Illicit drug economies as state substitutes
Johnson, Kelley McRae
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Illicit drug economies are salient yet under-theorized topics in political science. Existing institutionalist arguments can be applied to explain how weak states, those that perform poorly on states’ most critical functions, offer the conditions necessary for drug trafficking groups to find areas to organize, entrench, and grow stronger. Once illicit drug economies grow strong they can take on traditional state functions, thereby becoming state substitutes. Mexico and Colombia are two cases in which drug cartels have captured their own “states within states.” Both have been considered potentially failing states (Colombia in the 1980s-90s and Mexico in 2009), but this study concludes that determined institutional strengthening and reform will achieve the gradual reincorporation of territory lost to illicit drug economies and avoid the prospect of state failure.