For a growing number of American policy makers, politicians and activists, the best answer to the spiraling violence in Mexico is to legalize the marijuana that, they argue, fuels the country's vicious cartels and smugglers. After all, according to official estimates, marijuana constitutes 60 percent of cartels' drug profits. Legalization would move that trade into the open market, driving down the price and undermining the cartels' power and influence.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Marijuana legalization has many merits, but it would do little to hinder the long-term economics of the cartels — and the violent toll they take on Mexican society.
For one thing, if marijuana makes up 60 percent of the cartels’ profits, that still leaves another 40 percent, which includes the sale of methamphetamine, cocaine, and brown-powder and black-tar heroin. If marijuana were legalized, the cartels would still make huge profits from the sale of these other drugs.
Plus, there’s no reason the cartels couldn’t enter the legal market for the sale of marijuana, as organized crime groups did in the United States after the repeal of Prohibition.
Adam Ozemik has a good counter-argument.
I think what Longmire is missing is the way legalization of pot would undermine the very nature of the black market from the ground up. It’s not just about profits, for one thing. Marijuana is rightly considered a gateway drug but this is almost entirely because when someone purchases marijuana they do so from a dealer. Dealers invariably have other drugs as well. More people smoke pot than do drugs like cocaine, but cocaine and other illicit substances have a high profit margin for dealers and the cartels.
So if you legalize marijuana you hit the black market infrastructure where it hurts. Suddenly people are buying their marijuana from the grocery store or a dispensary instead of from a dealer, and the ability of dealers to push other harder drugs becomes greatly diminished. People who want to get high are suddenly able to do so legally so long as they stick to marijuana, making the risk-gap between using marijuana and other drugs suddenly much wider.
In other words, legalizing marijuana fundamentally alters the landscape of the black market in ways that would make it harder for drug traffickers to access the market in the first place, creating fewer consumers and potential consumers almost overnight. This means that even if marijuana makes up much less than 60 percent of the cartels’ profits (Ozemik cites numbers around 26%) removing marijuana from their product line would cut into profits all across the board.
This would significantly weaken the cartels and would – at some point – lead to a decrease in violence both in Mexico and here in the United States. We should always be skeptical, and crime organizations may indeed move into other areas of business, but legalizing marijuana would hurt the cartels much more than the current war on drugs.
(Image: A police shield is seen with a sticker pasted by a protester at the entrance of the Chapultepec park, as Mexican President Felipe Calderon and poet Javier Sicilia attend a discussion with victims of drug violence in Mexico City June 23, 2011. Sicilia, whose son was killed in March, has given a voice to thousands of Mexicans suffering the chaos of the drugs war by starting the most significant protest movement against a war that has exploded since Calderon sent army troops into the fight when he took office in late. Scores of families are still waiting for news of loved ones who disappeared in the past four years since an army crackdown and as rival cartel battle over smuggling turfs which has killed 40,000 people so far.The sticker reads" Not more Blood". via @daylife)
- legalizing marijuana
- drug traffickers
- Marijuana legalization
- organized crime groups
- war on drugs