About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

December 22, 2009

They are most definitely not playing

Only hours after the grieving family had finished burying [Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova, a Special Forces sailor killed last week during the government’s most successful raid on a top drug lord in years] in his hometown, gunmen burst into the family’s house and sprayed the rooms with gunfire, killing his mother and three other relatives, officials said Tuesday.
More violence. More victory!

The story by Elisabeth Malkin in the New York Times.


m.a.d. said...

okay, this is obviously a horrific example of out of control drug gangs who will kill anyone to protect their businesses and to "send a message." But I have a few questions for you PCM since you advocate the legalization of drugs. And, you brought up this case to illustrate some salient points on the futility of the "war on drugs."

Let's say, for argument's sake, that the U.S. legalizes all drugs and wants the gov't to regulate them. What do we do if other countries don't agree and don't legalize them? Do we grow and distribute our own? What do we do with the drug growers/distributors in other countries who refuse to comply with U.S. permitting and tax laws? How do we stop the drugs from these other countries from coming in that don't comply with our "legal drugs?"

Let's say, for argument's sake in reference to this case, Mexico and all of Central & South America is on board with us and legalizes all drugs. The gov'ts come up with a legal permitting scheme and approach the drug cartels and say, "You now have to get permits and grow your drugs according to our laws and pay taxes, etc." Are the Cartels going to say, "Okay, no problem, good Sirs, we'll give up billions of profits to you and your permit laws."

Talking about legalizing drugs and stopping the futile war on drugs is a wonderful exercise in a classroom for academics. It's a fantastic way to throw around stats and make arguments advocating libertarian principles. But do you honestly believe, in your heart, that it could ever really work? I'm not talking about the gov't legalizing drugs, I'm saying do you think we could get the situation under control with the drug organizations around the world?

PCM said...


And good questions, m.a.d.

Most other countries (including in Latin America) are against the war on drug. But they have to fight the war because if they don't do what we say, we cut of favored trade status and aid (think it like the feds and state speed limits).

Without the US applying pressure to other countries, the war on drugs would effectively. All you need is one country doing it legally and the market will be fine (and peaceful).

I don't think we know exactly how the transition from illegal cartel to legal corporation would work. But I'm not too worried.

I can't think of any activity that, when legal, supports a big illegal trade. What happened to the all the numbers runners after the prohibition on gambling ended (and became a monopoly of the states)? The numbers runners actually gave better odds that the state, but people still prefer to buy their scratch tickets legally.

And we do have the historical precedent of Prohibition. The mob didn't disappear, but they became less powerful and the country became less violent (the homicide rate dropped almost 50% during the great depression!).

Some criminals would go straight and still make money (think of the Kennedy family). Others would remain criminals. Still others would fade away.

Look how happy American marijuana sellers are to pay taxes on the profits! People want to be legal, even if the state takes part of your money. There are great benefits to being legal, such as access to police and courts.

It very hard to imagine a large illegal market if there were legal alternatives.

Also, there would be pressure from the buyers end. Why would a wholesale buyer buy from criminals when you could buy from legal sellers? Why don't we see a large bootleg liquor market today? Because it doesn't make business sense. Regulation allows for quality control, too.

I've never heard the argument made that drugs can't be sold like other dangerous and fun product. What exactly makes drugs so unique?

We manage a peaceful world trade in alcohol just fine. It's a perfect parallel.

I've actually never heard the argument that we can't regulate drugs. Only that we shouldn't.

Also, I'm anything but a libertarian. I believe in the regulatory power of the state for good.

And let's say I'm wrong (always a good assumption). Let's say that for that some reason the drug trade is uniquely difficult to regulate. What should we do? We already know it's impossible to eliminate drugs through prohibition, so why not spend some time and money on trying regulation?

Regulation might not be perfect, but we could have a lot more success than we have with the status quo.

IrishPirate said...

Which two groups currently support the "drug war"? I speak in generalities of course.

1. Cultural conservatives.

2. Drug Dealers.

The last folks who want drug legalization would be big time dealers. You'd eliminate their profits.

So, cultural conservatives, think about that as you drink your "eggnog" over XMAS.

PCM said...

I would suspect the small-time drug dealer is the biggest supporter of prohibition. He would likely be squeezed out of any regulated market.

But the big time dealers? I'm not so sure. They could make profits in a legal framework too, right?

IrishPirate said...

I'm not sure about that.

There's only one way to find out and that's to legalize drugs.

Drug profits would go way down in a legal framework.

Prices would likely drop too, unless there were draconian taxes involved.

Of course with big taxes again comes an opportunity for criminals to make money. Think cigarette and gasoline taxes in New York State.

There was a military theorist named John Boyd whose favorite quote was roughly "solving one problem always creates other problems."

I'm not entirely sure what other problems eliminating the drug war would create. I'm relatively sure the new problems would be less severe than the problems of criminalizing drugs.

Oh well get a load of this story outta da great city of Chicago.

This victim fighting back story, if true, would make a great movie short.


Unknown said...


The new problem of ending the drug war is pretty obvious: drugs come out in areas where they weren't previously public. When we talk about the War on Drugs, we tend to do so in tangible terms. X amount of black men incarcerated, Y amount of money wasted, etc.

I think we need to look more at the intangible aspects. IMO, a huge aspect of the WoD is its promise to the middle class and above. "You accept this status quo, we keep the drug dealers out of your neighborhood". I went to middle and high school in an affluent city with plenty of teenagers who loved getting high. Of course, this was all under the table, and some kids got seriously hurt because of their involvement in the underground economy. The burghers were able to tell themselves that they lived in a great little city with no problems. I think that the destruction of this illusion is a small price to pay for regulating the drug trade. Of course, not everybody shares this opinion.

-Stilgar (won't let me sign in with a pseudonym, even one so appropriate)