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"I'm Not A Real Dealer": The Identity Process of Ecstasy Sellers

NCJ Number
Journal of Drug Issues Volume: 38 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 2008 Pages: 419-444
Date Published
26 pages

This study of 80 women and men who sold Ecstasy in private settings focused on their identity processes associated with being sellers of drugs, including their pathways to drug dealing.


The study found that many participants did not make a conscious decision to become drug dealers. Thirty-eight percent of the participants drifted into selling Ecstasy through their personal use of the drug. Their drug selling careers frequently began as a "go-between" for "hooking up" their friends with their own Ecstasy source. There was no significant difference in the dealer identity process among the low-level and medium-level sellers. The large majority at both levels did not identify themselves as drug dealers. At the high level of sales, however, all participants identified as drug dealers. The majority of those interviewed resisted the "drug dealer" identity for a number of reasons, but the primary reason was the stigma associated with the "dealer" label. Ecstasy's relatively benign reputation among the sample led them to believe that their selling activities were not criminal or immoral. In fact, many believed they provided a service to people in helping them enjoy the desired effects of the drug. Having a mainstream job and career reinforced this reluctance to self-identify as a drug dealer. These findings suggest a normalization of recreational drug use and sales in private settings, which can complicate the detection and community support for drug law enforcement. This study was conducted between 2002 and 2004 among Ecstasy sellers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first phase of the study consisted of key informant interviews and field observations in private settings where Ecstasy was used or sold. The second phase involved an analysis of interview data for patterns and themes. Initial analyses were retested in the field before achieving the status of final conclusions. 56 references

Date Published: January 1, 2008