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Opium is an addictive narcotic drug taken from the opium poppy in a dried latex form. The yellow/brown latex is bitter in taste and contains varying amounts of alkaloids such as Morphine, Codeine, Thebaine and papaverine. Heroin is made from the Morphine alkaloid found in opium.(Anderson 2014). Coca Bush is a plant. It is the source of cocaine. People chew coca leaves to relieve hunger and fatigue and to enhance their physical performance. It can cause an increase in Brain activity and has a numbing effect similar to anaesthetic. It is highly addictive(coca). Cannabis sativa which is also known as hemp is a species of the cannabinaceae family of plants. It contains the chemical compound THC and is responsible for most of the characteristic psychoactive effects of cannabis.(Anderson 2016) .The illegal drug trade or drug trafficking is a global black market dedicated to the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of these drugs. The size of the global illicit drug market was at US $321.6 Billion in 2003 alone. (World Drug Report 2005). According to the 2016 World Drug Report, it is estimated that a quarter of a billion people between the age of 15-64 used at least one drug in 2014 and 207,400 death occurred as a result of drug usage. (World Drug Report 2016). From the cultivation period all the way down the chain to the consumption of drugs is proving to be a global fight and has shown to be extremely difficult for authorities to control. Today I am going to take a closer look at the individual stages of the illicit drug market, starting with the cultivation and ending with the consumption of illicit drugs. We will also look at the way police have dealt with each stage and what they should do in the future on the war on drugs. I am going to take a closer look at what the police in Ireland have done and should do in containing the illicit drugs market.


Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.) recorded the first reference to the use of poppy juice. By 1000 C, opium was widely used in china and the far east. It was introduced in the making of tea and then Began to be used in medicine. However it led to the smoking of opium and then to the addiction of opium. In 1792 Qing Dynasty China  banned the use of opium (INPUD). This also included the trade of opium with British traders  such as the East India Company (Makepeace). This led to the emergence of the illegal drug trade in china. In an attempt to control its trade, Qing Dynasty China placed an embargo on trade with western merchants and blockaded British factories in Canton. (University of Canterbury). Qing Dynasty China held British traders for ransom and forced them to surrender their opium. This led to the British Invasion and the start of the  Opium War of 1839 (Goldfinger 2006). Eventually Qing Dynasty China were forced to negotiate a peace treaty known as the Nanking Treaty 1842.(USC 2018) This allowed British traders to once again trade in china. The second Opium War began in 1856 for reasons just as petty as the first war(Cleary).

The British eventually restricted the sale of opium in the UK  by way of the Pharmacy Act 1868.(Berridge 2011). This was the result of the rise of addiction to opium within the UK. In 1880, the US  made a deal with Qing Dynasty China which prohibited the shipment of opium between the two countries, however it wasn’t until 1914 under the Harrison Narcotic Act(PMC 1915) that the US banned distribution of opiate containing substances. This was the start of the illicit opium trade.

In 3000 BC the ancient incas used to chew coca leaves to get their heart racing and to speed up their breathing to counter the effects of the shortage of air in the mountains. Native Peruvians also used to chew coca leaves. Cocaine was first extracted from coca leaves in 1859. It became overwhelmingly popular in the 1880s. It was used in elixirs, tonics and wines and was used by people of all social classes. Coca Cola used it in their drinks until it became evident that it was dangerous. In 1912 the US reported 5000 deaths in 1 year relating to cocaine. In 1922 it was officially banned ( Drug-free world). The Colombians started to set up networks for smuggling the drugs into the US and hence the illicit drug market for cocaine appeared. Opium and coca leaves are the two largest substances sold in the illicit drug trade. It is of my opinion that had the Chinese, Americans and the English not banned the use of opium and coca, they could have tried to control the drug usage by implementing health policies that controlled the amount consumed by each person. In the case of people being addicted they could have set up help schemes to try and contain this. A good example of this is the decriminalisation of illicit drugs in Portugal.


Under international law, the cultivation of opium, coca and cannabis plant is only allowed in very limited medical and scientific usages.

Farmers that cultivate illicit crops are generally very poor and do it to survive. Their agricultural markets can be very unpredictable and so the growth of illicit crops helps with food shortages. However this illicit crop cultivation leaves farmers as mere employees of large farms that are owned by major drug traffickers. Everyday these farmers face the threat of forced eradication by the government and threat by the drug traffickers. They fight for survival everyday (UNODC). Both opium and coca leaves are a good cash crop as they are high in value in proportion to its bulk and weight. Farmers do not have major difficulties in transporting and storing it. The opium poppy can be grown in the most habitable parts of the world, except the northernmost, up to at least latitude 56(UNODC). The greatest cultivator of opium is Afghanistan, although it is also cultivated in south-east Asia,Colombia and Mexico to name a few. It is cultivated in mountainous regions and the illicit production will be cultivated in hidden valleys and places extremely difficult to access. nearly all coca comes from Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. It is better cultivated in humid and subtropical forest conditions. Farmers also prefer to cultivate coca on an elevated steep slope as there is good drainage ( Lujala 2002). The cultivation of both opium and coca is very labour intensive and requires a lot of skill.


Eradication of illicit crops is the method of physical destruction of any crops that are grown against international law for the purpose of manufacturing illicit drugs. In certain parts of the world there is a lack of government authority which makes it easier for farmers to grow illicit crops (US Department of State). Eradication is a means to help pave the way for improved, long-term government presence which leads to increased security. Eradication was enabled to encourage the local farmers to grow licit crops and stop illicit drugs at the very first stage of cultivation. The United Nations formed a convention against illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances(UNODC) in which it gives each country authority to take appropriate measures to prevent illicit cultivation of and to eradicate plants containing narcotic or psychotropic substances which have been cultivated illicitly. This convention does also state that it must respect fundamental human rights and take caution in regards to licit crops. However this has not been the case and local farmers have had their entire livelihood destroyed.

There are  three notable ways in which eradication occurs. Firstly there is the method of Aerial spraying. Colombia is currently the only country affected by this. This method is a disastrous and inhumane way of eradicating illicit crops as it damages health, food crops, and the environment(Human Rights Watch). The fumigation campaigns have been targeting coca but destroying everything else in the process. There has been numerous reports that aerial spraying with glyphosate was very damaging to physical health of the local population(Hunt 2007). The UN has also criticised this method in relation to children(UNCRC). Secondly there is the method of forced manual eradication in which teams of eradicators go in and cut down all the crops. This method has also involved many breaches of human rights as local farmers have reported theft of their food, livestock and other provisions by the eradicators. There has also been reports of sexual abuse and houses being burned to the ground (Human Right Watch). Thirdly the

UN have put in place iniatives to replace illicit crops with licit alternatives (UNODC). They have done this in 11 different countries(Farrell 1998). This has proven to be successful in part but there has still be some disastrous outcomes. For example, in lao, the ban of opium was put In place before the alternatives were given and so farmers were left with no means to survive. This led to a humanitarian crisis. As per an article from(Reyes 2014) in regions where there is higher coca prices, there was an increased rate of child labour.

In order for this type of eradication to work, alternative support must be put in place prior to the eradication of illicit crops and they must have consent and co-operation from local farming communities. Eradication has contributed to conflict, stimulated corruption, has mainly targeted the poorest of the poor, and has further contributed to the breakdown of the relationship between the population and the state(Transitional Institute). While the replacement of crops is a good initiative to try eradicate the illicit production, further research needs to be done in implementing these initiatives. Local authorities and states need to increase their level of involvement with the communities in a respectful manner and build up trust with the local farmers. leaders In the state and the police departments need to keep a very close eye on the eradication processes that are underway to make sure there is no inhumane activity occurring, and punishment should be handed out to those who are using their power to destroy the farmers livelyhood.  Talking with these farmers and families to find out what they would like could be a good way to help the process. If there is not communication between the local authorities and the farmers then there will never be a push forward. In my opinion if governments such as the US stop subsidising genetically modified maze by supporting pharmaceutical companies such as Monsanto to the extent that they are, this would give the farmers an illicit crop that they could produce and sell. For example a lot of Mexican farmers turned to illicit crop production when genetically modified maze put them out of business as they could not compete with the prices it was being sold at (Bush 2013)  

Interdiction of Drug Trafficking

Opium and coca are sold to the Drug trafficking organisations who then manufacture, package and ship the drugs to other countries. They use precursor chemicals to synthesise drugs earlier in the supply chain to reduce the bulk of trafficked material. An integral part of reducing drug use In all countries involves a strong interdiction capability, both in source countries and in the smuggling transit zone. (Congressional Hearings 1998) interdiction efforts in source Countries aim to assist host nations in destroying drug trafficking organisations, drug crops(eradication), drug production facilities, tracking or seizing drugs scheduled to be shipped and developing alternative projects for farmers as we saw above. The Coast Guard and the Customs Service of each country share responsibility for interdicting and disrupting the flow of illegal drugs, with the Coast Guard leading in maritime interdiction and the Customs Service leading in ground and air interdiction. Please see below a picture of the major drug trafficking routes that countries are trying to interdict:

The police could maybe take a more inquisitorial approach in regard to individuals travelling by airplane, bus, and automobiles. An extensive training programme outlining how best to approach people without any misconduct on the part of the LEA’S should be implemented in every country to ensure that random inquisitorial approaches to try and catch traffickers are dealt with in a proper manner. In the US the use of drug courier profiles have had some success. This allowed the police to investigate passengers travelling through transportation terminals, who have been selected on the basis of certain characteristics found to fit a profile(Guerra 1991) This method stopped people from being targeted due to race or ethnicity and was based solely on a specific profile.

Although there has been some success in this type of interdiction it has made very little impact on the illicit drug market and further research much be done to see what countries could do at this stage of the chain to interdict drug trafficking in source and transit zones.  

Drug Trafficking emerged and remained due to a combination of economic, geographic, cultural and political factors ( Boivin 2013). Researchers have shown that unfortunately we still do not know enough about drug trafficking networks due to the intense secrecy and security of the illicit drug trade. We are only aware from police records of drug tracking rings that have been taken down. The ones that have not been caught may operate entirely differently. From this however we have learned that there are ultimately 3 types of drug trafficking organisations 1) organisations in source countries, 2) upper level drug trafficking organisations in host countries( North America and Europe) 3) drug dealers who sell directly to users.

Transnational Criminal organisations(TCO’S) are very much a part of drug trafficking in source and host countries. They are now recognised as a massive threat to political, economic, environmental and social systems worldwide(Sullivan& Bunker 2002)an example of some of these TCO’S would be the Colombian and Mexican cartels, the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Triad. Most of these organisations tend to avoid politics to pursue profit, however it has been known that governments have been corrupted and co-opted by these organisations. These TCO’s often co-operate with each other to maximise their profits and circumvent their interdiction. One of the reasons that these organisations seem to be a step ahead of law enforcement agencies(LEA’s) is due to the fact that they operate borderless and therefore they are extremely difficult to combat. LEA’s are contained by the borders on a national and sub-national level.(Sullivan & Bunker 2002). Drug trafficking rings can adapt extremely quickly to law enforcement and are very resilient.

In the 1980’s due to the huge increase in demand for cocaine, cartels started to form in Colombia such as the Medelin cartel. These cartels were run based on a hierarchal model in which there were leaders at the top running the entire operation. They used extreme violence, they had an uncompromising nature and they were willing to directly challenge the authority of the state. This type of cartel was known as the Medellin model and although it eventually failed due to the ignorance of the leaders in challenging law enforcement, it paved the path for future cartels to learn from. You then see the Cali cartel coming around in the 1990’s. Unlike the Medelin cartel, the Cali cartel were a shadowy organisation. Rather than challenging the state they bribed and coerced government officials, law enforcement and locals. This narco-corruption eats away at institutions of the state and destroys political and social bonds.This cartel was more distributed and network like unlike the previous hierarchal model. This made it extremely hard for LEA’s to identify and target key leaders in the organisation. It was a two tiered network with a core group of members, which was bonded by trust and near to impossible to penetrate. When key leaders were caught they were replaced(Kenny 2008) search and destroy strategies were failing as we saw the balloon effect in which organisations were being destroyed and popping up somewhere else(Windle & Farrell 2012) You start to see a shift away from criminal involvement to mercenaries who would have a much higher skill set who were now involved in the running of these cartels. Although the police and the state have had much more difficulty in shutting down these types of cartels their actions of arresting key leaders have not been a total fail and they have managed to slightly contain the illicit drug trade. We see this loosely connected group structure also being used in countries such a as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Warlords who pledge allegiance to the Taliban run drug trafficking organisations to fund their own stability.

The disadvantage that LEA’s have is how these organisations learn and grow and how remarkably resilient they are. However the governments are also at an advantage in that they have access to material and logistical resources, trained personell and force that come from state power(Kenny 2008). LEA’s are always looking to use the knowledge and experience they have to reorganise their designs and try new practises. Criminals and law enforcement learn within complex adaptive systems, where both sets of imperfectly informed interdependent players gather and analyse information change practises and out manoeuvre their opponents(Kenny 2008). it is of my opinion that if policy makers wish to achieve anything in the war on drugs they must move beyond leader interdiction and look for a different approach. This  method is containing the illicit drug market but it is defiantly not putting an end to it. I think that they need to start looking more at the local markets and interdicting there as you will see below.

Upper level drug trafficking

From research done on upper level drug trafficking in host countries, these organisations very much resemble legal markets.(Boivin 2013) Social scientists have experienced great difficulty in penetrating the secret world of drug trafficking( Moore 1977). Although there may be more types of organisations  some researches have been able to identify 4 models of drug trafficking organisations. These are 1) corporations 2) communal business 3) family business 4) freelance. According to Don, Levi and King(2005) each organisation runs a drug trafficking ring for various different reasons, In failed states warlords do it for political reasons and in places like the US organisations are run for financial gain. These organisations run small partnerships consisting of temporary and dynamic coalition of  dealers( Bishler, Malm & Cooper 2017) large organisation do exist but they are by no means needed for success. The structure of these organisation varies so disruption efforts by LEA’s needs to be tailored to each organisation. Researches have proven that social and human capital have played a big role in where an individual stands in the leadership chain of upper level drug trafficking. ( Bishler, Malm & Cooper 2017) Law enforcement will always be battling this war as people are always willing to step up into the higher level operations due to the huge profit potential. The removal of one of these syndicates will have no effect on the entire illicit drug trade and further research is defiantly needed to reform law enforcement strategies and government policy. However it is of my opinion that efforts should continue to be made to penetrate these trafficking rings. Although efforts do not stop the entire illicit drug market it does keep it contained and in a trade as big as the illicit drug trade thats all you can ask for at this level of the chain. Another idea would be that the LEA’s could put resources towards targeting the banks. If you could stop the upper level traffickers from laundering there money and prevent them from legitimising their profits, you could fish out the higher level traffickers.

Policing the illicic drug market in Ireland

The local drug markets contain an overlap of a few different markets. Researchers have made the connection that social issues are the main reason for local drug use, such as absence of facilities for young people, high unemployment, poor parental supervision and the availability of drugs. The cannabis market in Ireland is geographically dispersed and continually growing, the MDMA market is distinctive, and spread vary quickly across the country. Cocaine in Ireland is confined to specific sectors of the population and specific locations which are associated with the higher prices. Researches have shown that the structure of the drug markets in Ireland vary and there is several high level suppliers that cover a wide area.(Connolly 2014) . The heroin supply was recognised as having originated In families but it is now a loose network of individuals. It is not highly structured.  The cocaine distribution Is more structured and dominated by people who use legitimate businesses to transport their supply. The middle market of drug dealers are heavily owned by individuals and gangs. There are two types of local markets: 1) closed markets where there is a hierarchal structure which is managed by local drug dealers who run a very organised business. These types of markets use phones to set up deals and meet in private locations. 2) open markets where many dealers exist and sell drugs in specific locations. These people will often sell to strangers. It is these open air markets that have the biggest effect on communities.(May, Harocopas, Turnball, Hough 2000). These open markets stop residents from moving freely around their community due to gangs hanging around doing drugs and drug dealing. This contributes to the deterioration in community quality and leads to further criminal behaviour.  The dominant factor in understanding the effects of drug laws is the rational choice theory. Peoples behaviour is hedonistic and the purpose of criminal law is that the punishment would be greater than the pleasure.(connolly 2013) Drug laws aim to restrict the supply and availability in the hope that it will jack up the price and discourage people from using them. Drug policy aims to deter people from drug dealing. These  markets are never going to disappear but local authorities need to adopt new practises to adapt to the resilliance of the local drug markets. Right now the Gardai put a lot of resources towards supply reduction. This does not stop the sale of illicit drugs but it does contain the expansion of the market. This should still continue in respect of the gardai, however there may be different areas of this chain that the resources could be put to better use. we cannot tell if these seizures have made an impact of the illicit drug trade. The GNDU focus on dismantling international and national drug networks and also work with local gardai in local communities to curtail the local markets. The Gardai have surpassed their requirements in successful operations of seizure however they have had extreme difficulty in identifying any clear links between supply activity and drug availability and use.

There has been reports of a few drug elimination initiatives taken up by police departments around the world. In southern Alabama, a programme called “SCORE” was set up to tackle to illicit drug trade. It is a crime prevention and neighbourhood improvement programme which brought together the police and the community leaders.(Harold, Semien, Demetrius 2016) This initiative focused on structural improvement, neighbourhood clean up by investment and corrections for people involved in dealing. Its main aim was to supply specific opportunities for neighbourhood reconciliation, criminal diversion programmes and community investment. This initiative is also based on the criminals mind set towards change. The community changed the landscape of the neighbourhood In order to stop dealing occurring in specific areas. Dealers were given a chance to take part in drug addiction programmes, fatherhood skills programmes and GED acquisitions and occupational training rather than being charge with a felony. They increased the amount of visible police force out on the streets, restoring the local communities faith in the police department and everyone is working together to try fix the problem of the illicit drug market. There has been reports of great success in this initiative and has contained a great deal of the trade, however it has not stopped it. A similar programme called the High point drug market intervention is also showing promising results(Corsaro 2013)

The gardai in Ireland could defiantly follow one of these initiatives and work a lot more with local communities. This fight is not just the responsibly of the Gardai, it should be a group effort and the communities and the Gardai should be working together to tackle these issues.


Decriminalisation has been defined as the removal of sanctions/penalties under the criminal law with an optional use of civil sanctions such as fines or court ordered rehabilitation programmes. Most arguments that have been made against decriminalisation have been made without any evidence of the effects, so complete speculation. The UK have stood firmly against decriminalisation saying that it would send the wrong message and increase drug use (Hughes and Stevens 2010)

As mentioned earlier on the 1st July 2001 Portugal decriminalised the use of illicit drugs.  This initiative included two strands: 1) decriminalisation of drugs and possession of up to ten days supply of drugs for personal use, 2) referal of users identified by law enforcement agencies to the drug addiction dissuasion commissions( Paula 2010). The LEA’s now assess users and decide the most appropriate sanction and referral to education and treatment programmes. some of these sanctions could be community service, fines, suspension on professional licences and bans on attending certain places.This has now led to the expansion of the national network which has set up 40 projects across the country in relation to harm reduction. The LEA’s main role now is combating drug trafficking of large scale seizure rather than the local markets. The Portuguese government now treat drug users as people who need help not criminals and the statistics have proven to be very successful. The number of deaths that were associated with drug use decreased from 131 in 2001 to 20 in 2008( Paula 2010). As stated by Lenton et Al “decriminalisation led to increased employment prospects and increased trust in the police”. The number of people arrested and sent to the criminal courts has reduced from 14,000 offenders in 2000 to an average of 5,000-5,500 offenders year(Instituto da Droga E da Toxicodependencia 2009) There has been a huge decline in opium related deaths which was the reason for the original drive on decriminalisation. Decriminalisation has been proven to not cause an increase in drug use, it reduces the burden on the criminal justice system and has contributed to a vast amount of social and health benefits. I think that if portugal continues to maintain the treatment programmes this initiative will be extremely affective causing a huge dent in the illicit drug trade. I think that researches in Ireland should do studies to determine if this approach could work in Ireland. Alike Portugal, we could run drug treatment schemes and give civil sanctions to try to reduce the drug usage.


As we have seen this year Canada has become the second country in the world to legalise cannabis.  

Legalisation of illicit drugs and putting taxes on them would completely eliminate the illegal drug market and could potentially stop a lot of violence across the entire world. However I would fear what would happen if the likes of heroin and cocaine became illegal? Would we have to many people addicted? Would we be able to support treatment centres? We would defiantly be able to divert our law enforcement resources to treatment care centres as we would not have a need for so much LEA’s with the illegal market gone. This I am afraid is not something that can be answered right now. Further research needs to be done to see If it would be plausible, and honestly until a country takes the plunge and gives It a try I don’t see anyone else taking the legalisation step.

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