Drug Markets in Frankfurt and Milan
By analysing the illegal drug markets of two major European cities, the project aims to fill a gap in European drug research. In fact, as the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) recently noted, drug market research is still underdeveloped in Europe. Though a few studies on local markets for a single drug were conducted, the focus has been on consumption patterns. The interplay of drug demand and supply is, instead, the main research object of the present project. Moreover, this does not concern a single drug, but analyses and compares the Frankfurt and Milan drug markets in their entirety.
|Project category:||Research project|
|Organizational status:||Individual project|
|Project time frame:||Project commences: 1999
Project ends: 2007
Illegal drug markets are an important, though troubling, facet of all major cities: they involve thousands of young (and increasingly not-so-young) people either as sellers or customers and usually constitute the largest component of the local illegal economies. However, as a recent review of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) proves, drug market research is still underdeveloped in Europe. Though a few studies on local markets for a single drug (usually heroin) were carried out, the focus has largely been on consumption patterns, whereas the interplay of demand and supply has hardly been studied yet.
By analysing the illegal drug markets of two major European cities, the project aims to fill a serious gap in European drug research. Two traits distinguish it from the few, previous studies carried out on illegal drug markets in Europe: its focus on the interplay of drug demand and supply and its analysis of the Frankfurt and Milan drug markets in their entirety.
The first phase of the study, which lasted from October 1999 to September 2000, was funded by the EMCDDA. A final report was published. A second round of primary data collection will start in 2006. On this basis, the major trends of development of two cities illegal drug markets will be reconstructed. A comparison with the drug markets of three other European cities is planned.
A multifaceted methodology was developed for the first phase of the project and will be used in the second phase as well. This emphasises qualitative research instruments and aims to collect information from as many different perspectives as possible.
During the first phase, the research teams in Frankfurt and Milan, which were composed besides Paoli by Nimet Güller and Salvatore Palidda respectively, collected first-hand information from the four main actors of today‘s illegal markets: consumers, suppliers, law enforcement personnel, as well as public and private drug treatment providers. In particular, during 1999 and 2000 the two research teams interviewed more than thirty law enforcement officials, public drug treatment providers, and representatives of drug-related NGOs in each of the two cities. Additionally, seventy drug users and suppliers were interviewed in Frankfurt and fifty-five in Milan. In order to obtain standardised and comparable results, a questionnaire was developed.
In addition to all standard secondary sources, Paoli’s teams analysed more than fifty drug-related criminal cases in each of the two cities.
Project Status and Findings
The first phase of the project showed surprising similarities between the Frankfurt and Milan drug markets. In both cities, drug markets seem to have evolved in parallel ways, by and large following analogous time sequences. The similarities are most evident on the demand side. In both cities, the substances preferred by the users, the latter‘s social characteristics and the meanings they attach to drug use seem to have evolved along roughly parallel paths over the last thirty years.
At both sites, cannabis and LSD spread during the late 1960s and early 1970s, followed by opiates and then heroin during the mid-1970s. While LSD disappeared from both cities soon afterwards, during the 1980s two large, parallel drug markets developed: one for heroin and one for cannabis. During the 1990s, however, the polarisation of the illegal drug market was shaken by the diffusion of several new illegal drugs. Some of them, such as ecstasy, were indeed entirely new. Others, such as cocaine, amphetamines, and LSD, were largely rediscovered and/or became attractive to a wider pool of consumers. In both contexts, the turn of the century recorded a strong diffusion of cocaine, which has become a “passe-partout” drug and is increasingly used by a wide-ranging spectrum of people. Since the early 1990s, even crack cocaine has registered a veritable boom on the Frankfurt open drug scene. Long a peculiarity of Frankfurt, crack cocaine also became available in Milan in the late 1990s.
The wider drug supply has been paralleled in both contexts by the growing diversification of drug consumers. Today the latter can no longer be described with reference to a single cluster of demographic, social, and cultural characteristics, nor can their drug use be explained by referring to one or few economic or social variables.
On the supply side too, there are striking similarities. In both cities, drug entrepreneurs of all kinds are subject to the constraints deriving from the illegal status of the products they sell. These constraints have so far prevented the rise of large, hierarchically organised firms to mediate economic transactions in the illegal marketplace. Even Southern Italian mafia families, whose members were deeply involved in large drug deals in Milan during the 1980s and early 1990s, are subject to the constraints of illegality.
In Frankfurt as well as in Milan, the great majority of drug deals, even those involving large quantities of drugs, seem to be carried out by numerous, relatively small, and often ephemeral enterprises. Some of them are family businesses: that is, they are run by the members of a blood family, who resort on an ad hoc basis to non-kin people in order to carry out the most dangerous tasks. Some are veritable non-kin groups, which are formed around a (charismatic) leader and then manage to acquire a certain degree of stability and develop a rudimentary division of labour. Others are “crews”: loose associations of people, which form, split, and come together again as opportunity arises.
Especially at the intermediate and lower levels, many dealers work alone, either to finance their own drug consumption habits or, more rarely, to earn fast money. Most of these drug entrepreneurs have no contact whatsoever with the underworld, but instead are often inconspicuous persons, who can hardly be distinguished from “normal” people.
In both cities, the street drug market is largely dominated by foreign dealers. Within a few years a veritable substitution process has taken place: the lowest and most dangerous positions, which used to be occupied by the most marginalised Italian/German drug users, are now taken over by foreigners, especially those who have immigrated recently, are applicants for political asylum or do not have a residence permit.
Especially during the 1980s, several mafia and underworld drug dealing enterprises operating in Milan tried to exercise monopoly claims over the areas in which they were settled, obliging the local intermediate and street dealers to buy drugs from them. Nonetheless, neither in Milan nor in Frankfurt has a person or group ever succeeded in controlling the city market for any illegal substance. The drug markets of both cities have always been open markets, in which anybody can try to earn his/her fortune, selling, importing, or producing drugs.
Given this market structure, it is no chance that the wholesale and retail prices of all the main drugs – with the exception of cannabis – have steadily decreased in both contexts. However, this decline has been accompanied by a comparable fall of purity levels. Apparently following international trends, the prices for all the main illegal substances are strikingly similar in both cities, though slightly higher in Milan than in Frankfurt.
The first phase of the study, which lasted from October 1999 to September 2000, was funded by the EMCDDA.
- Paoli, L. 2004. ‘The Illegal Drugs Market’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 9 (2): 188-208.
- Paoli, L. 2003. Die unsichtbare Hand des Marktes: Illegaler Drogenhandel in Deutschland, Italien und Russland, Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Sonderheft 43: 356-383.
- Paoli, L. 2003. The Invisible Hand of the Market: The Illegal Drugs Trade in Germany, Italy, and Russia, in P. C. van Duyne, K. van Lampe and J. L. Newell, eds., Criminal Finances and Organising Crime in Europe: 19-40. Nijmegen: Wolf.
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- Paoli, L. 2002. Flexible Hierarchies and Dynamic Disorder: The Drug Distribution System in Frankfurt and Milan, Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 9 (2): 143-151.
- Paoli, L. 2002. Il confronto tra Milano e Francoforte, in Ufficio Tossicodipendenze del Comune di Milano, ed., Tossicodipendenze a Milano nel 2000: 156-158. Milan: Comune di Milano.
- Paoli, L. 2002. Drug Trafficking. In: Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment. (Ed.) D. Levinson, Sage, London.
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- Paoli, L. 2001. Milano-Francoforte: i supermercati della droga, Narcomafie, Anno IX, No. 4, April: 41-44.
- Paoli, L. 2000. Pilot Project to Describe and Analyse Local Drug Markets — First Phase Final Report: Illegal Drug Markets in Frankfurt and Milan. Lisbon: EMCDDA.