Arenas of Drug Transactions: Adolescent Cannabis Transactions in England-Social Supply
Coomber, Ross, Turnbull, Paul, Journal of Drug Issues
The issue of the social supply of illicit drugs is an important one because it delineates a separate category of "dealing," whereby friends supply or facilitate supply to other friends. Supply of this nature has been argued to be sufficiently different to "dealing proper" to justify a different criminal justice approach in relation to it. This has been argued to be particularly true regarding social supply among young people who use substances such as cannabis. This research involved interviews with 192 cannabis users in six (three rural, three urban) locations in England. Most were exclusively cannabis users. Nearly half (45%) had been involved in some form of supply, and 78% reported sharing their cannabis with others. Nearly all supply events were between friends within a close age range. The findings suggest that there is little contact by young cannabis users to the wider drug market and that it may be better to understand this activity as taking place in an "arena of transaction" rather than seeing it as an extension of the normally conceived drug market. We argue that there is sufficient difference within this arena of transaction from the wider drug market for most activity there to be dealt with less punitively by the criminal justice system.
A recent review of the contribution of different methodological and disciplinary approaches to understanding drug markets raised the point that drug markets differ over time, space, and circumstance and that in relation to Australia:
... each market is different, with different cultural norms, roles, behaviours and economic aspects. This makes generalisation to a singular understanding of an Australian drug market untenable, except at the most broad level. (Ritter, 2005, pp. 5-6)
Although in this instance the author is at pains to emphasize the Australian scene, a later paper (Ritter, 2006) made it clear that it was a positioning that could, and should, be reasonably applied elsewhere. Indeed, a number of commentators have noted the complexity of drug markets, their diversity, and how they vary in different contexts (Coomber, 2006; Lupton, Wilson, May, Warburton, & Turnbull, 2002; Murphy, Waldorf, & Reinarman, 1990). Some have noted that different markets for the same drug can co-exist in close geographical proximity (Curtis, Wendel, & Spunt, 2002). Others have described how markets are dynamic and can change in character or shape and how factors such as class, gender, and race and ethnicity can clearly contribute to the form and shape of markets (Golub & Johnson, 1994; Maher & Hudson [this issue]; Murji [this volume]; Murphy et al., 1990; Valdez [this volume]. Research tells us, therefore, that drug markets change and that they are contingent.
Ritter (2005, p. 6) further notes that beyond the evasive term "market," "we do not [even] have a shared lexicon for different levels [e.g. street, middle, upper] of the drug markets" and that this adds to the lack of coherence and clarity about drug markets for policy makers and ultimately makes making policy difficult. This lack of lexical congruence, however, is not necessarily a problem-at least not in the way that Ritter suggests. Ethnographic research, which often produces "thick descriptions" of local market relations, would likely undermine any oversimplistic approach to come up with improved models of drug markets or the machinations within them that aims to produce a model of "a" drug market or the levels within it. However, although it is proper that we should look for overlap in research, it is just as important that prior research does not lead us to "make the cap fit" (the market under investigation) with pre-existing models and to ignore equally important divergence. Within the same vein it is important that policy related to drug markets does not seek to overly homogenize them or those that populate them (as is largely the case currently) and thus apply policy generically across the spectrum of activities as though they are the same thing. …