Federal law allows informants, like those employed by the DEA, to engage in “otherwise illegal activity” as part of an investigation. Those activities include “trafficking in what would be considered as large quantities of controlled substances”. “DEA undercover agents or DEA confidential sources of information commonly pose as buyers or sellers of controlled substances,” explained DEA spokesman Russell Baer. Those informants are permitted to engage in all manner of illegal activities, even the large-scale trafficking of drugs.
The DEA maintains its confidential sources “provide invaluable contributions and assistance in furtherance of DEA investigations against major domestic and transnational criminal organizations.” But the use of confidential sources in drug investigations has come under fire after several high-profile deaths of young people who critics say were coerced into becoming informants after being arrested for low-level offenses involving marijuana and other drugs.
Aside from direct involvement in drug deals, law enforcement officials may also allow drugs to flow into communities because they’re interested in seizing the cash proceeds from the sale of those drugs. When police seize drugs, those drugs get destroyed. But if they seize cash, they often get to keep it under highly permissive state and federal asset forfeiture laws. This can create an incentive for law enforcement to look the other way when drugs flow into cities to grab the cash from those transactions on its way back out.