Illegal drug trade
Learn more about Illegal drug trade
In jurisdictions where legislation restricts or prohibits the sale of certain popular drugs and it is practically impossible to get license, it is common for an (illegal) drug trade to develop. For example, the United States Congress has identified a number of controlled substances with corresponding drug trades.
Rich nations consider drug trafficking a very serious problem. In 1989, the United States intervened in Panama stating that the U.S. wished to disrupt the drug trade coming from Panama.
Some estimates placed the value of the global trade in illegal drugs at around 400 billion U.S. dollars in the year 2000; that, added to the global trade value of legal drugs at the same time, totals to an amount higher than the amount of money spent for food in the same period of time. In the 2005 United Nations World Drug Report, the value of the global illicit drug market for the year 2003 was estimated at US$13 bn at the production level, at US$94 bn at the wholesale level (taking seizures into account), and at US$322bn based on retail prices and taking seizures and other losses into account.
Major consumer countries include the United States and European nations, although consumption is world-wide. Major producer countries include Afghanistan (Heroin) and Colombia (primarily Cocaine, but a rising level of Heroin, too); see below for further details.
 Trafficking and distribution
Techniques used by drug traders when crossing borders include:
- avoiding border checks, such as by small ships, small aircraft, and through overland smuggling routes
- submitting to border checks with the drugs hidden in a vehicle, between other merchandise, in luggage, in or under clothes, inside the body, etc.
- buying off diplomats to smuggle drugs in diplomatic mail/luggage, to avoid border checks.
A mule is a lower-echelon criminal recruited by a smuggling organization to cross a border carrying drugs, or sometimes an unknowing person in whose bag or vehicle the drugs are planted, for the purpose of retrieving them elsewhere.
There are two primary means of distribution: a hierarchy and a hub-and-spoke layout. A hierarchical arrangement includes the manufacturer who uses his own men to smuggle, wholesale and store, and distribute the drugs. A hub-and-spoke layout takes advantage of local gangs and other localized criminal organizations. The cartel is at the center, with satellite organizations that may provide certain services to the manufacturer, and then there is a plurality of distinct groups, each with its own chain.
Smuggling is also often accomplished via small boats and yachts, air vehicles, and by gangs paid with some of the merchandise.
Wholesalers routinely accept the materials from the smugglers (often more than one and of varying types), cut it (for obvious reasons of economy, most of all times, adulteration takes place only after the smuggled substance has crossed the last expected border), and sell it to the distribution chain or chains. For the most part, wholesalers are not individual people; it is typically an expansionary endeavor by already-established rogue enterprises, such as Mafias and sometimes local gangs. The chemically more experienced instances may re-manufacture the wares to alter the drug's purity, or altering the chemical composition of the material (such as turning cocaine into crack or freebase). Wholesalers may also manufacture and disseminate general contraband, including non-narcotic controlled substances (like date rape drugs), paraphernalia (where it can't be legally obtained by head shops or the like), or any panoptic high-demand item that they may receive.
Distribution and adulteration may traverse a selectively chosen group of cartel employees who purchase from a wholesaler and utilize a prominent population of mules or it may encompass a heavy chain of users who are selling to finance their own use.
 Drug cartels
The best known recent drug cartels have been the Cali, Medellín, and Norte del Valle cartels in Colombia, and the Juarez, Tijuana, Sonora and Tamaulipas cartels in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexican cartels are primarily drug trafficking organizations that transport and sell cocaine exported by the larger, more powerful Colombian, Bolivian and Peruvian Cartels. The United States invaded Panama in 1989 to remove from power strongman General Manuel Noriega who was allegedly involved with Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, most actively involved with the Medellín Cartel, the most infamous and notorious drug cartel in history. The Medellín Cartel was headed by Pablo Escobar ..
Considering the drug business is in many ways like any other business in that the retail has higher profit margins than the producers, and that 80% of the world's cocaine (worth about $25 billion a year) is sold in the United States, it is quite remarkable that to date no large U.S.-based cartels have been discovered. Contrary to popular belief, most of this money does not return to Latin America but rather stays in the U.S to be laundered. Transferring large sums of illicitly obtained money to Latin American countries has become even more difficult after 9/11. Some take the view that more effort needs to be placed on uncovering the U.S. distribution and laundering cartels.
The main organized drug cartels deal primarily with the most compact (thus easy to smuggle) and profitable substances cocaine, heroin, MDMA (ecstasy), and methamphetamine, and it is these that are the primary focus of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Large-scale manufactured illegal drugs also induce the foundation of satellite organizations that supply some of the most important needed chemical precursors.
In the last ten years, United States Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics indicate that the percentage of Latin American non-U.S. citizens that were federally arrested in the U.S. for illegal drug offenses has increased from the low 20 percentile to over 30 percent as of 2003. For example, in 1999, regarding all federal drug arrests, 26.8% were non-U.S. citizens and 45.5% were Hispanic. Other DOJ BJS statistics showed that "in addition to immigration offenses, U.S. attorneys prosecuted an increased number of non-citizens for other crimes, especially for drug trafficking, which increased from 1,799 cases in 1985 to 7,803 in 2000." 
Other noteworthy facts, according to National Criminal Justice Reference Service: "Of noncitizens prosecuted in Federal courts during 1994, 55 percent were in the United States legally. During 1984, about 35 percent of noncitizens prosecuted in Federal courts were charged with a drug offense. By 1994, the proportion charged with a drug offense increased to 45 percent." 
 Illegal trade of legal drugs
 Prescription drugs
Some prescription drugs are also available by illegal means, eliminating the need to manufacture and process the drugs. (Prescription opioids for example, are sometimes much stronger than heroin found on the street, example: the group of the fentanyl analogs.) They are sold either via stolen or partly divided prescriptions sold by medical practices and occasionally from Internet sale. However, it is much easier to control traffic in prescription drugs than in illegal drugs because the source is usually an originally legal enterprise and thus can often be readily found and neutralized.
 Internet and controlled substances
"No Prescription Websites" (NPWs) offer to sell controlled substances without a valid prescription. NPWs were first recognized by the U.S. Justice Department in 1999, indicating that such sites had been operating at least through the late 1990s. NPWs enable dealers and users to complete transactions without direct contact. While many NPWs accept credit cards, others only accept cash thereby further reducing any paper trail. Many NPWs are hosted in countries in which specific categories of controlled substances are locally legal (e.g. prescription opioids in Mexico), but because of the global nature of the internet, NPWs are able to do (mostly illegal) business with customers around the globe. In addition to prescription opioids, stimulants, and sedatives, steroids are often widely distributed. To date, no websites have been found offering directly to sell illegal drugs like heroin, illegal amphetamine or methamphetamine derivatives, or cocaine, however the police have uncovered several instances of dealers/drug rings using Craigslist personal ads to solicit drug business using code words and phrases. All other categories of drugs are readily available online.
 Violent resolutions
Because disputes cannot be resolved through legal means, participants at every level of the illegal drug industry, often at the top levels and, primarily in the USA, but, to a lesser extent also on the second major illegal drug consuming continent, Europe, also at the bottom levels, are inclined to compete with one another through violence. The larger and more often violent drug trafficking organizations are known as drug cartels. Many have argued that the arbitrariness of drug prohibition laws from the medical point of view, especially the theory of harm reduction, worsens the problems around these substances.
 Trade of specific drugs
The price per gram of heroin is typically 8 to 10 times that of cocaine on US streets. Generally in Europe (except the transit countries Portugal and the Netherlands), a purported gram of street Heroin, which is usually actually between 0.7 and 0.8 grams light to dark brown powder consisting of 5-10%, less commonly up to 20%, heroin base, is between 30 and 70 Euros, which makes for an effective price of pure heroin per gram of between 300 and 2000 Euros.
The purity of street cocaine in Europe is usually in the same range as it is for heroin, the price being between 50 and 100 Euros per between 0.7 and 1.0 grams. This totals to a cocaine price range between 500 and 2000 Euros.
 Anabolic steroids
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug smugglers have an easier time smuggling them into the United States. When they have arrived in the United States, they are often sold at gyms and competitions as well as through mail operations.
When cannabis is not grown in either large-scale 'grow ops' in warehouses and other large establishments, or grown for limited distribution in small-scale, possibly domestic operations, it is usually imported from Mexico or farther south. "Skunk" is imported from Amsterdam, or less commonly from South Africa. Most of the cannabis sold commercially in the U.S. is grown in secret grow operations nationally with the majority grown in the Midwest or in the California area, which has some of the world's best soil for growing crops. Much of the cannabis in the United States is imported from Mexico, however this cannabis is usually low quality. The packaging methods used are crude often resulting in compressed or "bricked" weed. Canadian cannabis is high quality especially in mid-British Columbia. This BC high quality has a lower THC level than others imported from mid Europe.
Common bag sizes/names that marijuana is sold in the United States are:
- a pound / or LB (generally only for dealers themselves, although those with enough disposable income wanting a long term supply for personal use without a regular interaction with dealers may occasionally buy that much)
- a quarter pound or QP or 'QWOP/QWAP'(4 ounces)
- an ounce or ZONE or 'an O or Z' (many laws divide the presumption of personal use and intent of sale between those with more or less than an ounce)
- a half ounce or a half(this would be 14 grams)
- a quarter ounce or a Q(this would be 7 grams)
- an eighth of an ounce or an eighth or 'HENRY or HEN' or a "half-quarter" or 'a Cut' or a 'slice'(the most common bag size probably dealt in at the low/casual levels of marijuana purchase for personal use, particularly for young people starting out, 3.5 grams is the correct weight for those measuring but approximation is common
- a dub bag or a dub or '20 sac' (a bag costing $20 to the purchaser)
- a dime bag or a dime or '10 sac' (a bag costing $10 to the purchaser)
- a nickel bag or a nickel (a bag costing $5 to the purchaser)
- a gram or 'G' (considered only a legitimate sale unit for very high quality marijuana or hydroponic marijuana)
LSD (also known as "acid") is a highly potent hallucinogenic drug which is synthesized artificially from certain metabolism products of the ergot fungus which grows on certain grain strains. The availability of LSD in the United States dropped sharply starting in the year 2000, when two distributors alleged by the government to have been manufacturing 95% of all LSD available in the US were captured (see LSD in the United States), but availability has started to rise again (possibly due to law enforcement focusing more heavily on Cannabis).
 Psilocybin mushrooms
Psychedelic Mushrooms grow naturally in most climates, thus this drug market is financially less lucrative, even though there is no doubt a certain kind of commercial growing of the Psilocybe mushrooms, half-legally in the Netherlands and illegally from different stages of maturity/manufacture of chewable dried mushroom tissue. Psychonauts will often grow these mushrooms or pick them for themselves as they are common to find in many places of the world.
In some areas of the world, particularly in and around the Arabian peninsula, the trade of alcohol is strictly prohibited. For example, Pakistan bans the trade because of its large Muslim population. Similarly, Saudi Arabia forbids the importation of alcohol into its kingdom.
Also, rural villages or even entire counties in a few US states such as Alaska and North Carolina are considered "dry," and prohibit the sale, trade, and even consumption of alcoholic beverages. Similar laws are found in Aboriginal communities of central and northen Australia, as a result of alcohol abuse.
The illegal trade of tobacco is motivated primarily by increasingly heavy taxation. When tobacco products such as name-brand cigarettes are traded illegally, the cost is as little as one third that of retail price due to the lack of taxes being applied as the product is sold from manufacturer to buyer to retailer. It has been reported that smuggling one truckload of cigarettes within the United States leads to a profit of 2 million U.S. dollars.
The source of the illegally-traded tobacco is often the proceeds from other crimes, such as store and transportation robberies.
Sometimes, the illegal trade of tobacco is motivated by differences in taxes in two jurisdictions, including smuggling across international borders. Smuggling of tobacco from the US into Canada has been problematic, and sometimes political where trans-national native communities are involved in the illegal trade.
International illicit trade in opium is relatively rare. Major smuggling organizations prefer to further refine opium into heroin before shipping to the consumer countries, since a given quantity of heroin is worth much more than an equivalent amount of opium, so heroin is more profitable, because heroin is a substance that is made of the main naturally-occurring psychoactive substance in opium, morphine and thus much stronger than opium, and even stronger a relevant proportion compared to morphine.
Heroin is smuggled into the United States and Europe. Purity levels vary greatly by region with, for the most part, Northeastern cities having the most pure heroin in America (according to a recently released report by the DEA, Elizabeth and Newark, New Jersey, have the purest street grade heroin in the country).
In some areas of the United States, the trade of methamphetamines is rampant. Because of the ease in production and its addiction rate, methamphetamines are a favorite amongst many drug distributors.
According to the Community Epidemiology Work Group, the numbers of clandestine methamphetamine laboratory incidents reported to the National Clandestine Laboratory Database decreased from 1999 to 2004. During this same period, methamphetamine lab incidents increased in midwestern States (Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio), and in Pennsylvania. In 2004, more lab incidents were reported in Illinois (926) than in California (673). In 2003, methamphetamine lab incidents reached new highs in Georgia (250), Minnesota (309), and Texas (677). There were only seven methamphetamine lab incidents reported in Hawaii in 2004, though nearly 59 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions (excluding alcohol) were for primary methamphetamine abuse during the first six months of 2004.
Some MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine users are switching to methamphetamine, ignorant of its severe toxicity.
In many gay clubs found throughout New York City and elsewhere, methamphetamine is often used in an injectable form, placing users and their partners at risk for transmission of HIV, hepatitis C, and other STDs.
 U.S. Government involvement
The U.S. government is the most vocal opponent of the drug industry and it has set the de facto international standards regarding the legality and illegality of different drugs. Despite the US government's official position against the drug trade, US government agents and assets have been implicated in the drug trade.   
Oliver North and Barry Seal were caught and investigated during the Iran-Contra scandal, implicated in the use of the drug trade as a secret source of funding for the USA's support of the Contras. Page 41 of the December 1988 Kerry report to the US senate  states that "indeed senior US policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contra's funding problem".
Highly decorated US military Special Forces veteran, Colonel Bo Gritz (retired) has accused the USA of collaborating with and supporting Manuel Noriega in his drug trafficking operations. In his book Called To Serve, Gritz details his role as a key US Government employee tasked with protecting the USA's relationship with Noriega.
Additionally, the Venezuelan news media seems to give considerable attention to exposing CIA connections to the drug trade, especially when those operations pass through Venezuela. In contrast, the mainstream American news media tends to avoid publishing such information until after the Venezulan and European news agencies have already made the information widely known outside the US.
Counter to its official goals, the US has been known to attempt to suppress research on drug usage. For example, in 1995 the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) announced in a press release the publication of the results of the largest global study on cocaine use ever undertaken. However, a decision in the World Health Assembly banned the publication of the study. In the sixth meeting of the B committee the US representative threatened that "If WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programmes should be curtailed". This led to the decision to discontinue publication. A part of the study has been recuperated<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>. Available are profiles of cocaine use in 20 countries.
Drug smuggling was the topic of:
- The French Connection (1971)
- Midnight Express (1978)
- Scarface (1983)
- License to Kill (1989)
- Deep Cover (1992)
- Brokedown Palace (1999)
- Traffic (2000)
- Blow (2001)
- 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
- Maria Full of Grace (2004)
- Layer Cake (2004)
- Power of the Dog Don Winslow (2005)
- Miami Vice (2006)
 See also
- Arguments for and against drug prohibition
- Capital punishment in Singapore
- Counterfeit drug
- Demand reduction
- Drug paraphernalia
- Drug-Related Crime
- Drugs and prostitution
- Legal issues of cannabis
- List of famous drug smugglers
- Money laundering
- Opium Wars
- Prohibition (drugs)
- War on Drugs
- Whiskey Rebellion
- Use of death penalty worldwide
- Severance Films
- United Nations convention against illicit drugs
- Background Q&A by the Council on Foreign Relations: "The Forgotten Drug War"
- United Nations - Drug Programme
- Geopium: Geopolitics of Illicit Drugs in Asia (English and French)
- Dagga brings riches to new drug barons
- Publication on hashish production and trafficking in Morocco (December 2005)
- The smuggling culture
- Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History from the U.S. DOJ
- Office of National Drug Control Policy - Steroids
- The South American Cocaine Trade
- Tricks of the Trade: Tracing meth's route into Kitsap County
- Tips for Travelers to South Asia
- Saudi Arabia Basics
- Network Against Prohibition
- United Nations World Drug Report
- Pulse Check: Drug Markets and Chronic Users in 25 of America's Largest Cities (January 2004)
- Illicit drug issues by country, by the CIA
- Market Size for various illegal drugs.
 External links
- UNODC Makes the Case for Ending Cannabis Prohibition, Inadvertently
- European Commission - 'Combating Drugs' information
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime / Drug Supply Reduction
- Pompidou Group - Cooperation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs
- Clandestine labs FAQ at Erowid
- Asia Death Penalty blog focuses on the death penalty in Asia, including its widespread use for drug offences
- Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report on high-harm-causing drugs
- World Customs Organization
- Guardia di Finanzade:Drogenhandel