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Prohibition Spawns Drug Violence


Visiting Mexico last week, President Obama said he will fight drug violence: "I will not pretend that this is Mexico's responsibility alone. The demand for these drugs inside the United States is keeping these cartels in business" (

I don't expect politicians to be sticklers for logic, but this is ridiculous. Americans also have a hefty demand for Mexican beer, but there are no "Mexican beer cartels." When Obama visits France, he doesn't consult with politicians about "wine violence." What's happening on the Mexican border is prohibition-caused violence.

A legal product is produced and traded openly, and is therefore subject to competition and civilizing custom. If two beer distributors have a disagreement or if a liquor retailer fails to pay his wholesaler, the wronged parties can go to court. There's no need to take matters violently into their own hands. As a result, in legal industries the ability to commit mayhem is not a valued skill.

On the other hand, dealers in a prohibited product operate in the black market. Upstanding businesspeople stay away, relinquishing the trade to those without moral scruples. Black-market operators can't resolve disputes in court, so being good at using force provides a competitive advantage.

Politicians gave us prohibition and created the conditions in which violence pays. This doesn't excuse those who commit it, but the fact remains that a legal drug market would be as peaceful as the beer, wine and whiskey markets. When alcohol prohibition, which spawned large-scale organized crime, ended in 1933, there was a brief upsurge in drinking, but America became a more peaceful and less corrupt place.

We should learn from that, but we haven't. American politicians are largely responsible for the atrocities now taking place.

That's not what they want to hear, of course, so they blame others. Their "solution" to increasing violence is to crack down even more on production and distribution of some drugs. This has never worked before, and it won't work now.

Black-market profits are abnormally high because of the risk premiums and limited competition, so plenty of people will want to enter the business. Wipe out one cartel, and another is waiting to take its place. The high profit margins leave plenty of cash to bribe judges, cops and border guards. Even in America.

When American politicians scapegoat drug consumers, they bring the court system to a standstill and clog prisons with nonviolent offenders who are stigmatized for life. Minorities bear the brunt of any crackdown.

When will we learn that prohibition doesn't banish a popular product? It merely turns the trade over to thugs. The result is worse for society than if drugs were legal. After decades of the "war on drugs," anyone can still buy most any drug he wishes. Authorities can't even keep drugs out of prisons.

Another aspect of this issue has been overlooked, especially by conservative supporters of the drug war: President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have promised the Mexican government they will stop the southern flow of American guns said to be used by the drug cartels. A war on drugs inevitably becomes a war on guns. Yet conservative Second Amendment advocates refuse to see the connection.

Obama's drug warriors are happy to link the issues. The president says, "More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border, and that's why we're ramping up the number of law enforcement personnel on our border" (

That 90 percent figure has been repeated many times, but says it's bogus:

"The figure represents only the percentage of crime guns that have been submitted by Mexican officials and traced by U.S. officials. ... U.S. and Mexican officials both say that Mexico recovers more guns than it submits for tracing ... " (

And FactCheck says Mexico only submits those it already has reason to believe came from the United States.

Once again the politicians show contempt for the truth as well as for freedom.

John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News' "20/20" and the author of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




8 Comments | Post Comment
Funny thing. In the early 1960s I was going to Brooklyn College at night, and was taking a required rhetoric course.
This editorial was nearly identical on the general subject of Prohibition supporting organized crime. The only thing missing at that time was the name: "War on Drugs", and the violence scale. However, the prohibition-era US gangsters were just as ruthless as the Mexican drug cartels.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Herman Schiller
Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:18 AM
It's bad enough that we have drunken drivers on the road. To enable drug users would be disastrous. You could never legalize all drugs. There are some that are just too dangerous to even use once. The cartels would offer legal drugs at reduced prices and would only invent new drugs. Sorry, I can't agree with this logic at all. The only answer is to stop consumption whatever that takes. When consumption drops, so will the violence.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Pat
Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:29 AM
Pat: "The cartels would offer legal drugs at reduced prices and would only invent new drugs." Cartels would not offer legal drugs at reduced prices because the market would drive the price down far enough that they would be losing money. Besides, consumers will be buying drugs from legitimate businesses they can trust. This is the same reason why moonshine doesn't sell well at any price.
Also, cartels don't invent new drugs. Drugs have historically been found naturally in the environment or synthesized in the labs of the worlds major pharmaceutical companies. If all these years of drug prohibition have taught us anything it's that we cannot stop consumption no matter what we do. I apologize Pat, but I cannot agree with your logic.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ryan
Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:20 AM
Well written, I liked it. Now if only people like Pat and the politicians that think like him would realize it.
If we could get rid of consumption of these products you're right they would disappear, but a realistic look at it reveals that drugs have been with us since the beginning of history, that all the cultures of the world have used some intoxicating substance, so consumption is a moot issue as it's a cultural constant.
Even beyond that the lost uses for these products is saddening, early in American history farmers where required to grow a certain percentage of hemp and where even allowed to pay taxes in it. This was for its industrial and not its recreational properties.
Not to go all new age on you, but the shear number of products that can be made from hemp is staggering and it's mind boggling why although the benefits are widely known and acknowledged (medical, industrial, recreational), when even a cursory comparison to legal drugs (tobacco, alcohol, many pharmaceuticals) indicates it's way more useful and better for us, that it remains illegal.
Just my 2 cents.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Jonas
Thu Apr 23, 2009 1:03 PM
Hi John Stossel. I found your article to be very logical and the best reasoning to end prohibition on drugs.
Comment: #5
Posted by: FD
Thu Apr 23, 2009 6:05 PM
The arguments made in the article against violence etc are all valid, of course, but the "war on drugs" idiocy goes much further than that.

The number of Americans that are in jail now for non-violent drug offenses counts in the hundreds of thousands; the sheer cost of that in money is staggering, to say nothing of the pointlessness of jailing drug victims.
Enforcement costs for drugs etc are also in the tens of billions.

With most drugs legalized and the rest of them decriminalized, the government could tax the drugs, and the cost for them could be brought way way down, making the need to commit crime to afford them go away as well. That would bring in tens of billions in tax income instead of the current tens of billions in money drain to try to enforce a health issue through the justice system. Drug related crime and the drug related criminals would see their income source cut off overnight, with enormous consequences for society as a whole.

If the US had a decent single payer healthcare system those tax funds could even be put to use to treat the poor suckers who decided to become drug addicts, thus mitigating the drawbacks of easily available drugs.

So basically yes, there are a massive quantity of reasons for legalizing and precious few against, except of course that people have been brainwashed into a knee jerk reaction of "drugs = bad" and its going to be an uphill climb to make people realize that legalization is absolutely necessary and, in the long run, unavoidable.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Croft
Fri Apr 24, 2009 12:17 AM
LOL, John Stossel is an idiot.

Comment: #7
Posted by: John Davis
Fri Apr 24, 2009 5:31 AM
Stossel and Croft... it's all been said before, and it's blatantly clear. However, denial and ignorance continually prevail. I would add that prohibition also provides a means to maintain our country's institutionalized classism/racism... and at some level, this is not perpetuated by ignorance, but by design. You gotta love propaganda! What a sad commentary.
Comment: #8
Posted by: KimHavenner
Fri Jun 18, 2010 7:57 AM
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