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Drug Smuggling as a System of Distributing Drugs Essay

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Updated: Dec 7th, 2021


Drug smuggling, also referred to as drug trafficking refers to a system of distributing drugs either across a country or a number of them. Drug prohibition which has varied across nations contributed to the illegalization of drugs, whose usage and distribution were otherwise legal. For example, although the usage of opium brought into China through British merchants in the 1800s in a lucrative system was illegal by imperial decree, the United Kingdom forced China to allow the British merchant’s trade opium.

History of drug smuggling

All the drugs sold to consumers in the United States are produced outside the country except Marijuana and methamphetamine. Drug smuggling has had a history of business of the drug cartels like the Medellin and Cali cartels (Prough); which are organized by specialists in separate processes along the supply chain and of different sizes, and may comprise of low-level street dealers, middlemen who act as contractors and street gangs. Drug distribution is through secret channels like ingestion in places where it has been criminalized. Primary drug smuggling methods that have been utilized in history include usage of vehicles with hidden stashes to cross official borders and usage of pickups and backpackers loading through remote. More recent reports indicate that these cartels may have reverted from old skills for example usage of price-fixing large and massive cartels to those flexible exchange networks that “expend and retract according to market opportunities and regulatory constraints” in the Columbia drug trade (Kenney). Misunderstanding of such trade may therefore lead to inefficient war on drug trafficking among the authorities. Distribution channels have also been linked with terrorism as a finance sourcing of terrorism groups especially those along main drug-trafficking routes or drug-producing regions. These groups range from the right-wing extremists to leftist guerrilla movements, and other groups of certain religious settings (Stepanova).

Today, drug smuggling ranges from the more traditional forms to modern forms. The history of drug smuggling has been linked with usage of multipurpose tunnels dug underground. In addition, using technology to fight against drug abuse has yielded benefits. Inmates have been indicated to receive drugs through mails and this has led to need to use technological systems that can detect up to less than a nanogram in the prison mailrooms. In a 2000 mailroom survey carried out by National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in partnership with the Counterdrug Technology Development Program Office (CDTDPO) Department of Defense of the United States, it was found that relatively small quantities of drug were smuggled into individual mails and that the existing process of inspection would not be replaced by the technologies for detecting drug (Butler). Drug smuggling has entered internet business, gyms and competitions environments in the United States, and is easy to smuggle in the United States according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. California has been mentioned as the number one producer of cannabis earning a total of about 14 billion dollars in annual production revenue.

Drug smuggling has also been reported among students and adolescents. For example, 25.4% of students were found to have given, sold or been offered an illegal drug on school property in a 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey carried out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Today, the law on usage of some drugs may be termed controversial. Whereas usage of some drugs like Marijuana in some countries is illegal, it has been decriminalized in areas like Massachusetts (by 2 March 2009) and California within the United States. Thus it would be expected that distribution of drugs would be present in the neighboring areas with increased volumes of trade in the areas where it has been decriminalized. WHO reported that over a third of interviewee participants in its study on coca had used coca paste either in the street, river or other open places. In this study, chewing of coca leaves was also present among family relatives (WHO/UNICRI). Usage of coca paste has been reported in the WHO report to be used in the streets. Recently, drug trafficking has been indicated to revert to more dangerous form of using single-seat ultralight aircraft previously largely used in the early 1980s and 1990s to smuggle marijuana into the United States past strong border defenses (Rotstein). Drug traffickers then reverted to usage of aircraft to “ferry contraband between clandestine and often crude border runways” but was reduced after the tethering of the Aero starts (radar-equipped balloons) along the US-Mexican border to aid detection of drugs according to Rotstein. Although United States has a war against drug trafficking, drug trafficking along the Mexican border has evolved its own sub-culture style according to Campbell. The culture includes the narcocorridos Mexican folk/pop music that “celebrates and chronicles” high-level traffickers and the trade.

In addition to usage of short-distance air hops that are dangerous to the victims because of crashing, smuggling tunnels have been reported to supplement the primary methods previously mentioned in this paper.


Butler Robert. Technology takes on drug smugglers: can drug detection technology stop drugs from entering. 2009. Web.

Campbell H. Drug trafficking stories: Everyday forms of Narco-folklore on the U.S.–Mexico border. International Journal of Drug Policy. Volume 16, Issue 5, Pages 326-333

Kenney Michael. The architecture of Drug Trafficking: Network Forms of Organization in the Colombian Cocaine Trade. Global Crime. (2007). Vol. 8. no.3, pp. 233-259

Prough Todd. A Preview. Scott H. Decker and Margaret Townsend Chapman Book Review: Lifting the veil on drug smuggling. Crime, Law and Social Change. Springer Netherlands. 2008. Vol.50.no.4-5. Web.

Rotstein Arthur. Drug smugglers using ultralights to cross border. Associated press. 2009. Web.

Stepanova Ekaterina. Illicit Drug Trafficking and Islamic Terrorism as Threats to Russian Security: The Limits of the Linkages. Ponars Policy Memo No. 393. (2005). Web.

WHO/UNICRI. The Natural History of Cocaine Abuse. A Case Study endeavour. International Report. Private Report. Vol.1. 2009. Web.

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