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Palo Alto, HIGH
Shedding light on the unexposed culture of student drug dealing at Paly through the perspectives of student dealers, student drug users and administration.
September 18, 2015
“Whenever I needed money, I would sell the weed I had to get cash, then people started asking again,” Cameron said. “Dealing doesn’t take that much time. It’s just one transaction.”
Cameron, a Palo Alto High School junior whose name has been changed along with all other students who appear in this story, is a typical high schooler, balancing classes, family responsibilities and extracurricular commitments. He is also a drug dealer.
While Paly is known for its outstanding academics and impressive array of after-school activities, it is also home to a network of student drug dealers, whose discreet daily sales have fostered a hidden drug culture on campus.
“It’s kind of like a community, [where] every smoker knows all the other smokers, so they just ask around,” Cameron said. “My clients are usually different most times, but I have some returning customers. Nobody just smokes — everyone who has possession of weed [doesn’t] just smoke it all, they usually sell a little bit to get more money for more weed.”
Underneath the unassuming facade of Paly lies a story of cash, connections and close calls: the lifestyle of the student drug dealer.
Student drug dealing at Paly is facilitated by a substantial number of users willing to buy, affluent parents willing to supply their children with money and the unique Silicon Valley mentality of business through shrewdness and connections. Moreover, student dealers at Paly do not resemble typical hustlers, relying not on street corners and addicts, but on friendships and networking to grow their trades.
“I’d just like it to be known [that] these [student] ‘dealers’ are more like resellers in a sense; the majority aren’t selling weed as a primary source of income,” Cameron said. “In most cases, it’s just a person asking another to sell something — for conveniency; if you have what they want at the time and don’t mind giving it up.”
Cameron, a regular user and purveyor of marijuana, believes that student dealers almost always start out as users themselves, easing into the process of selling when they have a surplus supply of drugs and are approached by other people looking to buy. However, citing his personal first experience as a dealer, the circumstances aren’t always friendly.
“Freshman year, my friends and I were smoking at a park and two random guys walked up…[they] asked us if we had any weed they could buy, I said yes, and gave them some to show,” Cameron said. “Then they just started walking away, and we’re like ‘what the f— just happened’ and they didn’t acknowledge us and kept walking. The next day we saw them at Starbucks and were like ‘yo what the f—’ where’s our money.”
From that first botched deal, Cameron learned to be careful with his product, selling mostly to friends and acquaintances in order to ensure a solid return on his investment and a lower risk to reward ratio — and it worked. By analyzing risk and reward, he began understanding business, and looked (in classic Palo Alto fashion) to safely expand his enterprise. Cameron is just one of a number of Paly students who choose to engage in drug dealing. His transition from a user to a dealer may have been simple, but in the eyes of the law he instantly became guilty of both possession and possession with intent to sell. The scariest element of Cameron’s story is the precedent of casualness it sets for other student drug users who are debating whether or not to sell.
There are about 15 student drug dealers currently operating at Paly, according to several student dealers’ estimates, most of whom employ similar strategies to Cameron. Students like Cameron practice methods of dealing which have allowed them to mostly remain under the radar of school officials and law enforcement. Jake, another Paly junior and former dealer, is a prime example of a successful yet elusive student dealer.
“A lot of people started hitting me up to get them weed,” Jake said. “I also had a steady supply and a lot of backups, so it was easy access. I realized that I could use [dealing] as a way for me to not have to pay for my weed and also get some cash.”
With a common motivation and style of selling, Jake and Cameron are the epitome of the well-connected Paly student drug dealer. They had access to generous quantities of marijuana from their own outside suppliers and a large number of friends looking to purchase. This perfect combination encouraged them to sell in order to make money, both to spend and to fuel their own drug habits. Unfortunately, the ease at which student dealers are able to game the system has negative effects on the community as it promotes drug use and showcases drug dealing as an attractive and lucrative practice. Despite the high incentives to deal, at times, Jake felt overwhelmed.
“I had this situation where people were giving me money to buy [marijuana] for them before school, and I ended up buying for them during lunch,” Jake said. “Towards the end of lunch, I was separating everybody’s weed in the library bathroom and it absolutely just danked hella hard. I walked out and saw teachers pointing to the bathroom saying ‘what’s going on,’… and that scared the s— out of me…so I got off campus.”
Ultimately, the pressure of similar close encounters prompted Jake to give up drug dealing permanently. After the library incident, the pressure and paranoia brought on by a few subsequent events — the slowing down of a police car during a deal and an investigations done by Paly school resource officers — became too much for him.
“I was just sick of it; it started to stress me out,” he said. “It was hard because I do two extracurriculars.”
Though it might sound odd, Jake viewed dealing as just another extracurricular to shuffle in his already busy schedule — like most after school commitments, dealing cost him time and stress. Herein lies the phenomenon but also the central struggle of dealers at Paly, a group of students smarter than the stereotype that put school before selling drugs. Where else but in Palo Alto is dealing relegated to the status of an extracurricular activity?
“Dealing isn’t as sketchy as it necessarily sounds,” Jake said.
Jake’s casual perspective on the clearly illegal act of selling marijuana reflects the relaxed attitude of Paly’s drug culture as a whole: basically, drugs aren’t perceived as dangerous.
“I definitely feel like dealers here are a lot more reasonable because we live in California and there’s a lot more weed around compared to a lot more places where it’s sketchy or unreliable like in the Midwest,” Jake said. “I have never been caught by teachers or cops [with marijuana], but my parents have had some suspicion from extra cash I’ve had for no reasons,” he added.
Yet even though he saw dealing as a hobby, Jake’s sales gave him a new understanding of transactions, unattainable through school.
“[Dealing] sure as hell taught me a lot about business and the real world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it negatively impacted my life or positively, aside from the cash and paranoia. It was a good learning experience.”
In both Cameron and Jake’s experiences, a uniquely Palo Altan culture of drug dealing is evident. Paly dealers aren’t just mindlessly committing crimes: they have set their sights on a market and capitalized in true Palo Alto fashion, through hard work and innovation.
Liam, another junior, has always taken dealing very seriously and continues to put himself in potential danger because of what he believes the “stoner lifestyle” stands for.
“There are so many people, good or bad, who are just trying to kick back, chill and smoke, and honestly dealing builds great friendships and makes you realize a lot of things too,” Liam said. “I continue to sell because I believe that if people want weed they should be able to get it and have no worry of it being unsafe. I take my weed very seriously and only go with the top shelf strains.”
Liam not only cares about the quality of his “inventory,” but also his clients’ satisfaction throughout a sale. He believes that smoking marijuana is just another form of bringing a diverse group of people together.
Like a businessman, he takes pride in the quality of product he distributes and the manner in which he conducts his sales (his brand). Liam, yet another quintessential example of a student dealer, is not a full time professional, but he is by no means a novice.
“I’m not exclusive to Paly, although I enjoy hooking up people from Paly because it just brings me joy to see how our grades can connect so much better through weed,” he said.
Liam used to go to Paly but has since moved to another high school, though he has still been able to stay in touch with the friends he made in Paly’s drug community. Liam also makes new connections often through his dealing and has consequently created a close bond with many different people all over the Bay Area. His style of dealing is quite similar to that of Jake and Cameron, all of them sharing a love for drugs and seeking out effective means of selling. However, Liam sees himself as more of a dealer in happiness rather than substance, using marijuana as a means of building lasting relationships in addition to a solid supply of cash.
“Drug dealing has impacted my life because I get to meet all kinds of people and make new friends along the way,” Liam said. “When talking to new people or old ones too, after a smoke sesh you get sorta bonded with other stoners because all in all it’s one big community; everyone smokes and they all have their way of smoking it.”
In drugs and dealing, Liam found his niche: the possibility of bringing joy into other people’s lives and his own. What’s truly astonishing is that, somehow, student dealers in Palo Alto manage to make money and have fun, attaining an enviable extracurricular balance. The situation is almost perfect, but for the fact that the extracurriclar in question is both damaging and in direct opposition of law. Liam too says that he prioritizes school over dealing.
“I balance weed [with] school,” Liam said. “School is tough and it’s important to stay on top of things, so smoking always needs to be conserved and limited because smoking can affect your grades and it’s really on how you use weed and how it’s gonna affect you.”
While the lifestyle associated with marijuana is treated much more casually at Paly, the daunting fact remains that there are significant consequences if people like Liam were to be caught with possession or usage of marijuana. However, Liam is rather cavalier about the law enforcement and the potential repercussions that he would face if he was caught.
“Sometimes I’m worried, but sometime it’s really not a big deal, like c’mon, it’s just a little grass,” Liam said. “Cops who aren’t d— usually just throw away your weed and tell you to make better choices as long as you aren’t doing hard drugs.”
While California is known for its laid-back opinions towards marijuana and treating smoking like a harmless recreational activity, there is still a risk of injury when smoking marijuana, particularly when the substance is mixed with other drugs.
“[I] smoked some laced s— one time… it was pretty scary because I was alone; I didn’t realize what I smoked was laced so I just stuck through it,” Liam said.
Liam often puts himself in danger through drugs. Yet, he has found what he loves in Paly’s largely unrestricted culture of association with illicit substances.
Looking past the perspectives of sellers, Paly’s drug culture thrives around users, who supply money to keep their dealers in operation. Matthew, a Paly senior who uses marijuana regularly, feels that a major drug community exists on campus.
“It’s a very large community that deals and smokes together, and everyone is friends with at least one of those people [users or dealers],” Matthew said. “So I would say a larger percentage of people are a part of it or have friends who smoke than those who don’t.”
As a user himself, Matthew has come to understand the preferred methods of operation in selling drugs.
“The more weed you get, the more weed you would have to sell to get your money back, or make more, but that’s the basis behind how people at Paly deal,” he said.
With such a fluid and easy means of acquiring marijuana, drug use can quickly become widespread. Matthew spoke of the existence of a major drug community on campus, a community much larger than the average Paly student or even parent might predict. Student user estimates paint a frightening picture in the minds of law enforcement and school administration.
“There’s so much drug use in Palo Alto that it’s becoming sort of a social norm, and by the end of high school, I’d say roughly 85 percent of people end up smoking at least once,” Charles, a former Paly student, said.
Charles added that the primary motivation to use drugs is from the strong influence of dealers and users on their friends who might not otherwise associate with illegal substances.
For their part, Paly administration is concerned about drug use, though they do not fully recognize the true severity of the issue because the whole lifestyle surrounding drugs is largely kept under wraps. This secrecy is due mostly to the prudence of student users and dealers, who do their best to keep school officials and authorities from discovering their illegal activity. In most instances, their best is enough. Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson acknowledged that in the heart of Silicon Valley, it is often difficult to catch student dealers.
“In 10 years, I’ve only had one or two cases of student drug dealing,” Berkson said. “The fact that we haven’t caught them [means that] we obviously work with a bunch of smart kids. They know their laws and they know their rights, so I guess they do a good job of hiding things.”
Berkson further expressed frustration at the futility of association with drugs.
“You’re looking at a small window of your life where a lot of things teens do look like a good idea at the time and you don’t realize it’s a bad idea until you get in trouble,” Berkson said. “We’re talking about life altering events. You don’t know who’s on the other end of deals, whether you’re buying or selling. What seems like a harmless act can be life changing.”
With the highly intelligent population at Paly, illegal activity could just as easily be engaged in as hidden. The issue of students and drugs is not anything to worry about if one looks at the records of reprimanded students. Behind the scenes, though, drugs are much more widespread. As a deterrent, Berkson cited events from his personal life in an effort to warn current dealers.
“I’ve got a guy I went to high school with whose serving 10-15 years [in prison] because he had gotten such a big operation [started back in high school] and I’m really not sure that’s what he intended when he first started dealing,” Berkson said.
Following the interpretation of past student records, Dean of Students Adam Paulson does not think student dealing at Paly is a particularly pressing concern as of now.
“I think its a problem,” he said. “But a school wide problem? I don’t think so.”.
However, he did agree with Berkson that looking into students’ futures, dealing is detrimental.
“Anybody that’s dealing drugs or taking drugs, I just encourage them to not,” Berkson said. “I’ve never seen or met anybody in a situation where that [activity] turned out to be positive in the long run. It just leads to more problems in life.”
Though it is clear that administration recognizes the existence of drug use and dealing at Paly, it seems to have a hard time apprehending and disciplining dealers, a testament to the strength of Paly’s relaxed, yet elusive drug culture.
Silicon Valley has proven to be the heartland of America’s innovation industry, a label that extends from Google all the way to Paly’s student dealing operations. In Palo Alto, some teenagers have begun practicing a reasonably risk-free way of dealing that has even their school administrators perplexed. These students are using their intuition and personal connections to make money, fulfilling the true Silicon Valley dream of entrepreneurship through hard work.
Through both student dealers and users, an underground culture of drug use has thrived at Paly, a culture that builds friendships and provides dealers with a considerable amount of money. However, no matter how smoothly executed, the acts of drug dealing and using constitute a very real and dangerous lifestyle that many at Paly have embraced as part of a social norm. Dealers decide that the net gains of their venture are worth the risk and the gravity of these consequences, and that the easy profits and built-in network of clients’ consistent demand are tempting enough to leave alone. Yet, one cannot ignore the fact that, using and dealing culture is alive and well at Paly and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.