Issues related to victimhood are central to transitional justice and international criminal justice. However, processes of transitional justice do not usually include victims of drug-related violence, despite the fact that in several Latin American countries deaths caused by cartel violence easily meet criteria of civil war. This article's central argument is that distinctions between victims of war and victims of what is often termed conventional crime are of great importance to notions of legitimate victimhood in transitional contexts. Taking Colombia's Victims’ Law (2011) as a case study, we argue that the binary distinction between war and crime fails to address the needs of victims of mass drug violence and creates a hierarchy among victims. This has important symbolic, legal and material implications for those who find themselves in the less favoured category. Victims of drug related violence struggle to access justice and to make their voices heard in public discourses about violence. We argue that the current understanding of mass drug violence as ‘conventional crime’ represents a Northern perspective on violence, which can be counter-productive when used uncritically in Southern contexts.