Over the last two decades a substantial body of field research has accumulated describing characteristics of various low-level markets for illicit drugs, primarily cocaine and heroin. At least for a few American cities, a good deal is known about who retails these drugs, the size and stability of the organizations in which they work, their careers, the prices they charge, and the incomes they earn. A much smaller body of research has examined various aspects of high-level trafficking.

A principal, perhaps dominant, motivation for this research is that it can inform policy and lead to reductions in the nation's drug problems. It is unclear that the existing work, summarized in the first half of this chapter, does so; the second half of the chapter describes how a more policy-relevant research agenda might be developed.