World War D
The Case against prohibitionism,
roadmap to controlled re-legalization

The illegal psychoactive marketplace in the 21st century

This is a preview to the chapter The illegal psychoactive marketplace in the 21st century from the book World War D by Jeffrey Dhywood.
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The first decade of the 21st century brought some drastic changes to the War on Drugs, and these trends are accelerating as we move into the second decade of the new century.

Drug trafficking used to be mostly a North-South affair, with the Southern third world producing countries feeding the voracious and ever-growing appetite for illicit drugs in developed Western countries. Japan and Korea, the other developed countries, were largely spared. Western countries, led by the US, were trying to contain the flow of drugs, with little success, while shipping back South a flow of money, weapons and ammunitions feeding local violence and corruption. The North blamed the South for producing the illicit substances, while the South blamed the North for failing to curb their insatiable appetite for said substances and for dumping narco-violence on them.

Beginning in the 1990s, third world countries turned into emerging countries. The ensuing industrialization, rapid urbanization, social dislocation, and breakdown of traditional norms lowered the barriers to deviance, providing a fertile ground for the spread of substance abuse. As a result, illicit drug use is on the rise in most of the world, fueled in part by the global youth culture, permeated by drug culture from its pop stars to its sports stars. Drug cartels were quick to fill the demand and are in rapid expansion mode in every corner of the world except Antarctica (so far). Drug use appeared to stabilize in Western countries in 2005-2008; this trend has been reversed as drug use was on the rise in 2009. More worrisome, while abuse of opiate and cocaine seems stable or even in decline in some Western countries, heroin use is growing rapidly in Africa and Asia; there is also a worldwide explosion of amphetamine use. The use of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) now surpasses cocaine and opiates combined, ranking second in global use behind cannabis, which is extremely alarming as ATS abuse leads to extreme violence and psychopathic or psychotic behavior.

We have seen throughout the history of psychoactive use and abuse that technological improvements have regularly brought profound changes, usually in the form of diseases of excess. The three technological innovations of Internet, hydroponics and kitchen counter chemistry are currently profoundly affecting the psychoactive landscape, with the potential to render the War on Drugs obsolete.
The most ominous development is the spread of narco-violence and corruption throughout the world, and its destabilizing effects on a growing number of countries. Distribution channels are re-routed and expanded in response to increased enforcement in the US, and to accommodate the growing demand of new markets. Like any other business on the planet, narco-traffic is going global. Central America, Africa and Central Asia are particularly affected; an increasing number of countries are turning into narco-states or failed states.

Before getting into a more detailed analysis of the global illegal psychoactive marketplace, let’s stop a moment to figure out why violence and corruption pervade the illegal drug marketplace and how this marketplace operates in the first place.

Prohibition in a market economy

The law of supply and demand, which is the funding dogma of capitalism and the basic principle of market economy, is inescapable. It must be obeyed one way or another, and there is absolutely no way to tamper with it. If it cannot be obeyed within the framework of legality, it will find other means. If supply creates its own demand, it is also true that demand will create its own supply, which is why the supply reduction strategy of the War on Drugs is condemned to fail and the demand reduction strategy is just as doomed.

The drive for mind alteration, either through psychoactive substances or otherwise, is deeply ingrained in human nature, as studies of the brain reward/pleasure system clearly indicate. Whether we like it or not, this basic drive creates a demand for psychoactive substances. As a result of prohibitionist policies, this demand increasingly is not being adequately met by legal psychoactive substances as consumers want to diversify from alcohol and tobacco. The thrill of the forbidden fruit adds to the appeal of illegal substances, while the shadow economy in which the black market thrives gives rise to subcultures revolving around the commerce and use of such substances. Such subcultures are increasingly the dominant culture in many parts of the world, from the US/Mexican border zone to West Africa or Central Asia and even Northern California.

Drug trafficking arose as an unavoidable consequence of the attempt by prohibition to violate the inescapable law of supply and demand. Prohibition and drug trafficking grew in symbiosis, mirroring each other like the yin and yang of the same entity, and as the War on Drugs became harsher and harsher, the law of supply and demand mandated a reciprocal market response as drug traffickers became tougher and tougher and ever more powerful. Harsher enforcement also creates scarcity, which increases profit to the illegal trade.

Prohibitionism not only attempts to violate the basic principle of capitalism, but it creates a capitalist aberration by promoting the emergence of a class of super-capitalists, the drug traffickers, operating unencumbered by the rule of law and who became criminals first and foremost as a direct consequence of the illegal status of their activity. Far be it from me to try to exonerate drug traffickers; lots of them are clearly ruthless criminals in their methods and their means. But Al Capone was right when he said that he was just a businessman filling a market need. In a sense, black markets are the rawest and purest form of capitalism, unregulated, unbridled capitalism, without check and balances, without the rule of law, unburdened by taxes; drug traffickers are the purest types of capitalist.

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What else is in the chapter 'The illegal psychoactive marketplace in the 21st century'?

Modus operandi of the illegal drug trade

While much has been written about the drug cartels and the wholesale distribution of illegal drugs, there is comparatively little information about the retail side of the business. We will ...

Current trends in the illegal psychoactive marketplace

The last 25 years have seen a gradual decline in retail price with an increase in quality pretty much all over the world; street prices are now at less than ...

Street and prison gangs expansion – alliance with Mexican drug cartels

According to a 2010 report by the US Department of Justice, there are close to 1 million gang members operating within 20,000 street gangs in the US. Street gangs traditionally ...

Narco-trafficking in the age of globalization

As enforcement strengthens for access to the dominant US market, drug cartels look for alternate routes and safe havens, a path of least resistance, countries where they can operate quasi ...

Diversification and sophistication of transit modalities

Free trade, globalization and the sharp increase in global sea, air and land transportation makes it increasingly difficult to monitor movements of goods and persons and creates enormous challenges for ...

Technological innovations and the next wave of diseases of excess

We have seen that various technological innovations have profoundly altered the psychoactive landscape throughout the ages, often leading to epidemics of “diseases of excess.” The invention of beer and wine ...


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