The Politics and Economics of Dealing Drugs, Part II

Planet Money interviews “Freeway” Rick Ross, a former high-level drug dealer in LA. This interview offers another perspective on the drug business from the one we saw on Monday.

The basics:

PM: How much of the cost of the drug that you were selling was because it was illegal?

Ross: Probably… maybe 1000 times. You can probably get a kilo of cocaine in Peru for around $300…. The price probably would drop dramatically [if it were legalized].

This is probably an overestimate, but the “risk premium” for drugs is certainly real.

The money:

PM: Not all of the money goes to crime and bribes and shady stuff…. There were other expenses. Like, a huge expense: bail bondsmen. Guys in his crew would get picked up by the cops, and he would need to make sure that they would stay loyal to him, so he would do whatever it took to get them out of jail. And of course the criminal justice system knew that he was a big time drug dealer, so they set these bond prices really high.

And another group of people who were profiting off the big time drug dealer: lawyers…. They came into play when he would have these “interesting” disputes with the cops.

Ross: They had raided a couple places and there were large amounts of money and no drugs. They would confiscate the money, and we would go to court, and the lawyers would get the money back.

The cops:

PM: And they couldn’t prove that it was drug money so you got it back?

Ross: Absolutely. And they [police] got frustrated with that, so they started… bringing their own drugs and they would plant drugs. And that makes it tougher to come to court and say, “Your honor, there was $400,000 in there and now it’s missing.” Because know it was two keys [kilograms] in there too.

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