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The process of selling drugs - either to a reseller, or the end-user - seems often called "move" in popular (American?) culture - for example in the TV Series, Weeds.

Transcripts from the show are hard to find but here's a synopsis describing an episode:

Nancy wants to move product while working the shop, so she "interviews" all her former Agrestic people to see what they can move. [...]

Where does this originate from? Does it have its roots in a more legitimate field like agriculture, or is this limited to criminal activity? It seems to be used widely in connection with smuggling (Example: Colombian traffickers moving drugs in submarines) but that is not selling.

The word definition at Merriam-Webster doesn't seem to offer any explanation.

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As a transitive verb, move can mean to find a buyer for (merchandise); to sell a stock of; to cause to be sold (OED). It is first recorded in that sense in 1900. It’s not a big step from there to selling stolen or other illicit goods. The UK’s newspaper ‘The Observer’ reported in 1993 that a mutual acquaintance . . . was a key link in the network attempting to move the stolen bonds. In British English, the verb shift can be similarly used.

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  • That explains it - will add the OED to the list of resources to check first. Thanks!
    – Pekka
    Oct 3 '11 at 14:25
  • Yes, but be warned that the OED requires a subscription. Oct 3 '11 at 14:36
  • Good to know! It seems to be showing the information you quote without the need for a subscription though? oed.com/view/Entry/…
    – Pekka
    Oct 3 '11 at 14:38
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    It doesn't noramlly. I have a subscription through my public library. Oct 3 '11 at 15:24
  • hmm, strange. Maybe they show you a few pages and then require subscription - I'll keep an eye on it.
    – Pekka
    Oct 3 '11 at 15:27
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I think the original idea is that of "moving product off the shelves," which refers to completely legitimate businesses selling their goods. This got shortened to simply "moving product," and was co-opted by drug culture much later on.

The use of "to move product" to mean "sell" isn't new; here's a source from 1891 using it in this way to describe the mill business.

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