A System Description of the Marijuana Trade

by Michael Childress


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This report describes and discusses applications for a computer spreadsheet-based, comprehensive “systems description” of the quantity and flow of marijuana from initial cultivation and processing, through international transportation, to domestic distribution. To examine the potential utility of this tool, this report details three distinct but related applications: improving the estimation processes, conducting sensitivity analyses, and guiding planning and assessment. In improving the estimation process, an analyst can use the framework to evaluate assumptions or data in terms of their downstream effects on other indicators (e.g., the likely downstream effects of an increase in the marijuana crop yields). Sensitivity analysis can be used to understand the impact of certain parameters versus others, which may be helpful in allocating intelligence resources, and to evaluate first-order effects of a change in the system, such as an eradication program. As a tool for more effective planning and assessment, the model can help planners think in terms of a strategic framework, for example, of linking assumptions on production in Southeast Asia to marijuana flows in the United States.

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