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Illegal drug trade
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Illegal drug trade

In jurisdictions where certain recreational drugs are illegal, they are generally supplied by criminal drug dealers who are often associated with organized criminals. Trade in illegal drugs is driven by the economics of greed and poverty, and in many cases also by the biochemistry of addiction.

The addict's need to support the high cost of illegal addictive drugs is one of the major causes of crime. Some estimates placed the value of the global trade in illegal drugs at around four hundred billion U.S. dollars in the year 2000.

Major consumer countries include the United States and European nations, although consumption is world-wide.

As with legal commerce, the illegal drug trade is multi-layered and often multi-national, with layers of manufacturers, processors, distributors, wholesalers and retailers. Financing is also important, generally involving money laundering to hide the source of the illegal profits. All of these are made more complex by their illegality, but the normal laws of economics still apply, with the efforts of law enforcement regarded by the drug trade as an extra business cost.

The drug trade is a very fragmented industry with the most popular product, marijuana, being grown locally by a large amount of inviduals (without any organization). Similarly, drugs like LSD with very low profit margins are sold more for philanthropic reasons than for profit. The main organized drug cartels deal with cocaine, heroin, and MDMA, and it is these that are the primary focus of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. In places where alcohol is illegal, such as Saudi Arabia, it may also be the subject of illegal trading. In the United States during Prohibition, trade in alcohol was dominated by the Cosa Nostra.

Some prescription drugs are also available by illegal means, eliminating the need to manufacture and process the drugs. Prescription opiates for example, are sometimes much stronger then heroin found on the street. They are sold primarily via prescriptions from unscrupulous doctors and clinics. However, it is much easier to control traffic in prescription drugs than in illegal drugs.

Legal drugs like tobacco can be the subject of smuggling and illegal trading if the taxes are high enough to make it profitable.

Because disputes cannot be resolved through legal means, participants at every level of the illegal drugs industry are liable to compete with one another through violence. Some of the largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations are known as drug cartels. Two of the most well known recent groups were the Cali Cartel and the Medellin Cartel.

Table of contents
1 Manufacturing and processing
2 Distribution and wholesaling
3 Retail drug dealing and users
4 External links

Manufacturing and processing

Illegal drugs can be broken down into two major classes: those extracted from plants, and those synthesized from chemical precursors. For the first class, such as marijuana and cocaine, the growing area is important, and substantial farming is needed for mass production. For the second class, such as MDMA and methamphetamine, access to chemical precursors is most important.

Major drug farming and manufacturing countries include

Synthetic illegal drugs can either be manufactured in the country of consumption, or abroad.

Distribution and wholesaling

Retail drug dealing and users

Street drug dealing is the bottom of the chain. Street drug dealing is sometimes associated with other crimes such as pimping. Many users also deal as a part-time activity to fund their own drug use.

In many cases, a lot of profit can be made.


Alternatively, the dealer could break the quarter pound down into smaller bags that sell for what would seem to be cheaper. The idea here is basic; the more you buy, the less you pay. The less you buy, the more you pay.

Marijuana is usually an easy drug for non-dealers to deal, since there is no addiction that will suck the user into using more of the drug as a 'fix.' Because of this, more profit can be made by the common man. More addictive drugs, however, are usually harder for people to deal since the dealers will usually become addicted. Addicted dealers will usually end up using all of the product, hence no profit.

See also:

External links