Will legalization of drugs stop the crime, corruption, and violence in Central America? A: No.

...Cartels make a lot of their money outside of drugs, through extortion, human trafficking, kidnapping, prostitution, and other criminal activities, many of which are violent. Just because the drugs component of their business might become legal doesn't mean they would drop everything else.

In any case, the correlation between drug trafficking and violence is not as straightforward as most people think. Murder rates in Central America are highest in urban areas, where street crime and gangs pray on local residents and businesses, not along the trafficking routes, which are often controlled by a single cartel or its local partner. Even before the recent drug trafficking surge, homicide rates in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were several times higher than in the rest of Latin America. In these communities, violence is about much more than just drugs. It's about a lack of the rule of law, ubiquitous weapons and private security forces, lack of jobs or opportunities for much of the poor, and a legacy of brutal civil wars in the 1980s. Legalizing drugs alone would probably not do much to change the violence that has plagued these communities for decades.

Drugs are a major problem in Central America, but they are worsened by a much bigger problem, one that can't be solved by legalizing marijuana, cocaine, or opium: the lack of public security. From the out-gunned police on the streets to the weak judges in the courts to the corrupt politicians, communities and countries struggle to maintain basic control over their own security. Ultimately, drug legalization -- like the drug war it's meant to solve -- would succeed only if public security is fixed and would fail if it isn't.

My research group has studied this phenomenon extensively, and written volumes on it. I couldn't have said it much better myself.
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