The Organization of High-Level Drug Markets

An Exploratory Study

by Peter Reuter, John Haaga

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This study explores a method for learning about careers and organizations in the upper levels of the cocaine and marijuana markets. It was undertaken to determine whether it is possible to obtain from incarcerated drug dealers data of sufficient credibility, detail, and scope to provide a comprehensive description of these high-level markets. While the authors do not claim to have had access to a representative set of subjects in the high-level cocaine and marijuana markets, they do venture to make the following observations: (1) drug dealers face few barriers to entry into the higher levels of the drug markets, (2) successful operation does not require the creation of a large or enduring organization, (3) it is possible to function as a high-level dealer without recourse to violence, and (4) the wholesale drug market is national rather than regional. The findings suggest that the "immobilization of organizations" strategy that has been part of federal drug enforcement programs has not succeeded in disrupting high-level markets. Even though more and better high-level enforcement is unlikely by itself to prevent the continued smooth functioning of these markets, enforcement that makes high-level drug dealers' lives riskier and their prospects of incarceration greater is worthwhile.

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