Drug War

Death in Juarez

The bloody consequences of America's pharmacological intolerance

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In March I debated drug policy with Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotics Officers Association, on John Stossel's Fox Business show. When Stossel asked Brooks about the violence fostered by drug prohibition, he replied, "Well, there certainly is some of that." Then he quickly moved on to another topic.

I thought of Brooks' blithe response as I read about one March weekend's horrific violence in Mexico, which included the murders of three people tied to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez: a pregnant consular employee and her husband, both U.S. citizens, and the Mexican husband of another consulate worker. All were shot dead in their cars shortly after leaving a birthday party with their children.

The motive for the attacks remains unclear, but Mexican police believe they were carried out by a gang linked to the Juarez drug cartel, which has been fighting the Sinaloa cartel for control of the city. The murders, which elicited outraged responses from Washington, were just a small part of the bloody ordeal that our government is inflicting on Mexico by insisting that it stop drugs destined for American lungs, noses, and veins.

The same weekend those three people were killed in their cars as their children screamed in the back seat, nearly 50 more died in Mexico from violence related to the drug trade. In Ciudad Juarez, which is important to traffickers because it sits right across the border from El Paso, more than 2,000 people were killed last year, giving the city one of the world's highest homicide rates.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a literal war against the country's drug cartels in December 2006, Reuters reports, some 19,000 people have died. Mexican and American drug warriors are unfazed, saying the staggering death toll is a sign of their success.

"Mexico lives with the violent consequences of an American dilemma," writes former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda. "It is because of American demand that Mexico is 'forced' to wage a war on drugs that otherwise it would not have to fight." It is not simply American demand for drugs that creates this situation; it is our government's refusal to let legal businesses meet that demand. Just as it did during alcohol prohibition, that refusal creates a black market in which suppliers violently contend for territory instead of peacefully competing for customers.

"As long as criminalization, its hypocrisy, and serious discussions of the alternatives are banned from public discussion," says Castaneda, "U.S. drug policy will remain…a supply-side, foreign-policy, nickel-and-dime war waged beyond U.S. borders.…The only conceivable alternative lies in a change in U.S. drug policy: not demand reduction, or supply interdiction, but decriminalization, harm reduction, adjusting laws to reality instead of uselessly attempting the opposite."

To address the violence, decriminalization has to encompass not just possession for personal use (a policy that Mexico and several U.S. states have adopted in limited ways) but production and distribution as well. During alcohol prohibition—when the U.S. homicide rate rose by 43 percent, peaking the year of repeal—there were no criminal penalties for drinking. Yet by making it illegal to manufacture and sell alcohol, the government invited the likes of Al Capone to vie for control of a lucrative black market, with predictably violent results. Once alcohol was legalized, the business was no longer run by criminals, and liquor suppliers stopped shooting at each other.

"We will continue to work with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his government to break the power of the drug trafficking organizations that operate in Mexico and far too often target and kill the innocent," the White House declared after the headline-grabbing murders in Ciudad Juarez. If the U.S. government were serious about breaking the power of the brutal gangs that profit from prohibition, it would rethink its war on drugs. 

Senior Editor Jacob Sullum (jsullum@reason.com) is a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2010 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. The problem with drugs is that individuals are selling them irresponsibly. Drugs would be fine if the government sold them. Hell I wouldn’t mind government brothels either. Government is reason individuals are not.

    1. And government is composed of …?

      Given that our states and municipalities routinely allow themselves to be bullied by the teachers’ mafia, why would you believe that they would do a good job of running the sex trade? Keeping with the school analogy, if the gov’t were to take over prostitution, brothels would have mandatory attendance and be exclusively staffed by overweight, hairy men within a few years.

      1. I was actually joking. Somebody in my class actually made a speech similar to my post. I thought it would be funny to get a reaction from libertarians. Most of my class thought it was a great idea for the government to do what I posted.

        1. STOP GIVING THEM IDEAS! WTF?!

      2. And just where would this new brothel be with the attractive men you describe?

    2. How exactly can you sell something irresponsibly? And a government monopoly is terrible, dear god.

      1. By not taxing it enough? *rimshot*

    3. Re: EFC,

      The problem with drugs is that individuals are selling them irresponsibly.

      You’re begging the question.

      Drugs would be fine if the government sold them.

      Just as everything is fine because the government sells it, right? I mean, all those Apple outlets are really managed by the FedGov . . .

    4. Hell I wouldn’t mind government brothels either.

      Go down to your local DMV, or other government entity, take a good, long look at the people working there and then see how you feel about a government run brothel.

      1. RE: Gov’t Brothels

        Two Words: Blue Balls

    5. I can’t believe you guys are responding to this. The author is either joking, or (s)he is not worth responding to.

      1. And you say this on the same board that responds to DanT? Lower your expectations man.

  2. Oh dear God (shuddering violently), can you imagine that nightmare? This can’t be serious, right? Did I miss the sarcasm tag somewhere?

    what a way to end the week…

    1. what a way to end the week…

      Speaking of which, did I miss the Balko ball-kick, or is the week not over yet?

      1. Think he’s been taking it easy on us this week as he’s moving. I fear next week though.

        1. Why? You don’t have testicles to damage. Or does a Balko post cause your ovaries to fall out?

          1. I miss them sometimes…

    2. responding to EFC, btw, not the article.

      Even the drug cartels are subject the market demands of their customers. A Govt monopoly on the production, distribution and sale of (currently) illegal drugs would be subject only to political pressure. Manipulation, rationing, liability…and a million other reasons why this should never ever happen. What about states that choose not to legalize? Does the Fed. Dept of Parrr-Tee! trump state law? Would this even reduce the black market that is causing all of these problems?

      Just let people choose what to buy, and where to buy it. Either that, or Mexico should unilateraly leagalize, and push the civil war across the border. Maybe if we are forced to pay a real price for our policy, we can ask if it really worth it.

      1. or Mexico should unilateraly leagalize, and push the civil war across the border. Maybe if we are forced to pay a real price for our policy, we can ask if it really worth it.

        Your newsletter. My subscription.

      2. of course, dead dogs and burned children are cheap, so whatever.

      3. >>or Mexico should unilateraly leagalize, and push the civil war across the border. Maybe if we are forced to pay a real price for our policy, we can ask if it really worth it.

        We still have distribution wars in America.

  3. “If the U.S. government were serious about breaking the power of the brutal gangs that profit from prohibition, it would rethink its war on drugs. ”

    The problem is that the United States government is the biggest, most brutal gang that profits from prohibition. Give the sheer number of jobs that it creates and billions in assets seized annually, millions make billions off those black markets every year.

    1. “The problem is that the United States government is the biggest, most brutal gang that profits from prohibition. Give the sheer number of jobs that it creates and billions in assets seized annually, millions make billions off those black markets every year.”

      Not to mention the inability to levy high ass taxes on drugs produced by individuals as another reason why the federal government has fought so hard against the legalization of drugs. If they could reap huge tax revenues from the sales, it would have already been done.

  4. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a literal war against the country’s drug cartels in December 2006, Reuters reports, some 19,000 people have died.

    Such a small price to pay for keeping the hearts of people of “good conscience” (read: anti-freedom Statists) happy.

  5. Oh wow, that realy makes a lot of sense dude. Wow.

    Lou
    http://www.online-privacy.de.tc

  6. All the violence is cuz of those damn illegals. Stupid Reason.

    1. Damn illegal immigrant mexicans in mexico, lousy jerks!

  7. Caption Contest!

    “It’s official police business. Move along or I’ll shoot that dog.”

    1. “Is he one of ours or one of theirs?

      Only your Drug Lord knows for sure.”

      1. “If I get powdered sugar on my mask, so help me….”

        1. “I swear, i look way cooler holding a cigarette instead of this gun.”

        2. I think GM wins.

  8. I have been having an argument with a buddy who thinks that legalization would not put a crimp in the activities of the cartels. He argues that because it has gone on so long the power relationship between the governments and the cartels is fundamentally different than what occurred during alcohol prohibition. He thinks that the cartels will remain and control the legal drug trade because they currently control the means of production while expanding into arms and human trafficking. I argued that the cartels would be hard pressed to compete with the like of Merck of Pfizer or even generic producers in SE Asia especially since they don’t have to fund private armies. Does anyone know how much capital the cartels control? I want to compare that to the market cap of the drug companies which generally run between 25-150 billion. Seeing as how the richest Mexican drug lord has a net worth or 1 billion I find it hard to believe that they would be able to leverage the kind of capital necessary to compete in a legit international market without becoming legit themselves and then the violence problem is solved.

    1. I don’t think it matters. Legalization is not amnesty for the murder and mayhem surrounding the drug trade. However much money they now have, they will quickly burn through it trying to escape justice. My guess is that, eventually, the market will look like the alcohol market…some big corporations(ADM and Cargill?), and smaller artisanal brands filling in the gaps.

      1. yeah but they would need evidence to prosecute. There is a reason Capone got nailed for taxes instead of murder.

        He argues that legalization wouldn’t be a magic bullet. I agree with that but I think that is kind of the point. The drug trade is their #1 money maker. Take that away and they have to move to other illegal activities like arms and human trafficking. Those activities would seem to be easier to police than drugs. I think they would probably know better than to try to compete with the big boys and would stick to illegal activities. It would be nice to know some numbers for arguments sake though.

        1. “yeah but they would need evidence to prosecute. There is a reason Capone got nailed for taxes instead of murder.”

          Fair point, but I don’t see them ever able to transition to a legal environment, like you said yourself.

          I have no idea how reliable these numbers are, but Wikipedia links to this site:
          http://www.havocscope.com/acti…..countries/

          and Wikipedia itself lists 10 major cartels:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C….._in_Mexico

          $40 billion (gross) divided by 10 cartels would be no more than a mid-cap stock. They don’t have the resources to compete with Fortune 500 companies…hell, they don’t have the resources to compete with people growing in their basement. Thats a really poor analysis, I know, but the Celtics are playing, and they need my karma.

        2. There is a reason Capone got nailed for taxes instead of murder.

          Yeah, because he didnt have a myface page where he exposed all his pertinent details to the authorities.

    2. I doubt that the cartels will suddenly melt away and be replaced by “more ethical” companies. However, with the trade no longer being illegal, two things will happen:
      1) A legal market will produce price and quality competition, reducing the profit margins. As it is damned expensive to run an illegal operation, the operating costs are much higher than in a legal operation. (You no longer have to buy off the police, pay to hide your production and delivery systems, allow for a loss of a portion of your facilities to police forces, pay for an army, etc.) To survive, the owners of the cartel will have to shed those aspects of their operations. This will not “punish” the cartels for past evils**, but it will reduce the level of violence.
      2) With a legal market, buyers will gravitate to more ethical suppliers, both for better quality of product (I can hardly wait to see the Consumer Reports MJ “Best Buy” issue.) and because they will feel safer with the more ethical suppliers. This will also drive the cartels to act ethically in order to survive.

      In other words, the market forces will tend to drive the cartels to act like “responsible corporate citizens”.

      **Though the cartels have committed many abomnible crimes, if the price of ending the violence is allowing them to go unpunished, I will settle for peace.

      Side note: Several prominent US and Canadian families are alleged to owe the origins of their fortunes to the prohibition era alcohol trade. Although sneers are still directed at those families, no one seriously considers them gangsters nowadays.

      1. But if you have to hire sales and marketing people, pay taxes, pay minimum wage, etc. I wonder how much your operating costs would actually drop.

        1. I would say that a street level dealer network is probably just as expensive as a legitimate sales and marketing staff.

          Although I admit, the former is much easier to fire. 🙂

          1. Legalization also seems, anecdotally, to have little effect on the price of the product. A gram of legal weed in Amsterdam costs roughly the same as a gram of weed in NYC, but in NYC a nice fellow on a velocipede brings it right to one’s door.

            1. But weed is not actually legal in the Netherlands. It is just decriminalized for personal use. Thus, the price you pay at a coffeeshop includes the massive markup due to the illegality of producing and smuggling the product.

              1. Yes, that is one of the things that has always made me leery of Amsterdam style legalization. The market still relies on a network of ostensibly illegal operators to sustain it.

                Likewise, in Canada. Sure, the cops won’t hassle you if you fire one up in downtown Toronto or Vancouver, but the Mounties are still out raiding all the big grow operations they can find.

                1. That is the major problem with the Amsterdam model. Decriminalization of only consumption but not production creates a gray market for production that might as well have a sign saying, “launder money here.”.

        2. Marketing expenses for pot. I can see the magazine ads now.

      2. I can hardly wait to see the Consumer Reports MJ “Best Buy” issue.

        *Drool*

      3. Some production or marijuana would shift to America as well, production not associated with the Latin American production system.

    3. Hate to point this out, but it sounds like your buddy is one dumb motherfucker. Seriously, that’s the stupidest claim I’ve ever heard in the drug war debate, and that’s some pretty stiff competition. Why waste your time arguing with mouth-breather like that?

      1. It is really just a long form of the argument that we have to fight the drug war because the drug suppliers are criminals.

        Unfortunately, a great many people (including most politicians) think that way. The circularity of the argument doesn’t register.

        1. I wish my dog was stupid enough to chase its own tail. I’d never stop laughing.

      2. Well the argument is a little more nuanced than just that. He is for ending prohibition even though he thinks it is a political nonstarter. He just doesn’t think it would be a cure to the violence. Sort of like once you create Godzilla getting rid of the radiation doesn’t really solve the problem of the raging monster. It is easy to think that the cartels are incredibly poweful when they challenge governments and are armed like militaries. You think, “they could kick Pfizer’s ass”. But when you start to look at the numbers with regards to an economic competion in the global market you realize they don’t have much of a chance. And again, taking such a huge source of revenue away is going to damage any business even if they can switch to other illegal goods.

        1. He just doesn’t think it would be a cure to the violence.

          Because CVS and Blockbuster (are they even still in business?) are allowed to shoot people.

          Oh wait, because they have paper trails and established places of business its actually really easy to prosecute them for any (real) crimes they commit.

          So how exactly would the violence continue in a legal, protected-by-law, business climate?

          1. I’ll admit my buddy is trying to have it both ways. On one hand they will outcompete legit companies and continue their nasty ways, but on the other the profit margin falls and they shift to more lucrative criminal activities. I think the latter is actually quite possible. They wouldn’t become blockbuster but would switch to arms trafficking.

            1. And then get busted for Arms trafficking because their paper trail doesn’t add up….assuming the BATF is still doing its job.

            2. I just dont understand how you/you-buddy think that legitamate businesses, protected-by-law, can go on to perpetrate a bunch of violent crime. Cheat on their taxes? Sure. Beat ppl up? Ummm, no.

            3. OMG, comcast just busted down my door and slugged me for not buying more premium channels and PPV!!!!

              OW OW OW OW OW

            4. OMG, comcast just busted down my door and slugged me for not buying more premium channels and PPV!!!!

              OW OW OW OW OW

    4. The truth is somewhere in between. The cartels would remain powerful for sometime. They have a lot of capital built up, and for many places in Mexico, they are the government. But they would lose control of the drug trade. They would quickly get into other high profit margin illegal businesses, and some legal ones. Slowly, their power would wane.

      See the crime families in New York and Chicago post-Prohibition.

      1. For reasons I don’t know, organized crime seems to be able for periods of time to use the threat of force to cartelize certain totally legit, and not highly regulated, businesses, such as pizza supplies, dry cleaning, and construction supplies. Usually they have a better chance where they have a head start provided by regulations or unionization, as in Nevada casinos, construction business, and with longshoremen. They also have a leg up where most of the business is traditionally in cash.

  9. I’ve made all those arguments. I think he probably won’t be convinced. To the whole bootlegger family armument he claimed the level of violence is so quantitativly different that that wouldn’t happen. Well not every criminal goes straight. I think that without the drug money the organizations would reset at a lower equilibrium level after a massive bout of in-fighting and warfare.

    1. I’ve made all those arguments. I think he probably won’t be convinced.

      And that’s why we’re allowed to ignore his opinion on the matter.

  10. Is that a Galil? I want a Galil.

    1. $630 in Cincinnati for dealers. I have no idea what they’re asking for from non-dealers.

      1. Which reminds me, the damn postcard I got from Florida Gun Exchange came late, costing me a chance to get an AK for $400. I was not happy.

        1. That should have read “for UNDER $400”. They had one for $350.

    2. The Galil is a well built machine. IMI did well.

  11. “It is because of American demand that Mexico is ‘forced’ to wage a war on drugs that otherwise it would not have to fight.”

    If Mexico would decriminalize drugs they wouldn’t have to wage a war on drugs.

    1. Switch from a War on Drugs to a War on America? What could possibly go wrong with that?

      (Well, nothing actually. Its not like we’d pull our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq to kick Mexico’s ass.)

    2. If Mexico would decriminalize drugs they wouldn’t have to wage a war on drugs.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true. That is, even if growing and possession were legal in Mexico, the gangs would still fight each other for control of the smuggling into the U.S. I think they’ll be stuck with the narco gangs, mayhem, and murder until the U.S. legalizes.

      1. If anyone could go to Mexico and buy any amount of any drug the cartels would be overrun by smugglers. There is no way they could control who is smuggling.

  12. ‘Top Kill’ Fail ,s oil gushing
    OBAMA,O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE,THE END OF DAYS,GOD HELP US. INPEACH OBAMA THE COMMUNIST ,GOD OPEN YOUR EYES.///For us there are only two possiblities: either we remain american or we come under the thumb of the communist Mmslim Barack Hussein OBAMA. This latter must not occur.TO THE WEAK-KNEED REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRAT .THE COMMANDER REPOST THIS IF YOU AGREE

  13. ‘Top Kill’ Fail ,s oil gushing
    OBAMA,O MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE,THE END OF DAYS,GOD HELP US. INPEACH OBAMA THE COMMUNIST ,GOD OPEN YOUR EYES.///For us there are only two possiblities: either we remain american or we come under the thumb of the communist Mmslim Barack Hussein OBAMA. This latter must not occur.TO THE WEAK-KNEED REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRAT .THE COMMANDER REPOST THIS IF YOU AGREE

    Looks better in bold 😉

  14. Mexico could significantly reduce the violence by legalizing production, use and distribution of drugs. They should leave it up to the US government to enforce prohibition. It wouldn’t be a crime in Mexico to take drugs into the US, just in the US, and the violence would move here.

    Considering how corrupt Mexico is, I wouldn’t expect that they’d let a free market exist in drugs, so that’s why it would not eliminate violence there, as the favored drug distributors would use Mexican government force against their competitors.

  15. Frequent, random drug tests of recipients of any and all government transfer payments (including social security, ADC, WIC and etc.) would be helpful. …assuming the consequence of a positive test being taken off the dole permanently.

  16. Aishika Chakraborty spends Christian Louboutin Pumps in the enchanting environs of Santiniketan and says its christian louboutin remain undiminished ‘Besides the winter fair and spring festival, there is nothing much to see there. Palash and simul trees have just shed their blooms, and the monsoon cloud is nowhere near the christian louboutin sale. Blazing winds will greet you at Jhapater Dhal as the terrain onwards turns parched christian shoes and arid.’

  17. Very good post. Made me realize I was totally wrong about this issue. I figure that one learns something new everyday. Mrs Right learned her lesson! Nice, informative website by the way.

  18. Very good post. Made me realize I was totally wrong about this issue. I figure that one learns something new everyday.

  19. They are the government. But they would lose control of the drug trade. | RAN ran ran ??? ??? ??? |

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  22. I was just having a conversation over this I am glad I came across this it cleared some of the questions I had.

  23. end’s horrific violence in Mexico, which included the murders of three people tied to the U.S. consulate in Ciu

  24. as well. During alcohol prohibition?when the U.S. homicide rate rose by 43 percent, pe

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