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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fronts and friends : social contingencies in the management of drug debt Laing, Allison


Illicit drug markets and drug use have long been associated with violence and disorder, especially in marginalized communities. Previous research on governance frameworks in drug markets has focused on violence and other modes of control enacted by drug distributors and dealers. This work has thus far neglected the experiences of marginalized people who buy illicit drugs for their own consumption as well as informal debt structures that exist outside the dealer/buyer relationship. Drawing on interviews with 75 people who use drugs within a disadvantaged neighborhood in Vancouver, Canada, we explore the role of social ties and negotiation in navigating credit and debt associated with drug procurement as well as managing conflict within a drug market contingent on credit. Our findings show that people who use drugs strategically engage in non-violent tactics to mitigate harm linked to drug procurement and, to a greater extent, debt and default. These strategies involve cultivating reputation capital to build trust and strengthen the relationship between buyer and dealer, which stabilizes the drug market and discourages violent retaliation. We also uncover reciprocal arrangements within social networks that strengthen social cohesion in the community. Our findings highlight the significance of the broader risk environment of poverty, structural vulnerability, drug policy, and unintended harms arising from government systems of financial support for marginalized populations. Further research is urgently needed to explore programmatic and policy interventions to complement existing community processes and structures that could further mitigate harms associated with purchase and use of illicit drugs.

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