Social supply of cannabis

Social supply of cannabis and drifts in and out of ‘real’ and more commercial drug dealing


This project aims to develop better understandings of socio-cultural processes of drug supply at the bottom end cannabis market, including young people’s drift in and out of drug dealing ‘properly’.


The project takes as its point of departure two basic observations.

  • One is that cannabis remains the most widely used illicit drug among young people in Scandinavia.
  • The other is that while cannabis today can be sourced from a variety commercial dealers, it is still the case that many young users access cannabis through friendship networks.

By implication, many young users therefore also regularly engage in supply of drugs to friends. Young people’s friend-to-friend supply of drugs can involve practices such as sharing cannabis with trusted friends, helping a user-friend who has run dry, buying drugs on behalf of others or occasional small-scale selling to friends to finance one’s own drug use. While “friend suppliers” are often socially rather than economically motivated, Scandinavian criminal justice systems tend to view their supply practices as serious legal offences. Young people engaged in “social supply” of cannabis therefore leave themselves vulnerable to legal punishment. Furthermore, research indicates that social suppliers are at heightened risk of drifting into profit-oriented ‘real’ dealing.

The Study

This project uses interviews with 40 cannabis users in Denmark to explore:

  1. What motivates young people to engage in supply of cannabis to friends and acquaintances?
  2. How do young users ascribe meaning and construct identities in relation to exchange of cannabis?
  3. What main mechanisms lead social suppliers to drift into dealing properly?

The study will contribute to research, prevention and policy.

Firstly, it will enhance our understanding of “friendship markets” (Dickinson 2017), and the diversity of socio-cultural relations underpinning much low-level illicit cannabis supply.

Secondly, it will generate a solid knowledge base of the processes leading “social suppliers” to drift into profit-oriented ‘real’ dealing which will be useful for practitioners involved in drug- and crime preventive work. Lastly, the study aims to inform policy. While Scandinavian criminal justice systems tend to sanction any kind unauthorized supply of drugs regardless of the motive behind, internationally there is growing acknowledgement that social supply is qualitatively different from dealing proper. By providing insights into the nature of (social) cannabis supply, this study can contribute to more informed drug policy debates also in Scandinavia.

The study takes place from August 1, 2019 to August 1, 2021.


Scandinavian Research Council for Criminology.