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Legal Weed Cuts Into Cartel Activity

Drops in trafficking and violence correspond to the rise of taxed-and-regulated marijuana in the U.S.

Photo by Dank Depot via Flickr

Score one for the stoners. While the failing drug warriors of American law enforcement waste their time feeding ever more of their fellow citizens into a cruel and pointless prison system, the exact opposite approach—legalization—is taking a bite out of drug-related crime. Time reports that the legalization of marijuana in states like Washington and Colorado, as well as the expansion of medical weed laws and softening of penalties in other states, is stymieing the ability of violent Mexican cartels to profit off the plant. While these organizations are still importing harder drugs, marijuana trafficking and correlated violence are down. According to Time:

The amount of one drug — marijuana — seems to have finally fallen. U.S. Border Patrol has been seizing steadily smaller quantities of the drug, from 2.5 million pounds in 2011 to 1.9 million pounds in 2014. Mexico’s army has noted an even steeper decline, confiscating 664 tons of cannabis in 2014, a drop of 32% compared to year before.

These drops correspond with the timeline of weed legalization in the United States, with taxed-and-regulated businesses’ stock outclassing the traditional brick weed imported by cartels with variety, fancy boutique strains, high-quality derivative products, and a break from the stresses of obtaining a substance illegally. Time quotes the ArcView group, a cannabis investment and research firm, as claiming the legal U.S. marijuana industry grew 74 percent in 2014 to $2.7 billion, and will “top $4 billion by 2016.” According to Time, this means, “less cash for Mexican cartels to buy guns, bribe police and pay assassins.”

Mexican soldiers detain cartel suspects. Photo by Diego Fernández via Wikimedia Commons

A slightly less optimistic assessment last month in Fusion points out that many claim the shift is only pushing cartels into more aggressive markets for heroin and methamphetamines, as well as other illicit trades, like “kidnapping, oil trafficking, and trafficking of persons.” And though violence is now down overall, brutal cartel-related occurrences, like Monday’s ambush and murder of 15 policemen in the Mexican state of Jalisco, remind us that both in the United States and Mexico, we have a long way to go in stemming the nefarious influence and actions of these groups. Despite this, cartels still depend on marijuana for a good third of their drug-related profits, and if legalization trends continue, a high-quality, regulated market will surely make a serious dent in their revenue stream. Per the piece in Fusion:

“The competitive advantage of criminal organizations stems from their proficiency in violence, intimidation and smuggling, none of which are essential to compete in legal markets,” Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told Fusion. “One would expect the more sophisticated drug-trafficking organizations to try to adapt to marijuana legalization in the US, but in the long run they will not be able to compete with a legal industry, just as Al Capone and his ilk ultimately lost out to a legally regulated alcohol industry.”

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