More than 20 years after university professor Peter Reuter interviewed hundreds of Washington drug dealers, researchers are still using his findings to track new drug trends. According to an April 13 report in Slate, which used Reuter’s 1988 study on drug dealers’ hourly wages as a baseline, the price of cocaine has slipped 80 to 90 percent in the last 30 years. Not only are drug dealers earning lower wages than they did in the late ‘80s, according to the Slate article, the trade itself has become less violent with declining demand. While university officials said they catch few students in possession of cocaine, several students said there is still a market for the drug on the campus.
“I wouldn’t say it is big at all,” said Steven, a university junior who talked about the drug on the condition of anonymity. “It is not as easy to find as marijuana, but it isn’t impossible to find.”
Steven, who said he no longer uses cocaine, said university prices run between $45 and $70 for a gram of cocaine. He said his older friends said it was once more than $100 a gram.
Reuter said students might be paying lower prices today because the drug is declining in purity.
As the Rights and Responsibilities Office handles more total cases, it continues to log more drug-related incidents on the campus. While the office logged just 32 incident reports involving illegal drugs in 2003, the number rose steadily over the years to 170 in 2010, according to annual reports.
Although the university does not distinguish between controlled substances, Resident Student Conduct Manager Keira Martone said almost all infractions are marijuana-related because police and resident assistants can identify it by smell. Police catch few students with cocaine and other illegal drugs because they are more discrete to use.
“We know cocaine is used by students,” Martone said. “We haven’t had any big increases or big drops in cocaine incidents.”
University Police spokesman Capt. Marc Limansky said the department has few issues with drugs other than marijuana and when it does, it usually does not involve students.
“I’m not sure a drug user relies on the price to decide whether or not to purchase drugs,” he added.
In his 1988 study, Reuter, who founded a drug policy research center in the RAND Corporation, asked his interview subjects how much time they spend dealing drugs and how much time they spent at their conventional jobs, using the data to calculate their hourly wages. Slate used his findings as a baseline, determining that cocaine is less profitable today, and therefore less expensive, than it was in the late1980s.
Reuter said at the time, most dealers were “moonlighting” and logging more hours in legal employment.
“Drug dealing was much better paid [in the ’80s],” he said. “But most dealers didn’t put in the time.”
Reuter said they managed to still make money because dealing cocaine carried a high risk, adding to the price. About 7 percent of drug dealers suffered a serious injury while selling, and 1.4 percent were killed on the job, according to Reuter’s study.
“We think the figures are very different now,” he said “The markets are smaller, less violent and lessprofitable.”
There is less danger for drug dealers due to the drop in gun violence and drug-related homicides, which Reuter says reduces risk, ultimately resulting in a lower price for buyers.
Steven said there is not much violence in the university’s drug community, as most transactions take place between students.
“If you don’t know anybody, you could get yourself in trouble,” he said.
Steven added the study was positive because people tend to be misinformed about drugs.
“I definitely wouldn’t advocate the use of cocaine,” he said. “But it is something people should be more knowledgeable about.”
Article published in the University of Maryland Diamondback on April 24, 2012.