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From Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary:

She got caught dealing drugs in school.

He deals in rare books.

I want to express "buying and selling a particular product." It seems that "dealing something" is always related to drugs. I'm not sure. Can I interchange them?

She got caught dealing in drugs in school.

He deals rare books.

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No.

Deal in is a phrasal verb meaning "does business in the area of".

Deal means "does business with" or "handles".

So to say "He deals rare books" is not technically wrong as it would be like saying that he regularly does business with rare books (but not necessarily his specialty).

However if you go that far, you might as well say that he deals in rare books, which does imply that that is his specialty.

You wouldn't say "She got caught dealing in drugs in school" because it is a single occurrence, and "dealing in" implies doing business with regular frequency.

  • To me, deal can't be used transitively in this sense, except just barely in the fixed expression deal drugs. This may be a BrE/AmE difference. – Colin Fine Dec 22 '17 at 11:55
  • @ColinFine Three of Johnson, Five of Donne, Ace of Roosevelt. :P – Lawrence Dec 23 '17 at 0:43
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One of the meanings of the verb to deal is to sell, so both

She got caught dealing drugs in school

and

He deals rare books

look alright.

To deal in something may mean either to work in a particular field or to buy and sell something, so

He deals in rare books

Looks alright too.

As for buying and selling drugs in particular, the verb to deal may be used without a preposition:

She got caught dealing in school

or

She got caught dealing at school,

depending on if she sells drugs by herself, being there (at), or via some inside peddlers (in).

(see: deal, 7)

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