Jacob Sullum

A few weeks ago, I debated drug policy with Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotics Officers Association, on John Stossel's Fox Business show. When Stossel asked him about the violence fostered by drug prohibition, Brooks 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 last 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 woman who worked at the consulate. All were shot dead in their cars shortly after leaving a birthday party with their children.

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The motive for these 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 grabbed headlines in the U.S. and elicited outraged responses from the White House and the State Department, 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 that Lesley Enriquez, Arthur Redelf and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros were killed in their cars as their children screamed in the back seat, nearly 50 people 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, 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.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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