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Why rich college kids can sell dope and you can't

In the long-foundering, ever-festering war on drugs, there's just about zero truth to the idea of zero tolerance. As anyone who's studied the prison population can figure out, certain groups dealing in illegal drugs can be targeted for harsh punishment, while other groups trafficking in the same drugs are all but ignored.

And the safest place to be a dope pusher? Your local college dormitory, of course. Even if you're not very good at it. A new study by two California researchers concludes that campus drug dealers -- mostly white, affluent, and clueless -- continue to thrive despite shifting social mores and the sometimes heavy-handed enforcement efforts elsewhere.

"We were...taken aback by the lack of criminal justice and university administration attention paid these dealers, despite the brazenness, incompetence, and general dearth of street smarts that tended to characterize the dealers' daily practices," write A. Rafik Mohamed and Erik Fritsovold, authors of Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class.

Just released by Boulder-based Lynne Rienner Publishers -- the folks who brought you Guns, Violence & Criminal Behavior -- Dorm Room Dealers is a sober but intriguing look at dealing on several campuses in southern California. Not surprisingly, many of the badass connections interviewed by the authors turn out to be surfer-dude business majors who fell into the trade because they liked getting their own smoke wholesale, then found additional profits in cocaine, ecstasy and black-market "study drugs" such as Ritalin and Adderall.

This informal network deals openly, rakes in thousands of dollars a month (mostly on beaucoup weed, though cocaine has higher profit margins) -- and blows most of it on nice cars, gear and dinners. None of the kingpins profiled here seem to worry much about being busted, figuring their dads' lawyers or their own sense of entitlement immunizes them from serious consequences. And they are probably right.

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Mohamed and Fritsvold puzzle over why these children of privilege get into the business so heavily. For the most part, they don't need the money. The authors postulate a combination of psychological motives, from seeking thrills and gangsta status to "warding off the emasculating force of privilege." One dealer admits, "I am almost as addicted to selling as I am to getting faded."

Oh, and don't call them drug dealers. Campus provenders prefer to think of themselves as "brokers." And it's just a passing thing. Once they're off campus, they'll settle into more socially acceptable forms of capitalism. But in the meantime, the ease of the campus drug trade -- the authors call the dealers "anti-targets," since campus police and local cops try so hard to look the other way -- raises big questions about the real aims of the drug war. When was the last time you heard of a major drug enforcement action on the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado (and no, we're not talking about those rinky-dink 4-20 arrests)?

Mohamed and Fritsvold claim they're not trying to sic the cops on campus dealers. Rather, they want to "spark a conversation about a more reasonable, equitable, and balanced set of domestic drug policies." But will that ever happen while the sons and daughters of the policymakers are thoroughly protected from the policy's nightmare effects?

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