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This article has been written by Oishika Banerji, an undergraduate student at Amity Law School, Kolkata. This is an exhaustive article that deals with the legacy of famous drug lords in the world along with the laws that are used to control the same. 


The term drug lord signifies a person who carries out unlawful drug trade or drug trafficking with the help of a group of people working under him to carry out such illegal activity and is therefore recognized as a criminal leader carrying out his business all over the world. These criminals are hard to locate because it is an interconnected activity which takes place within the network made by the drug lord and no one of the group is directly related to the illegal activity.

The world has experienced such drug lords who have successfully made their ways to carry out illegal trade of drugs, few notable being El Chapo Guzman, William Jardine, Pablo Escobar, Ismael Zambada García, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, Rick Ross, Griselda Blanco. As the prosecution of these drug lords is complicated and difficult as well as time-consuming, it makes things easier for them to extend their illegal business for a prolonged time. 

The illegal drug trade is referred to as organised crime as it involves a lot of detailing, planning and management skills to carry out the trade in different nations. Drug trafficking refers to a black market on a global basis involving production, manufacture and trade of those drugs which come under the purview of prohibited drug laws. According to the reports released by the United Nations it has been viewed that illegal drug trade and trafficking has amounted to be 1% of the global trade. Hence it can be idealized as to how much profit one acquires by this illegal profession and this is a reason as to why the drug lords are wealthy and financially secured. 

The one way to control the extension of the business by these drug lords is by the cooperation of local authorities with that of the foreign nations to track the movements of these drug lords and carry forward the investigation to prosecute them. Another way of getting hold of these drug lords is by extraditing them to the countries of their origin so that they can be treated according to the statute of that nation. Thus the mutual working of nations turns out to be fruitful for controlling the illegal drug trade.

Legacy of famous drug lords in the world

The world has seen several drug lords whose legacy continued after their deaths. Not only have they gained popularity among those associated with the illegal trade but also among common citizens of the world. This says that their contribution to drug trafficking has been immense and something to be discussed and talked about. Some of the famous drug lords of this world and the legacy associated with them have been discussed below.

Pablo Escobar 

One of the most powerful drug traffickers, Pablo Escobar originated from Columbia. Pablo Escobar was the leader of Medellin Cartel, a criminal organization that dealt with drug cartels and operated in regions like the United States, Central America, Panama, Bolivia, Canada, and Peru. Pablo Escobar, the king of cocaine is considered as the richest criminal that has ever been on record. 

He carried out the monopolization of cocaine into the United States. Engaged in criminal activity from the very beginning of his career, Pablo Escobar led a shipment of cocaine on a monthly basis of about 70 tonnes into Columbia which was the reason he became rich quickly. It was in 1991 when Pablo Escobar surrendered himself to the authorities but preferred being under self-arrest from where he tried to escape as well. 

He was killed by the Columbia National Police when he was 44 years old. The legacy of this well- known drug trafficker remained controversial for the reason that several people looked up to him as a hero as well. He was said to provide basic amenities to the poor population. Along with this, being a sports addict, Escobar had constructed several playing areas, courts for children of Columbia and therefore he was considered to be the Robin Hood of Columbia. His bad deeds have therefore remained in shadow for his good nature and kind behaviour with the locals of Columbia who also helped him escape from cops a number of times. But the same kind of legacy fails to exist among people who have repeatedly been his victims, especially the police officials. 

He was held to have planned the killing of about 600 police officials, families of whom are still trying to seek justice. Further his private estate has also been transformed as a theme park. His other residential estate and properties have been opened for tourists. His life has been an inspiration for many and has been under spotlight because of which it has been captured in several films, documentaries like Narcos streamed by famous entertainment channels like Netflix, music, books and articles. 

Laws controlling drug trafficking in Columbia

According to Colombia’s drug trafficking laws, if a person is found to be possessing marijuana of about 10 to 100 pounds, then he will be sent to a prison for about 10 years. In case of cocaine and methamphetamine, if a person is found to be in possession of about 10 to 28 grams, he will be sentenced to imprisonment for about 3 to 10 years.

For heroin, possession of 4 to 14 grams can put someone behind bars for about 7 to 25 years. Therefore what can be inferred from the arrangement of laws is that the framing of laws takes place according to the type of drug being trafficked and the quantity of that drug being possessed by the drug lord. 

The law currently in force in Columbia dealing with drug trafficking is Law 30, 1986 which is known as the National Narcotics Statute (Estatuto Nacional de Estupefacientes – ENE). With the pronouncement of the Constitutional Court Ruling C-221, the law regulating drug trafficking went through revolutionary change because it was claimed that the former laws were contravening the right to development of personality in a free way. Columbia’s legal framework, therefore, became one such framework that provided an alternative to the prohibition of drugs. 

Further, in 2009, there was a reform which prohibited the usage of drugs. But there was an absence of penalties associated with the contravention of provisions by drug users in this constitutional reform. In 2011 there was the formation of the Citizen Security Law which was introduced to bring in reform in the Criminal Code eliminating the exceptional provisions to not punish those consuming narcotics within permissible limits. 

Although this created confusion among general citizens, the constitutional court made it clear by saying that drug use is prohibited in Columbia as has been laid down in the Constitution as well and in order to ban the same there are laws to look after. But it cannot be considered to be a criminal offence. Colombia does not have drug courts which are an alternative to imprisonment like that of Latin America. Presently it has ruled that the treatment associated with drug trafficking should be voluntary in nature and along with this the subject-matter of drug courts are being observed in detail.

El Chapo’s Guzman

Former leader of the well-known international criminal syndicate named Sinaloa Cartel based in Mexico, El Chapo Guzman like Pablo Escobar was one of the most famous drug lords the world has ever experienced. Guzman mostly operated marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Also, he was involved in smuggling of heroin throughout several regions of the United States and Europe who were the world’s largest user of the same. Guzman carried out his trade by means of distribution channels and tunnels near the borders of the nations. These mediums helped him in exporting large amounts of drugs compared to what any illegal drug traders have ever carried out. Guzman’s cartel provided so much of wealth to him that Forbes reported Guzman to be one of the most powerful men of the world between 2009 to 2013. 

Guzman was arrested and extradited to Mexico to be further sent to prison. After escaping from several prisons, he is currently serving his imprisonment for a number of criminal charges at American federal prison. One of the legacies which have lived on even after his arrest is the tunnel-building legacy. According to the reports of The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), tunnels are still used for drug smuggling. One of the recent identification of such tunnels was done by the United States Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) which was provided with the name of Tunnel 125 by the United States government. 

After the arrest of Guzman, the government of the United States have been able to locate thirty-five passageways which were initially the route followed by Guzman’s Cartel to carry out drug trafficking. The tunnels that have been discovered were said to have proper facilities like elevators, ventilators, steel rails for the carts which were used in order to have a smooth carriage of drugs. Associated with this, the tunnel task force operated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2018 managed to discover a tunnel that was running from a restaurant in Arizona to that of a house located in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora and the owner of the restaurant was found to be involved in drug trafficking of well-known drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl and was therefore arrested right after the investigation. 

In order to smoothen the procedure of investigating the tunnels, the United States Army engineers are working towards designing technology which will help in detecting the tunnels easily. Just like Pablo Escobar, this man was also supported by a section of the society for the good works which were done by him and are being carried on by his family. These works include reaching out to certain sections of the society with help where the government has failed significantly. He has provided means of living for several depressed classes of people and has also found solutions to the problems associated with different communities of society. Therefore his legacy will be long-lived. 

Laws controlling drug trafficking in Mexico

Mexico has become the centre to carry out several violent crimes and therefore there is a requirement to have a look at the statutes present to govern and reduce drug trafficking practices in Mexico. Article 193 of the Federal Criminal Code lays down that narcotics are considered as narcotic and other substances along with plants as having been determined by the General Health Act, Mexico and other international treaties that are in force in Mexico. Along with this, under Article 474 of the General Health Act, it has been provided that if there are small scale dealings of illegal drug, that also should be considered as organised crime and therefore cognizance measures must be taken by the public authorities who have been provided with the responsibility of prosecuting these dealers and providing justice to the victims. 

Griselda Blanco

Famously recognised by the name of the godmother of cocaine, Griselda Blanco also originated in Columbia and was associated with Medellin Cartel. In the process of transporting cocaine from Columbia to that of New York, she was estimated to have murdered about two thousand people. Griselda Blanco gained fame after being part of drug-related violence which was called the Miami Drug War. During this violence, there was an environment of complete lawlessness and disruption. 

The effort of law enforcement to bring an end to the influx of cocaine into Miami was viewed by the formation of Central Tactical Unit (CENTAC 26) which is a joint operation created between Drug Enforcement Administration Anti-Drug Operation and Miami-Dade Police Department. A large amount of money was earned by her being in this profession. Although she was arrested to serve imprisonment for a decade, during that time as well she very well carried out the illegal trade of cocaine with her son’s help. 

Griselda Blanco was murdered by a man on a motorcycle. Blanco’s legacy of shooting down several people by mass-murdering them was nearly forgotten until the filmmakers once again made people realize about her notorious nature. Her legacy was such that she as well like the other two drug lords mentioned above was picturized through the medium of films, books, documentaries. 

Rick Ross 

Rick Ross is one of the drug traffickers who were well-known for setting up his base in Los Angeles, California. The background of Rick Ross that slowly made him a drug peddler is his financial framework. He started selling cocaine in order to earn a scholarship for his college. Ross started his own drug empire selling drugs not only in California but in nearby regions also which included Texas, Seattle, North Carolina, South Carolina, St Louis, Indiana and Kansa City. Ross was also involved in exporting large amounts of cocaine to New York. His legacy, just like the other famous drug lords mentioned above, is living through the medium of articles, books, movies etc.

Laws controlling drug trafficking in California

Section 11379 of the California Health and Safety Code provides restriction on unlawful sale, distribution, and trade of certain controlled substances. This controlled substance can be  broadly categorised into:

  1. Illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine etc
  2. Medication that has been legally prescribed

The penalty that has been associated with contravention of this provision is imprisonment for a period of 2 to 3 years along with a fine of $10,000. Along with this, there can be several times when a person can be charged with drug trafficking with an increased penalty. The factors have been provided below:

  1. If a person is convicted of trafficking drugs within 1000 feet of a drug treatment centre then additional one-year imprisonment is added along with the period of imprisonment that has already been mentioned in the statute
  2. If there is a presence of unlawful intention of selling or purchasing of drugs in and out of California then the person will be imprisoned for a period of nine years.
  3. If the quantity of methamphetamine is slighter more than the prescribed limit then the person will be imprisoned for a period of 3 to 15 years
  4. If a minor under the age of 18 is found to be made involved in carrying out drug trafficking activity then the person who has initiated that involvement will be sent to prison for 9 years. 

Further, according to Federal law, drug trafficking is strictly prohibited under 21 U.S.C. § 841. The law lays down the elements identified by the Federal law under drug trafficking which are:

  1. Production, distribution and dispensation of a controlled substance 
  2. Intention to carry out the activities as have been provided in the previous point regarding the controlled substance. 

Other consequences that are associated with drug trafficking leaving aside the penalties laid down by the statutes are as follow:

  1. Removal from the United States if the person is not a citizen of the nation
  2. Disciplinary action that involves suspension or removal from the profession the person was previously associated with
  3. The person is disqualified from enjoying any public benefits that are provided by the State.
  4. The person will be registered as a drug offender with the local authorities. 
  5. If the person was using a gun and had in the process of drug trafficking murdered or killed any person, then along with the charges of drug trafficking, the person will be subjected to murder charges under specified laws of the State as well.


Curtis Warren

One of the recognised drug traffickers of the United Kingdom is Curtis Warren. Involved in drug trafficking, Curtis Warren according to various reports was the most targeted criminal of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). While working as a bouncer in the Liverpool club, Warren learnt about drug trafficking. 

Taking advantage of his initially existing profession, Warren started drug trafficking for he was well aware as to who comes in and leaves the club. After severe planning, Curtis Warren made a deal with the Cali cartel in order to carry out smuggling of cocaine in steel boxes. He was finally charged by the Dutch authorities for carrying out the illegal drug trade. But he was released from the same within a shorter time period. Later he was again imprisoned and as he failed to pay his penalty he was kept in imprisonment only. In many reports, the media have concluded that Curtis is the biggest drug dealer in Britain.

Laws controlling drug trafficking in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, there are three main statutes that govern drug uses in the nation. They are:

  1. The Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 which is used to restrict the usage of non-medical drugs. Therefore, both kinds of drugs, one which are of medical purposes and the other of non-medical purposes come under the ambit of this statute along with the prohibition of illegal usage of drugs which is also governed by this statute. The police officials are provided with the authority in order to implement this Act to carry out investigation, detention and prohibition of any kind of illegal activities from taking place.
  2. The Medicine Act, 1968 which governs the production and supply of medicines.
  3. The Psychoactive Substances Act, 2016 which is used to govern illegal activities associated with drugs that are not for medical purposes.

Along with these Acts, the Drug Trafficking Act, 1994 is another legislation which provides protection from any kind of illegal activities associated with drugs from taking place in the United Kingdom. This Act declares that selling of any items which are used in the preparation of controlled drugs such as cocaine is an offence. Along with this, the Act consists of provisions which provide that the assets of the person who is involved in drug trafficking can be seized even if the source of the assets is not drug trafficking. The Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 is another such Act which along with the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 penalises trading of unauthorized controlled drugs. The penalties provided in this Act is similar to that of other trafficking offences, but these penalties can increase according to the fine provided by the Magistrate’s court. 

Dawood Ibrahim

One of the recognized drug lords of Indian origin is Dawood Ibrahim. The most wanted criminal hailing from India, Dawood Ibrahim is recognized for his activities which involve drug trafficking, extortion, and other organised crime. He was also held to be responsible for the Mumbai Blast of 1993. He is the creator and the founder of the D-company with which several other criminals are also associated. A recognised drug trafficker working in association with the D-company is Tiger Memon. Regarded as one of the dangerous drug lords in India, Tiger Memon is involved in drug trafficking and smuggling for a long period of time. Tiger Memon is reported to be the right-hand man of Dawood Ibrahim. 

Both are currently untraceable by police, investigating officers, and the intelligence agencies. The underworld business of illegal drug dealing is possibly still being carried out by them. 

Laws controlling drug trafficking in India

India has several legal bodies that govern abuse and illegal trading of drugs in the nation which are:

  1. Central Bureau of Narcotics(CBN);
  2. The Narcotic Control Bureau(NCB);
  3. Narcotics Control Division.

The legislature has passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act), 1985 criminalizing production, trade, local consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The Act has gone through three amendments in order to increase the deterrent associated with drug trafficking. The offence under this Act is considered to be non-bailable and cognizable by nature. Chapter IV of the Act provides the penalties for the offence of drug trafficking. It states that the punishment for the offence will be determined by the number of drugs being trafficked. A general punishment consists of imprisonment for a period of 6 years along with a fine of Rs 10,000. If the quantity of the drugs trafficked is more than the prescribed limit then a rigorous punishment of 10 years or a fine of Rs 1 Lakh or both is attached to the offender.  Further laws have also been laid down for providing rehabilitation for the people who are drug addicts in order to help them be cured and lead a normal life henceforth. 

Universal laws used to control the legacy of the drug lords around the world 

Drug trafficking is one of the serious crimes that the world has been experiencing for several years now. Viewing the legacy associated with each and every drug lord, what can be inferred is that they have all been very successful in their career and therefore reaching out to them is difficult and at times impossible. The most important law which is proving to be helpful in curbing the limits of the drug dealers is the extradition law. For a few years now the extradition laws have been successful in sending the drug traffickers to their country of origin in order to carry out the trial and be subject to penalties. Therefore mutual effort of two nations or several nations is required in order to curb drug trafficking.

Single Convention on Narcotics Drug of 1961

Single Convention on Narcotics Drug, 1961 is an international treaty in order to put restrictions on the manufacture and supply of narcotic drugs for those who do not have a license to purchase or produce the same. This treaty is a way to curb drug trafficking on a universal basis. About 73 countries are members of this treaty. This treaty was formed with the aim to eliminate multiple existing treaties which were controlling narcotic drugs. Therefore, this treaty proved that one statute is efficient enough to govern an aspect if that is implemented correctly rather than the presence of multiple treaties. This treaty focused on non-medical and non-scientific usage of the drugs. The treaty criminalises unlicensed trade practices, selling and buying of drugs. But the treaty significantly failed to be the single and a unified convention to govern drug trafficking in the world. Nevertheless, the treaty has proved to be a great contribution to the controlling of drug trafficking around the world. 

The Convention on Psychotropic Substance of 1971

The Convention on Psychotropic Substance, 1971 is a treaty of the United Nations which was designed in order to bring in control of certain drugs such as amphetamine-type stimulants, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates. The convention was aimed to bring in restriction of imports and exports of the unauthorized drugs along with the usage of the drugs without an authorized license. In order to implement this convention, many laws were made to pass. Some of the notable being Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and the Controlled Drug and Substances Act,1996 of Canada. The convention is also inclusive of provisions that aim to erase drug-related crimes. 


The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and  Psychotropic Substances of 1988 

The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 is one of the major treaties for drug control which is currently in force. The treaty provides legal mechanisms for carrying out the enforcement of the  Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. This treaty is another well-known method of controlling drug trafficking and illegal drug trade across the world. Article 3 of the convention provides the responsibilities of the individual State to ban the possession of any kind of drug for using it for personal purposes other than those which are for medical uses. Therefore the application of this convention takes place universally like the other two to promote a world free of drug trafficking. 


Some of the famous drug lords that have been referred to and discussed above clearly say that drug trafficking as an activity is wide, detailed and complex. Excessive requirements of planning by the drug lords have been observed in order to successfully carry out the illegal trade. The most recognised legacy of all the drug lords that have been mentioned above is that they could carry out the trade without the fear of getting caught by law-makers and police officials and it has been really a tough job for the nation and the investigating team to locate few of them. A complicated legacy indeed, drug lords are recognised for the vast empire they create for carrying out drug trafficking which is one of the major social issues that the world is experiencing for several years now. Several legislations, treaties and discussions are already in existence and many are being added as well. The necessity on the part of the government is to implement the laws carefully so that they can function effectively to bring under control drug trafficking activity all over the world.



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