runs the Dogstar bar, and Robert Beckford, who runs the Juice Bar, both say the scheme has encouraged people to come into the area and do drugs. 'Nobody from Brixton smokes cannabis any more,' says Beckford. 'It's all people from outside the area and the locals are getting fed up with it.' The true picture of how the pilot scheme has affected people in the area will soon be known. A study by the Police Foundation and polling organisation Mori asking how it has affected the quality of residents' lives has just been completed but the results have not yet been made public. Special Report: Drugs in Britain:,2759,178206,00.htmlAdditional reporting by Nick Paton Walsh Note: The Lambeth experiment.Newshawk: puff_tuffSource: Observer, The (UK)Author: Tony Thompson in BrixtonPublished: Sunday, February 24, 2002Copyright: 2002 The ObserverContact: letters Articles:Drug Laws Revolution Set for UK Model for UK Drug Laws Britain is Going Dutch 
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Comment #3 posted by Sam Adams on February 24, 2002 at 10:22:00 PT
Somebody do something.....those damn alcohol and nicotine dealers are REALLY operating with impunity....they advertise on TV and radio, and billboards all over London. Alcohol addicts are beating their wives and kids and vandalizing the city and countryside. Nicotine addicts lurk in dark corners of hospital wards, wheezing their last breath with yellowed teeth and must be Commander Paddick's fault....
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Comment #2 posted by Nasarius on February 23, 2002 at 19:36:42 PT
And this is why they need to separate the markets, like the coffee shops in Holland do.
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Comment #1 posted by E_Johnson on February 23, 2002 at 19:05:48 PT
The lurid tales of Cannabis now can be told!
The dimly lit waiting area of the south London cab office is thick with smoke and the bittersweet smell of high-grade cannabis.Like I said, this is the problem with literary journalism. Facts are never enough. And in the end they take a back seat to social melodrama. Can't spoil the dramatic buildup of a good Gothic yarn with reality.And can they prove that high-grade cannabis smells differently from the less lurid and sensationalistic variety?It must be rough in print journalism to have to compete with TV.But then all those closet tokers in Mayfair aren't helping much either.
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