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There are downsides to this model, though—in particular, reduced volume and increased barriers to entry. Dealers can't just go into the street and wave down cars anymore; they first have to develop a clientele list. And having a clientele list means having a defined, limited set of customers. And that, in turn, means fewer sales, which means less money. And lack of money, Curtis suggests, is likely one big reason New York street gangs haven't historically been major players in the first place.
"The gangs have never been very sophisticated vis-à-vis their money-generating activities," he says. "A boy could get in there and fight with other boys, but over the long run you have to make money, too, and they've never really been very good at that."
To a large extent this is because retail drug dealing—which according to Savelli roughly 95 percent of street gangs are involved in—is simply a lousy business. Particularly over the last decade, Curtis says, the market for hard drugs like heroin, crack, and cocaine has been flat.
"No one wants to get into that. There's too little money and not enough clientele."
The one type of crime that apparently does still pay, he notes, is selling marijuana.
"That's where the real money in the last ten years has been," he says. "That's where the action has been and where you've seen some activity in public housing projects. I think that's the only part of the drug market that has really had any impact on gangs or gang formation. It's really the only growth area of the drug market we've seen."
That market could be headed for hard times as well, though. In the last three months, Curtis says, "the bottom has dropped out of the price of high-end marijuana," a drop that he suggests is due to product being brought into the city from the West Coast.
While New York's marijuana has traditionally come in from Mexico and British Columbia, medical marijuana laws in states like California and Oregon have recently brought on a dramatic increase in supply, making life hectic for the city's dealers.
"It looks like it's coming from many different sources now as opposed to a single source or a few big sources. It's leaching from every pore," Curtis says.
"I don't know what that's going to do to the New York City market, but all of a sudden everyone is scrambling around."