Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jan 2005
Source: Duncan News Leader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Duncan News Leader
Author: Angie Poss
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


The Pictorial

Meet Melissa. She's 15, loves to play soccer and thinks her little brother 
is annoying. In her spare time, Melissa sells drugs to her friends. It's no 
big deal, she insists - mostly pot and ecstacy.

She's not a drug dealer, she says, just a link between the people who want 
and the people who have what they want - sort of a middle-man.

She agreed to talk about it as long as her real name wasn't used.

"My parents would freak out!" she says, predicting the loss of her cell 
phone and heavy restrictions on her spare time if mom and dad ever found out.

It's one of those dull winter days that make Islanders forget why they love 
it here. Melissa is waiting for friends outside Walmart, blowing clouds of 
gray smoke towards heaven and shifting from foot to foot to dispel a chill.

She won't say how she got involved in selling, or who supplies her with the 
product but she's eager to talk about her sales experience.

"It's kind of a rush, you know," she says. "Like I can walk down the street 
with a stash on me and nobody can tell. It's so easy. It's word of mouth 
right? People just start to know that you've got stuff and they find you."

A lot of people have found Melissa in the last few days. Her stash is 
getting low, she says, and opens her purse to show the last of her product, 
wedged under a pink lip gloss.

There is more than one Melissa flying under the radar in the Cowichan 
Valley, confirms Julie Bradley of Cowichan Youth Services. Some Melissas 
are as young as 12.

Drug dealers tend to recruit kids the same age as their potential buyers, 
says Steve Noble, targeting the "weak link" in a group - the kid who is the 
most insecure or shy.

Noble has written and produced a youth-driven play called Crystal 
Diagnosis, which deals with the ravages of crystal meth use among teenagers.

"It's like multi-level marketing schemes. You tell one friend who tells 
another who tells another," said Noble of the recruiting. "They can make a 
lot of money just selling it to their friends. And they don't even know 
what they're selling them."

For drug dealers, the kids are a great marketing strategy. They can blend 
in where adults can't. They are approachable, easy for other teens to find 
and have a strong peer culture working for them.

It's that peer culture that makes it easier for Melissa to shrug off 
questions about the ethics of what she is doing.

"They're doing it anyway," she said, picking at the filter on her 
cigarette. "This way I'm gonna get a bit out of the deal."

A bit turns out to be much more than she would make at a regular job, a 
legal job. On the average day she takes a cut of about $60 from her sales 
but on a weekend, when ecstacy is as hot as Juicy jeans, she can make as 
much as $200 a night.

There is another benefit to the job, said Bradley, one that is supremely 
important in the fickle world of teenage loyalties.

"They are very well perceived by their peers," said Bradley.

Melissa is the go-to girl, the person who always has a connection to a 
party. She's got friends, lots of them, and knows how to find more. And 
Melissa's boss knows just how easy it is to find more kids like her.
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