When a Yale student wants drugs, there is no reason to trek to some dark, trash-strewn alley. For most of us, drugs are as close and safe as the suite across the hall.
“Selling drugs here is not the crazy world the media makes it out to be,” said Maggie*, a sophomore. “It’s not like people standing in trench coats on some dark New Haven street corner in the rain waiting to meet some random dealer. It’s more just going by friends’ rooms and being like, ‘Hey, can I get the notes from class yesterday? Oh, and some drugs?'”
Students speak casually about drug use, accepting its place in college life alongside the inevitabilities of insufferable sections or bad dining hall food. And, students say, no drug on campus seems more commonplace than marijuana.
“Just about everyone I know’s tried it,” said Julia, a junior. “Yale’s so rich the stereotype is that it’d be a lot of cocaine. But it’s mostly pot.”
Students say marijuana use is widespread and buying or selling pot is neither full of glamour nor fraught with danger. Users describe a world not dominated by the need for secret deals or furtive glances, but one where students sell pot as favors to friends and their only worries are about the damage it does to their wallets. Buying the pot itself is almost as easy as walking into Rubber Match to buy the pipe or bong (or, for that matter, a futon cover).
“If you know the right people it’s pretty easy to get a hold of,” said one sophomore. “Most people who smoke sell off a little bit to their friends from time to time, so in some ways it’s almost like all users are dealers.”
Julia said pot is easy to get on campus, and one connection can lead to an entire network of students who sell. But she said that it can be difficult for casual users to find consistent sources.
“It seems like there are fewer big-time dealers here,” she said. “Most people who use weed don’t sell on a regular basis. It’s a hassle. Most people make a point not to sell unless they have a lot or are doing a favor for a friend.”
Students said that because selling and buying pot is so decentralized, the dealing scene on campus is a far cry from the stereotypes of Hollywood drug dealers.
“Dealing definitely isn’t glamorous,” Jacob said. “It’s pretty mundane and mostly just people buying a little from people they know. I think part of that’s because it seems to be a lot safer here than in other areas.”
Jacob said the high concentration of students who want drugs, the difficulty of enforcing drug laws on campus and the relative insulation of Yale life make college a safe time to deal.
Mark Kinzly, a researcher in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and a former heroin addict, said there is some truth to the feeling of security students perceive, and that the Yale world lives by different rules than New Haven residents.
“There is somewhat of the bubble effect,” said Kinzly, whose research focuses on drug use and intervention. “On campus it probably is safe. Yale is insulated in a lot of ways.”
But unless the residential colleges install greenhouses or hydroponic systems, someone has to venture outside the insulation of Yale to bring the pot to campus.
Maggie said she knows a few Yale dealers who meet New Haven dealers to resupply. But Kinzly said students try to minimize their interactions with New Haven dealers.
“If they have to engage with someone from the community, generally a lot of people will pool their money together to buy enough to make it worthwhile,” he said.
Marijuana is readily available in New Haven, and Connecticut’s location between New York and Boston makes the state a central transit route between the drug centers located in those cities, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Web site. While some marijuana is grown in state, the majority of pot in New Haven is Mexican, traveling north along I-95 or I-91.
“New Haven has traditionally been a pipeline from cities south of us to cities north of us,” Kinzly said.
The New Haven Police Department spokesman was not available for comment this week.
Despite its wide availability in the city, the pot hitting Yale lungs more often comes from the baggies of out-of-state acquaintances than New Haven dealers.
“When people go home and come back it seems like they have a lot of it,” Julia said. “People bring connections from home and from out of state.”
Maggie said she has a friend who meets a dealer in New York.
But with students’ pot connections resembling some sort of “six degrees to getting high” game, sometimes it seems Yale wallets take bigger hits than Yale students do.
“It’s pretty expensive,” Maggie said. “The prices are definitely jacked up here. No one wants to buy it off the street, and by the time you go through your roommate’s best friend’s brother’s ex-girlfriend in New York, or something, the price has gotten pretty ridiculous.”
Students’ preference for buying from other students can result in a chain of middlemen that inflates drug prices, students said. Most students reported paying about $60 for one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana, and a little over $100 for a quarter of an ounce.
“When I first came here some girl was so proud she’d gotten an eighth for $60,” Maggie said. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding? That’s ridiculous! I can get it for around $20 at home.'”
According to the DEA, at the beginning of this year an ounce of marijuana sold for $100 in New Haven — a quarter of the price Yalies claim to pay for it. While most students said the DEA’s figure seems way too low, they acknowledged that on-campus prices are undoubtedly higher than street prices.
A Columbia University student said the school’s location makes prices slightly lower than at Yale, but that they’re still high because students opt for the safety of the dorm dealer instead of going for the big savings found at the back of dark alleys.
“You can get it cheaper on the street, but if you’re buying from students you’re pretty much talking $50 for an eighth,” he said. “But most students like to buy from other students. It feels safer and not as illegal that way.”
There are more organic reasons for the Yale price hike, some say.
Julia said that at home in Alabama, a quarter of an ounce ran about $40. In Alabama, she said, most of the marijuana was homegrown rather than imported, and the ease of growing kept the prices down.
“It’s easier to grow in Alabama,” she said. “The climate’s better and the growing season’s longer than in Connecticut.”
At such high prices, it doesn’t take much pot to deplete students’ spending money. Although students can’t bursar pot, some parents still unknowingly foot the bill.
“Weed just goes into the discretionary income category,” Julia said. “It’s just like buying a case of beer, buying a fourth of weed. Maybe people have money from jobs and they’re spending that on their weed, but most students aren’t using only their own money.”
This casual marijuana use — and inclusion of pot expenses in the monthly checkbook balance — are not surprising, Kinzly said.
“People aren’t afraid of marijuana anymore,” he said.
Even if they were, Maggie pointed out, it would hardly matter. Yalies are tenacious, know what they want and go after it. Even if that includes drugs.
“You can get anything anywhere,” Maggie said. “You can get crack on a walk back from Walgreens if you really want.”
*Editors’ note: The names of the students interviewed for this article have been changed, at their request, to protect anonymity.