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What is a Drug Cartel?



In the world of illegal substances, drug cartels are the kingpins. If you’ve ever heard of Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel in Colombia, then you’ll have heard of these organizations. But that was then and this is now. Who are the current drug cartels to look out for? But not only that, what actually are they? We’re going to be explaining how drug cartels work, how they thrive and how they do or don’t get caught.

We will also take a look into the effects that drug cartels have on normal people. In a world run by strict law, many wonder how these organizations manage to fruitfully exist. As always, strap yourselves in, and let’s delve deep.

Drug Cartels: What are they? 

A cartel, of any sort, is a group of participants in an industry who have made it their aim to stop competition in their sector. They want to be the complete monopoly. This is done through price fixing, regulating the output of the entire industry, rigging bids and many other methods. This is already illegal, but of course when you add drugs to the mix it does become that even bit more exciting. A drug cartel is a criminal organization that is involved in the production, distribution, and sale of illegal drugs.

These organizations often have a hierarchical structure and use violence, corruption, and intimidation to maintain control and protect their interests. These groups will have exclusive relationships with their suppliers, which allows them to buy it at the cheapest price, and sell it at a rate that they can choose. When any company has a monopoly – like if you’ve ever played the board game – they have the power. Does this sound familiar to you? 

Goals of Drugs Cartels

The primary goal of a drug cartel is to make a profit by producing and selling illegal drugs. To achieve this goal, they engage in a variety of illegal activities, including drug production and distribution, money laundering, and bribery. Cartels also seek to maintain their power and control over the drug trade, using violence and corruption to eliminate competitors and law enforcement threats. The Washington Post writes:

“The underground economy for drugs is huge. The United Nations estimated in a 2011 report that worldwide proceeds from drug trafficking and other transnational organized crime were equivalent to 1.5 percent of global GDP, or $870 billion in 2009.”

It is also believed that Mexican drug cartels make around 500 billion dollars a year. This is more than Walmart or any large business in the world. However, it’s obviously hard to pin down an exact number – these are all projections. Nonetheless, you can see clearly that the goals are clear: make money, maintain a monopoly on the industry, and avoid law enforcement threats. 

How Drug Cartels Operate

Drug cartels typically have a hierarchical structure with a clear chain of command. At the top of the organisation is a leader (Escobar for example) who holds significant power and is responsible for making major decisions. Below the leader are several key members who are responsible for overseeing various aspects of the cartel’s operations, such as production, distribution, and finance. These members are then responsible for managing lower-level members who carry out the day-to-day operations of the cartel. It doesn’t sound too dissimilar from any legal company, does it? The pyramid business model exists everywhere. Tom Wainwright, a writer for the Economist, found a similarity between companies like Walmart and ‘Narconomics’. He wrote:

“They say that in certain industries, Wal-Mart is effectively the only buyer in the industry. So if there’s some disruption to supply, let’s say the harvest fails for apples or something like that, apple growers aren’t able to increase their prices because Wal-Mart is the only buyer and they say, “Well, sorry, but this is our price and if you don’t want to sell to us, well, tough.” So the sellers have to carry on selling it at the same price as before. It seemed that something similar might be going on in the cocaine industry.”

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Tesco, Walmart, Amazon – all of these companies have monopolies in their fields. We argue that we exist in a free-market, where anyone can compete for a place in the industry, but this simply isn’t true. The power that drug cartels have over the illegal substance industry isn’t dissimilar from the power that legal big businesses have over theirs. Maybe there’s less violence and shoot-outs but, then again, have you heard of 0 hour contracts and underpaid labour? That’s not to defend drug cartels, it’s simply to highlight that the business model exists in the legal world too. 

Drug cartels use a variety of methods to produce and distribute drugs, including cultivating and processing illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. They often rely on a network of suppliers and intermediaries to transport drugs from production sites to distribution points. Cartels also use sophisticated methods to conceal their operations, such as using hidden compartments in vehicles, encrypted communications, and money laundering.

Violence and corruption are two common tactics used by drug cartels to maintain control and protect their interests. Cartels use violence to intimidate competitors and law enforcement, as well as to eliminate perceived threats. They also use bribery and corruption to gain the cooperation of public officials and undermine the effectiveness of law enforcement. These tactics often result in widespread violence and destabilization in areas controlled by drug cartels, causing significant harm to local communities and economies.

History of Drug Cartels

Drug cartels have existed for several decades and have been a significant problem in many countries, particularly in Latin America. Some of the most notorious drug cartels in recent history include the Medellin Cartel in Colombia and the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. These organisations have been responsible for significant violence and destabilisation in the regions where they operate, as well as for the widespread distribution of illegal drugs.

The Mafia played their part in the 1950s and Pablo Escobar mastered the game in the 70s. In fact, in 1975 the police in Colombia seized 600 kilos of coke from an illegal plane. As a payback, the cartel killed 40 people in the – soon to be known – ‘Medellin massacre’. The law and the cartels were forever at war. Still, in their zenith, the Medellin cartel were making 60 million dollars a day.

Eventually every cartel comes to an end – due to the imprisonment of some major kingpins – but there is always another one to come from the shadows. The Cali Cartel, based in Colombia, were next. In their peak, they controlled 80% of the cocaine that entered the US. Of course after a decade or so the group’s major players were also behind bars. History writes:

“According to the 2015 Congressional Research Service report, Mexican drug wars claimed more than 80,000 lives between 2006 and 2015.”

The Main Cartels 

The narco-trafficking in Colombia had a few main groups:

  • Medellin Cartel
  • Cali Cartel
  • Norte Del Valle Cartel

The current Mexican cartels include:

  • Juarez Cartel
  • Tijuana Cartel
  • Los Zetas Cartel
  • Gulf Cartel
  • Sinaloa Cartel

The impact of Drug Cartels on Society

The production and distribution of illegal drugs by drug cartels can have serious consequences for public health. Many drugs produced by cartels, such as cocaine and heroin, are highly addictive and can lead to overdose and death. In addition, drug cartels often use cutting agents to increase the volume of drugs they can produce, which can result in dangerous and unpredictable mixtures that can harm or kill users. The impact of drug cartels extends beyond the health consequences for users.

The cost of law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and related crime, as well as the cost of healthcare for those suffering from drug addiction, can be substantial. This can put a strain on resources and limit funding for other critical social services. However, it’s also worth noting that the blame cannot go entirely on the drug cartel’s themselves. The War on Drugs – first coined by Nixon in the 60s – simply does not and will not ever work. It is an outdated, lazy, and iron fisted approach. There has to be a more bureaucratic way of dealing with cartels, rather than engaging in drug wars. These exact wars – brought about by both the cartels and law enforcement – can also have a profound and long-lasting impact on communities and families.


Drug cartels seem to be shown more on television than actually spoken about in any sensible way. People watch Narcos and Breaking Bad, enjoying the drug wars and the substances themselves. The accents, the aesthetics, the guns – it all makes for pretty good television. However, there’s more to it than that. Beneath this Hollywood portrayal is a real problem that can only be dealt with, long term, with nuanced conversation. Drug cartels and the way they operate are far more similar to legal companies that we use everyday than we think. Let’s end the war on drugs. 

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What To Call The Illegal Marijuana Market




A grey market or parallel market is the trade of a commodity through distribution channels not authorized by the original manufacturer or trade mark proprietor. Grey market products (grey goods) are products traded outside the authorized channel. The phrases and process helps make it appear more legal than the black market.

In talking with industry notables, there is definitely a push from a minority to slow roll legalization and reframe the black market as a “perfectly ok” option to the average consumer.  Both New York and California have huge black or illegal markets.  New York’s botched rollout of licenses has made a legal market of about 85 dispensaries and over 2,000 unlicensed ones selling both legal and illicit products to the public.  California crushing taxes and non existent enforcement has allowed unauthorized grows to florish.  The rumor is these grows have quiet sold to legal producers to make products to help battle the costs.

RELATED: How To Be Discreet When Using Weed

Most traditional media, data analysts and legitimated investors and executives refer to it as the black market. Having a thriving black market hurts both the legalization process and legal businesses. Colorado and Maine are two examples of states who have done a great job to shrink the illicit market. While immediate short term there could be profits, in the long term, it chokes the growth and mainstreaming of cannabis for both recreational and medical use.

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Is Black Market Weed Safe




Canada and 24 US states have legal recreational marijuana. Forty states have medical marijuana available, yet for some, it is not enough. The cannabis black market is thriving while hurting the newly legal market and confusing consumers. As a customer, you need to know if black market weed safe.

A study commissioned by the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association found that after reviewing cannabis products from 20 illicit stores in New York City, about 40% contained harmful contaminants such as E. coli, lead and salmonella. This is prior to the boom of more than 1,500 unlicensed dispensaries. Consumers are paying premium prices for something which may not agree with their body.

RELATED: California or New York, Which Has The Biggest Marijuana Mess

While it’s an issue in states like Colorado, Michigan, and Washington, it’s a much bigger problem in New York and California. It is a major drag on the young legal industry and a potential danger to consumers.

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Canada was forward thinking about started a campaign early in legalizaiton to convince consumer to purchase from authorized dispensaries.  Here is the information Manitoba shares with the public:

If you buy cannabis, make sure to get it from a licensed retail store that offers a wide selection of legal products.

Street, or black market cannabis offers you no quality control in terms of strength or purity. It may contain traces of pesticides and even other drugs that could put your life at risk.

When you support the black market, you have no idea whether or not your money will go to fund other illegal activities. Buying cannabis from a black market supplier puts you at risk of arrest and fines.

WIth the black market, it is important to understand the supply chain.  Step one is the growers. Currently, there is a significant number of indoors grows which increase the cost of the plant.  California’s growers are losing money to illicit grows both indoor and outdoor because it is just cheaper.  The state is doing anything to crack down and there is zero oversight to insure quality or grow techniques.

RELATED: Guess What Is Gumming Up The Marijuana World

The other two segments are “the guy”. Some people find it easier to use their “guy” who hooks them up. They acquire product – both legal and illicit and then sell directly to the customer.  No taxes, no oversight, no verification for what is in the product.

Two big issues for consumers are inconsistent potency levels which means you don’t get high enough or you get too high. The other is unsanitary processing and packaging, which can directly effect your body and body functions.

While California has some of hte highest taxes of the industry, their enforcement is dismal. Colaroda and Maine have some of the best with dwindle black markets. With over 50% of the US having to legal weed, state governments to reaccess taxing and enforcement is order to

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The Reason People Are Buying Black Market Weed




Legal marijuana is becoming more and more accessible. Still, in countries like the U.S. and Canada, where there are legal markets in place, black market marijuana sales remain consistent. According to a new survey, the #1 reason people are still buying black market weed is price. It is crushing California and other states should see it is a big warning.

The survey, conducted between 2019-2020 and published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, polled 12,000 cannabis users in Canada and the U.S. and found that price outranked convenience, which is the second main reason people continue to opt for illegal weed.

A 2016 referendum legalized recreational use in California. A goal to eliminate illegal sellers, regulate the substance for safety, and raise tax for the state. The first dispensaries opened in 2018. But the licensed stores have not dented the size of the black market, which has remained steady at around $8 billion a year, according to Tom Adams of Global Go Analytics. The legal business is struggling. In 2022, sanctioned cannabis sales fell 8.2 percent to $5.3 billion.

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RELATED: California or New York, Which Has The Biggest Marijuana Mess?

According to the study:

In both years, the most commonly reported barriers to legal purchasing were price (Canada: 35%–36%; United States: 27%) and inconvenience (Canada: 17%–20%; U.S.: 16%–18%). In 2020 versus 2019, several factors were less commonly reported as barriers in Canada, including inconvenience and location of legal sources. Certain barriers increased in the United States, including slow delivery and requiring a credit card.

In the United States, black market cannabis sales are one of the principal wild cards in establishing a functioning legal cannabis market. States like California, which were the first to establish legal markets, have allowed the two markets to coexist, something that cannabis workers have called extremely unfair.

Alex Brough is the co-founder of Keneh Ventures, a private equity fund that invests in businesses ancillary to the legal marijuana trade. In an interview with Times Union, he compared a legal dispensary owner who ‘does everything above-book’ to a bootlegger selling cheap, untested weed.

“You don’t know any better, you’re not an industry expert, and you go to California, and you go to get an [eighth-ounce] of chronic at this place for $60, and at this place across the street, they’re selling it for $30,” he explained. “If you’re at all budget-minded, you’re going for the $30.”

RELATED: Illicit Vs. Legal: What Are The Real Benefits Of Buying Weed From A Licensed Dispensary?

States in the U.S. that are establishing new cannabis markets can use previous states as guideposts, allowing for more controlled transitions and accurate predictions of how their legal market would work. Still, cannabis black market sales have existed for decades, with businesses having built relationships with shoppers. Creating a new legal market will take time to build and to earn the trust of new shoppers.

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