To the People

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or TO THE PEOPLE.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

$872 Million

The size of Baltimore's "informal economy". Plus, some other really fascinating stuff in this City Paper article that connects some dots for Baltimore's drug markets. Read the whole thing but here are some of the more interesting tidbits pulled from the piece (direct quotes):

  • The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2002 "accommodation and food service sales" in Baltimore were worth about $1 billion.

    In other words, the drug trade generates a revenue stream comparable to the city's hotels and restaurants, an industry so important politically that the city government pledged $305 million in revenue bonds to build a downtown hotel that opened last year.

  • For years Baltimore Police and city officials have contended that loosely grouped street-corner crews drive to New York City to buy drugs for resale here. Yet recent federal court cases have tied Baltimore defendants to drug trafficking organizations stretching to Florida, Texas, California, and Mexico, suggesting that a few well-connected Baltimoreans orchestrate shipments of pot, cocaine, and heroin purchased from Mexican middlemen who work for (or are part of) international drug cartels.

  • The DEA's Heroin Domestic Monitor Program reports that Baltimore heroin is, on average, about 45 percent pure. High purity suggests Baltimore is a distribution hub for the drug, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the nation's primary keeper of illegal drug statistics.

  • Charitable foundations and the federal government spend $1 million per week in Baltimore on drug treatment programs, creating hundreds of additional jobs--many of them for recovering addicts--which depend on an amorphous, uncountable addict population. City police draw overtime and seize millions of dollars worth of cars, real estate, and cash every year, leaching wealth from the city's drug economy but never really wounding it.

    From an economic perspective, Baltimore's relationship to its shadow economy at first appears schizophrenic: politicians dress the "informal economy" in bows and present it in reports like the DrillDown as evidence of "strong markets," then wrap it in rags for presentation to the federal government in applications for aid. But Baltimore's informal economy exists, like underworlds everywhere, in symbiosis with official institutions.

It's a magnificent piece of journalism and does much to connect the scattered (not meant in a pejorative way) reporting that the City Paper has done on the local drug trade in recent years. There's a lot to digest in the article, and even more when you include previous pieces, but even if you don't care about the implications of drug prohibition on place like Baltimore the reporting (esp this piece) that the City Paper has done on the matter makes for a great read.

Hopefully this piece makes it around the web.

Disclaimer: Despite my gushing I know no one (that comes to mind) that works at the City Paper.

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