'They'd still need me at 4am'

The dealer's view
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In a good month, Ritchie can earn as much as a chief inspector of police. Their bank balances might be alike, but there the similarities end. The police officer enforces the law. Ritchie breaks it.

As a cannabis dealer, Ritchie can earn £1,000 a week for selling a kilo of the drug, so long as he is not arrested first and his illicit wares seized from his basement flat in north London. His illegal trade can still put him behind bars for 14 years under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

However, this could all change if the cannabis legalisation lobby gets its way, and we have packets of cannabis spliffs stacked alongside cigarettes on the shelves of special kiosks. Dealers like Ritchie could either apply for a government licence to sell the drug legally or continue illegally with the risk of prosecution. There would be a system of quality control to ensure the cannabis sold did not contain lethal additives.

Ritchie, however, is unimpressed with the idea of legalisation. Working in a shop is a "crap job", he says, and he believes dealers would continue selling the drug without licences. In his experience, drug users want a smoke at all times of day and night, and the only way to make legalisation work is to ensure that the licences allowed sellers to work whatever hours they choose.

"People on 'come-downs' from other drugs want a smoke, and shops won't be open at 4am. The Government can't dictate when people take drugs."

Then there is the issue of taxation. One idea put forward by pro-legalisation groups is for duty to be paid on cannabis. But dealers such as Ritchie claim this would create more wealth for the Government and cause tension among successful drug criminals. "Blair is bound to put sky-high taxes on cannabis if it was legal. Why would people go to a shop when they'd get more for their money by coming to me?" he says.

Francis Wilkinson, former chief constable of Gwent, says a core of illegal dealers will flourish unless there is a pricing policy and quality control. "If a buyer can get cannabis for a competitive price in a licensed outlet, then the illegal trade will fade away," he says.

"I have no problem with people growing it for their own consumption. It would become the equivalent of homebrew."