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What is the role of violence in the market for illicit drugs?

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When the rule of law is weak or absent, violence becomes increasingly important for maintaining control. In the illicit drug trade, violence plays significant roles at every level. Armed support for the top-level operators is provided by militias, which in extreme situations may wield even more power than the official state law enforcement or military. The coercive threat of violence feeds into corruption that prevents the pursuit or apprehension of cartel leaders. Threats may be leveled against a legislator’s family, for example. Attacks on government personnel who play key roles in prosecuting offenders is also extremely common. Kidnapping and assassination of judges occurs in many countries where the illicit drug trade is firmly ensconced.

The income from drug sales also contributes heavily to the destabilization of legitimate governments. Those monies may fund the overthrow of a regime so that one more favorable to the drug lords can be put into power. Another approach is to fund repeated, lower-level attacks on government forces, thereby creating a chronically unstable environment. In turn, legitimate businesses, such as foreign corporations, are reluctant to invest in a country in crisis, which further erodes that nation’s economy. This becomes a cycle because the income from drugs becomes an increasingly vital part of the underground economy, encouraging dependency on the profits and decreasing resistance to the cartels’ operations.

At the lower levels as well, violence and the threat of violence is used to control people working at every level of the illicit drug trade. Especially when the rule of law is weak, individuals who may work in or are targeted by those in the trade have little or no legal recourse. The illicit drug trade supports vigilantism.

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