Illegal Drug Trade

16 02 2011

International drug routes.

Panamanian motor vessel Gatun during the largest cocaine bust in United States Coast Guardhistory (totalling 20 tons, worth over 600 million USD), off the coast of Panama.

The illegal drug trade is a global black market, competing with legal drug trade, dedicated to cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of those substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws. Most jurisdictions prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of drugs bydrug prohibition laws.

A report said the global drug trade generated an estimated US$321.6 billion in 2005. With a world GDP of US$36 trillion in the same year, the illegal drug trade may be estimated as slightly less than 1% of total global commerce. Consumption of illegal drugs is widespread globally.

The illegal drug trade has arisen as a result of drug prohibition laws. In the First Opium War the Chinese authorities had banned opium but the United Kingdom forced the country to allow British merchants to trade in opium with the general population. Smoking opium had become common in the 19th century due to increasing importation via British merchants. Trading in opium was (as it is today in the heroin trade) extremely lucrative. As a result of this illegal trade an estimated two million Chinese people became addicted to the drug. The British Crown (via the treaties of Nanking and Tianjin) took vast sums of money from the Chinese government through this illegal trade which they referred to as “reparations”.


Mafia groups limited their activities to gambling and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging manifested in response to the effect of prohibition. An example of the spectacular rise of the mafia due to Prohibition is Al Capone‘s syndicate that “ruled” Chicago in the 1920s. The official rise of drug trade started in 1954. The peak of drug selling was in 1979.

Legal penalties

In the USA, Federal law states that first time offenders be sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment averaging 1 to 3 years. These sentences have become more noticed in recent years.In many countries, drug smuggling carries a severe penalty, including the death penalty (for example, China and Singapore). In 2010, two people were sentenced to death in Malaysiafor trafficking 1 kilogram/2.2 pounds of cannabis into the country.

Drug trafficking is widely regarded the most serious of drug offences around the world. However, sentencing often depends on the type of drug (and its classification in the country into which it is being trafficked) and where the drugs are sold and how they are distributed; for example if the drugs are sold to or distributed by underage people, then the penalties for trafficking will be harsher than in other circumstances.

Effects of illegal drug trade on societies

The countries of drug production have been seen as the worst affected by prohibition.

Even so, countries receiving the illegally-imported substances are also affected by problems stemming from drug prohibition. For example, Ecuador has allegedly absorbed up to 300,000 refugees from Colombia who are running from guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug lords, says Linda Helfrich. While some applied for asylum, others are still illegal, and the drugs that pass from Colombia through Ecuador to other parts of South America create economic and social problems.

Violent crime

In many countries worldwide, the illegal drug trade is thought to be directly linked to violent crimes such as murder; this is especially true in third world countries, but is also an issue for many developed countries worldwide. In the late 1990s in the United States, for example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated that 5% of murders were drug-related. However, after a crackdown by U.S. and Mexican authorities in the first decade of the 21st century (part of tightened borders security in the wake of the September 11 attacks), border violence inside Mexico surged, with the Mexican government estimating that 90% of the killings are drug-related.

A report by the UK government’s drug strategy unit that was leaked to the press, stated that due to the expensive price of highly addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine, that drug use was responsible for the great majority of crime, including 85% for shoplifting, 70-80% of burglaries and 54% of robberies. “The cost of crime committed to support illegal cocaine and heroin habits amounts to £16 billion a year in the UK” (note: this is more than the entire annual UK’s Home Office budget)

Minors and the illegal drug trade in the US

The U.S. government’s most recent 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that nationwide over 800,000 adolescents ages 12–17 sold illegal drugs during the twelve months preceding the survey; such adolescents also admitted to know or be linked to other drug dealers across the nation. The 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nationwide 25.4% of students had been offered, sold, or given an illegal drug by someone on school property. The prevalence of having been offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property ranged from 15.5% to 38.8% across state CDC surveys (median: 26.1%) and from 20.3% to 40.0% across local surveys (median: 29.4%).

Despite over $7 billion spent annually towards arresting and prosecuting nearly 800,000 people across the country for marijuana offenses in 2005 (FBI Uniform Crime Reports), the federally-funded Monitoring the Future Survey reports about 85% of high school seniors find marijuana “easy to obtain.” That figure has remained virtually unchanged since 1975, never dropping below 82.7% in three decades of national surveys.

In 2009, the Justice Department identified more than 200 U.S. cities in which Mexican drug cartels “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors” – up from 100 three years earlier.






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