The Business of Drugs


During the Covid 19 pandemic and resultant lockdown in the UK, one of the few trades that continued on at pace was that of illicit drugs. New to Netflix is a six part documentary series The Business of Drugs that is equally educational to drug addicts and those who have never taken any illegal substance, as well as being a fascinating research tool for police and intelligence services. Hosted by former CIA analyst Amaryllis Fox (who was in her third trimester of pregnancy during filming), she and her film crew attempt to delve deep into the economics of drug dealing, and to ponder the problems and benefits of legalisation for certain drugs, travelling to several different countries and splitting the documentary into six parts: Cocaine, Synthetics, Heroin, Meth, Cannabis and Opioids.

Amaryllis Fox became one of the youngest CIA agents ever at the tender age of 22, and was assigned to “non-official cover”, involving a fake identity and no diplomatic protection. Her job was to prevent WMDs from falling into the hands of terror groups, pretending to be an Art Dealer. After eight years she left the CIA and wrote a memoir that was released without official approval. Whilst a student at Oxford University in 2002, she was approached by MI5 but turned down their offer of work as a British Spy.

Prior to Fox’s final year at Oxford, the September 11th attack on New York took place while she was visiting family in Washington, D.C. Fox decided to pursue a master’s degree in conflict and terrorism at the school of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. For her master’s thesis, Fox developed an algorithm intended to identify local terrorist safe havens, which attracted attention from the CIA who she worked for until 2010.

“The War on Drugs,” Fox explains, “just like the War on Terrorism, (has) cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives, and the only way we’re gonna understand how to bring it to an end is to understand the economics that drive it.”

Fox interviews an LA coke dealer given the fake name of “Roy.” She notes that dealing cocaine is one of the most profitable businesses of the 21st century.

“Do you remember,” she asks him, “as a kid, being around cocaine or dealing at all?”

“Yeah, I seen how good it was when my dad was doing it,” “Roy” replies. We had everything we wanted for Christmas!”

After analysing the economics of each drug trade out of the six title substances, from farmer to dealer to user, and witnessing first hand the terrible addiction to heroin, meth and opioids, Fox considers the next move in the drug trade for the security services.

“I can’t help but wondering whether legalisation and regulation is the only real option, and prohibition is just an illusion to make us all feel good.”

It would take a far longer essay to fully explore the themes and the thesis of The Business of Drugs, but one of the most interesting aspects to this documentary is when Fox explores the legal cannabis trade in America. There have been so many armed robberies of weed factories in the United States that a DEA agent sadly confirms “I have never seen a drug that bought more violence, and more firearms to the table than marijuana.”

There are major alcohol and tobacco companies flooding the cannabis market in America, each one angling to become the new Coca Cola or Budweiser of weed, as after legalisation in several states in the USA more people are turning to weed as opposed to tobacco and alcohol. Along with the Cartels, these big businesses can outlast and outbid everybody at the cannabis market table.

“In the end,” Fox says, “based on my experience in the War on Terror, and on this journey exploring the War on Drugs…rational human actors are making predictable decisions based on the incentives that are available to them. Decisions that we all might make if we were in the same situation.”