While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, "The manner in which this war against drugs is being waged is equally or perhaps even more harmful than all the wars the world is fighting today, combined."
The death toll from the drug war is much less than the actual warfare throughout the world. However, his sentiment is quite appropriate because a significant percentage of the world's violence could be prevented with a flick of a pen by ending the war on drugs.
Imagine if we could essentially eliminate the black market for drug trafficking in Chicago, which has the highest number of gang members and homicides. It's estimated that up to 80% of the city's murders are gang-related and one of the main causes of this violence is connected to controlling turf for drug sales.
Gang violence isn't as rampant throughout the U.S., but the National Gang Center estimated that 13% of the murders in the U.S. are gang-related. That falls in line with a similar report by Narco News that concluded that 1,100 drug war-related murders occur each year in the U.S. Keep in mind, that figure is fairly conservative due to the lack of full transparency with crime statistics.
The U.S. represents the largest market in the world for illegal drugs. Currently, there's a well-documented opioid crisis, but the U.S. also consumes more cocaine than all of Europe…and by a wide margin. All told, the U.S. illegal drug black market represents a $100 billion annual industry.
Although there is a serious black-market violence problem in the U.S., it pales in comparison to the countries that are source and transshipment points of illegal drugs. For example, there were over 29,000 murders in Mexico last year with roughly 33-50% being related to the drug war. That's not factoring the 30,000 missing persons who are presumed to be dead.
The cartels conduct warfare in a brazen manner that is essentially indistinguishable from terrorist groups, such as hanging rival gang members from bridges or publicly putting bounties on corrupt government officials. Narco money has enabled these organized crime groups to operate with impunity.