There are three floors in Montgomery Blair High School. There are six staircases, 22 basketball hoops, 14 academic departments, 26 athletic teams, 325 staff members, 3,200 students and, according to Amy, a junior, more than 20 drug dealers.
Even as the 2001 Maryland Adolescent Survey for Montgomery County Public Schools shows a significant—8 to 15 percent—decrease in high school students' use of alcohol and cigarettes since 1998, there has been no noticeable decrease in the usage of illegal drugs. This stagnancy may explain the perseverance of a drug trade within public schools and, more specifically, within Blair. It hints at an all-too-familiar economic principle: as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply.
An informal survey of 100 Blair students during the week of Nov 26 reveals that 59 percent of students have experimented with illegal drugs, 83 percent have seen or know about drug dealing that occurs within the school's walls and 67 percent have purchased drugs from dealers who attend Blair or know another student who has.
Blair's inability to rid itself of drug dealing and abuse among its population corresponds with the national trend. According to a September 2001 survey of 1,000 U.S. high schoolers conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 61 percent of students say that drugs are used, kept and sold in their schools.
Principal Phillip Gainous believes that although Blair's issues with drugs on campus are on the "down swing," drug dealing will continue to be a problem at Blair as long as it's a problem outside school doors. "School is simply a reflection of the community. If it's happening out there, it's happening in here," explains Gainous.
However, Blair security guard Harry Wacke believes drug dealing is a smaller problem within the school than it is in the surrounding communities, claiming that Blair's security guards prevent any major drug activity. "Drugs are only as rampant as you allow them to be. The security team is proactive. We don't wait for stuff to go on. We're active and visible," says Wacke.
However, Security Team Leader Edward Reddick is less optimistic about security guards' power to put an end to drug deals on campus. "It's hard to stop it because drugs can be secluded in any pocket or pocketbook. All those who wish to partake in it don't do it out in the open," he explains.
Why risk your cool just to sell in school?
Amy finds 3,200 potential customers within a rumor's reach to be an easy and appealing way to conduct business. Most of her customers attend Blair and most of her dealings take place in the school zone. "Football games are as far off-campus as it goes," Amy says.
Amy's priority is scouting out the demand and working out the supply. "I find who wants it and then go to who supplies it," she explains. "I get the stuff, they give me the money."
Because using drugs, especially marijuana, is such a popular weekend activity, some kids, like Steve, a junior, get involved with dealing simply to entertain their friends. "I was just trying to hook my friends up with what they wanted," says Steve, who until recently sold marijuana regularly on school property.
Steve mainly bought from other dealers at Blair and redistributed for a slight profit. He almost never made deals after school hours and only sold to people he knew. "It was normally before school, during both lunches or after school. There were about ten to 15 deals a day," says Steve.
Rob, a senior, began his business by selling weed brownies in school. He claims it was "very easy, a lot easier than you'd think" to sell drugs in school. "I just had the weed at the bottom of my bag, under my lunch. It's kind of scary how easy it is—that was the appeal," says Rob. "I'd just deal where there weren't any cameras."
But Rob soon found himself caught up in a fast-paced downward spiral, and he realized he had bitten off more than he could chew. At first, he too made a policy of only dealing to kids he knew, but when he got a pager, everything changed. He would get paged mainly on Friday and Saturday nights, and he would then meet his customers—whoever they were—with the drugs.
That's when Rob believes his trade became dangerous and unwise. "Once I started to dealing to kids I didn't know, it got kind of sketchy," he says.
Turning hash into cash
Although both Steve and Amy say they started to deal drugs for excitement, friends and convenience, they also confess to craving the dough that comes along with such an occupation. Amy's cash yield varies with every sale, and while she hasn't kept track of her exact profits, she does trust that if she puts money into the system, she'll get some back. "I invest in the business, and eventually, when everything is sold, I get what I invested plus some extra cash," Amy explains.
Rob says he has made over $8,000 from deals. "I couldn't exactly put it in the bank. So I spent it on CDs, bought part of my car with it, paid off some debts, paid off some other people's debts, you know," Rob lists.
Knocked off the high horse
Steve considered himself to be very cautious, never carrying more than three dime bags—a dime bag is $10 worth of marijuana—on him at any one time. However, the drug arrests at Homecoming served as a "reality check" for him and convinced him to quit dealing. "It was pointless. If I got caught, it would screw up my life, and I got spooked," Steve says. "I saw the consequences firsthand, and I just stopped."
Rob, who also decided the repercussions weren't worth it in the long run, put an end to his drug-dealing after he was almost turned in by a friend. On a tip, the police tracked him down and asked to search his car. Rob allowed them to do so because he knew his car was clean. However, the incident made him "really, really angry" and showed him that his identity in the drug community was not necessarily safe.
Trusting in her own invincibility, Amy continues to sell drugs and asserts that she is too clever to be apprehended. "I don't see getting caught, because it's never really on me. I don't walk around with it. I'm smart about it," she says confidently.
However, Wacke asserts that dealing drugs is risky business—for the individual, for the community and for the school. Drug dealing, he says, can be eliminated from Blair only if the entire school resolves to end it. "It's a team thing. It takes observation, detection and action to stop it completely," says Wacke.
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Elana Eisen-Markowitz. Elana Eisen-Markowitz was born in Washington, DC and lived there until her obese younger brother was born and the family was forced to move into a larger house in Takoma Park, MD. Elana then enrolled in the Spanish immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary School … More »