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Could legalized marijuana increase cartel profits, violence?

Post by Brian O'Neill on Nov. 19, 2012 at 8:17 am with 25 Comments »
April 4, 2013 7:42 am

In the realm of unintended consequences, irony rules supreme.

Take legalized marijuana for instance. It has generally been assumed that the profits from legalization, now a reality in Colorado as well as Washington, would come at the expense of the violent drug trafficking organizations operating in North and Central America. According to Mexican President Felipe Calderon, that may not be the case.

Latin American leaders gather in Mexico City/ AP Photo

After a recent meeting with leaders from Honduras, Costa Rica and Belize, Calderon and representatives of President-Elect Enrique Pena Nieto spoke at length about the potential implications of legalized pot (Trib 11/12). To paraphrase the politico-speak, the Mexican leaders wondered how or why governments south of our border should continue to enforce a ban on growing and smuggling a drug that is now legal in two states.

If this were a test run for a new drug policy, it would be a game-changer. Turning a blind eye to large-scale marijuana grow operations in Mexico would have a direct impact on black market sales throughout the U.S., especially given that 48 states still prohibit its use or sale. The obvious winners in a hands-off approach to Mexican marijuana cultivation (setting aside the future implications for other drugs grown in other countries) would be DTO’s like the Sinaloa cartel, the Zetas and the Beltran-Leyva cartel.

This would be an unintended consequence of breathtaking proportions.

Then, of course, there is the slippery slope. If Mexican officials stop banning marijuana smuggling, what’s next? Would a weary Colombian government step away from their cocaine eradication program? Would Mexican authorities also turn a blind eye to the meth labs that have sprouted along their northern border?

It is hard to blame the Mexican government’s reaction to American flip-flopping. Since Calderon’s declaration of war against the drug cartels began six years ago, death and violence has descended on Mexicans like a modern day plague. With municipal, state and federal police agencies seeping with corruption, the Mexican army has taken the lead in the brutal crackdown against drug cartels. Their violent altercations with cartel operatives often surpass even Hollywood’s gruesome imagination. Many Mexicans are claiming that the soldiers themselves are often more brutal than the narco-terrorists they hunt.

In short, it’s a mess.

The only thing certain at this point is that our government’s next move must be very considered. From medical marijuana patients to cartel bosses, from DEA agents to the terrorized citizens of Mexican killing fields, the disparate groups with a stake in the future of legalized marijuana need strong leadership and a balanced process for moving forward.

Still, if it really is possible that the passage of I-502 could inadvertently lead to a more porous border and increased cartel drug profiteering, the irony would be impossible to ignore.

And it would not be the least bit funny.

Leave a comment Comments → 25
  1. Cyunvwyatt says:

    This is not a good argument. Obviously we have another writer putting out propaganda to scare the other non smokers or this writer works for the Zeta’s themselves. This is just a desperate plea from the Mexican Government i.e. “Cartel” to keep the policies the same they are it is working out amazingly for these people right now. However back to debunking this article. Marijuana grown in South America is Horrible! it has at max 4% THC and it is called Swag or “Dirt Weed”. Marijuana grown in America is amazing and when all the states get on board with this Prohibition “insanity”- Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results! The people who are fighting change are really the people profiting off the Deaths of other Humans for their own financial gain. Mexican Government Manufacture United States Government = Distributor and Controller.

  2. rivitman says:

    Proponents of the initiative simply ignored the whole long list of potential unintended consequences.

    For those with a taste for narcotics, nothing else every really mattered but the drug itself. Obtain the drug, doing whatever it takes to do so. Use the drug. Repeat as necessary, and it’s ALWAYS necessary.

    It was never about medical pot.

    It was never about the drug war.

    It was never about tax revenues.

    It was about getting high. And that’s all.

  3. gibsonsg18 says:

    rivitman, seriously?

    You are unfortunately misinformed about marijuana first of all. I know that just by you calling it a narcotic and implying it is addictive. Its less harmful than alcohol for the mind and body in my and many other people’s opinion.

    Also its not a “taste” for “narcotics”. You could say that for heroin, meth, etc, but not weed. Its a “taste” for chilling with friends listening to music and enjoying life.

    It’s not about getting high, its about having the right to smoke marijuana in your house if you choose to and the right not to get arrested for doing so. If you tried it you would think it is a joke that it is illegal.

    There are also real medical properties of cannabis for some people. It wont cure major diseases, but it can give people with Multiple sclerosis some relief, and more such as glaucoma and stimulate hunger for people with cancer going through chemotherapy.

    Finally it really is about the drug war. While the main reason a lot of people want pot legal is so they can smoke it without etting arrested(which is fine), prohibition has a real negative side to it. It was seen in alcohol prohibition which also caused a lot of violence which is why they eventually ended it(like what will inevitably happen to pot prohibition).

  4. edwildman says:

    Rivitman, since you know how to use the Internet you have no excuse for your level of ignorance. First, look up the medical definition of ‘narcotic.’ Cannabis is not a narcotic. Then research the medical benefits of cannabis, and the research that has been done around the world showing it does have medical benefits, esp. in Israel. The US government even holds a patent on one form of cannabinoid for medical use, and dozens more are being researched for their potential medical uses.

    As for using it to get “high” – so what? Humans have been seeking ways to get high since we started walking on two legs. Even animals eat fermented fruits or “magic” mushrooms. Would you ban “runner’s high”? “It was never about running, it was about getting high.” So, is it better for people to get high with a drug that can’t kill them and is NOT an addictive narcotic, or by using drugs like alcohol or prescription mood altering drugs that can and do kill tens of thousands of people every year in the US alone?

  5. kesterling2003 says:

    “Never let the facts get in the way of disseminating an effective piece of hysterical rhetoric”
    ~~ The motto of the Know Nothing prohibitionist

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    It is still election season? No. I-502 has passed, and most people are ready to move forward to see how this shakes out. The level of anger and narrow-minded rhetoric spewing from some corners (see cyunvwyatt’s comment below) does nothing more than confirm the stereotype of paranoid pothead. It solves nothing.

    If we can all agree on one thing – that marijuana is now legal in Washington – then we can move onto the slew of problems that will naturally arise following this vote. Legalization is a major societal change, and some of these changes will include national security issues at our borders.

    It would be irresponsible and foolish to ignore comments such as those that came from the mouths of Latin American leaders at their recent meeting (see the link in the column). Tens of thousands of people have died across our border in Mexico, and the poor and innocent in several countries suffer because of the drug trade. We owe it to ourselves to be educated on the topic, as well as to be concerned about their plight.

    To ignore this is to be that selfish stereotype which much of the world sees when an American walks by.

  7. I don’t understand when I hear that illegal drugs cause so much of the misery in Mexico, and all because of America. Maybe in the southern states it is different, but here in Washington, I have not heard of one person buying or selling weed that came from Mexico or South America. It is widely regarded as being of poor quality. Most of what I have heard people talking about getting is grown right here in WA, or at least the western corridor of BC, WA, OR, or CA. Given that weed is only legal in WA and CO, I highly doubt legal purchasing of marijuana at stores instead of the dealer on the corner will make much difference one way or another as to what happens in Mexico….nor should it matter. All it will do is make us that much freer to be able to put what we want into our own bodies without government unconstitutionally telling us it is illegal. Whether you “do it” or not, more freedom from heavy handed government is something everybody should support.

  8. Brian O'Neill says:

    dg54321- Your comment illustrates one of the reasons I agreed to write this column. I can tell you definitively, based on first hand observations, that all the various types of scheduled drugs – from cocaine to meth to marijuana and more – cross our southern borders and find a path to Washington. I don’t have hard percentages, but the number of enforcement actions wherein cartel operatives or their proxy (i.e. gang members) are caught pushing marijuana up the I-5 corridor is significant.

    Whether you smoke marijuana or not, please do not kid yourself on its origins.

  9. rivitman says:

    Smoke a joint, support the Mexican drug cartels.

    You see, however successful, the legal pot crowd got there on a pack of lies and schools of red herrings, like the economic benefits of hemp, the easy “green card” for medical pot, the supposed idea of tax revenues that WILL NOT happen in this lifetime.

    As the costs and unintended consequences mount, I expect the lies and deceit to compound like interest on a payday loan.

    Let’s sit back and watch the costs mount not only in society in general, but in terms of specific, quantifiable dollar amounts as the cops and the courts struggle to apply this new law, fend off serial legal challenges, and tie up the court system, while trying to fight the feds on a scheduled 1 drug.(and they will lose).

    I NEVER heard a pot legalization supporter who was honest about their rationale. We may well have been able to have a conversation about it. But even now “I just wanna get high” can’t seem to pass their lips. It’s all about phony hypothesis and weak justifications that they could care less about. They have this overwhelming need, most likely guilt based, to try and portray themselves as heroes of the sick, the poor, and the common man.

    When all the really want is to just get high.

    Well you have it. Now you stop lying about it. But you won’t. Your weakness of character won’t allow for it.

    I will find it interesting to see if the cops will enforce any provisions of I502, say, use in public.

    Is hempfest done for? Hmmm SPD? Doubt it although they could make a mint on $50 tickets.

    Notably, the fine would be the same if Joe pothead lit up in your kids school bus shelter. Good thinking.

    At any rate, the legal chaos should be entertaining, and quite the burden to the legal system and law enforcement. No, Wait, that’s what the fans of the stinky green weed said we would avoid right?

  10. silentmercy says:

    This is a legitimate point and a reason why Portugal’s model works so well. Legalize all drugs and treat them as a health issue not a criminal one.

    Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001….

    Drug use in every age category decreased.

    The biggest drop was among young children…
    13-15…. 25% decrease
    16-18…. 22% decrease

    25% less drug use
    52% less overdose death
    71% less HIV infections
    300% more people seeking treatment using resources diverted from prosecution.

    “Whether you smoke marijuana or not, please do not kid yourself on its origins.”

    I don’t kid my self on it’s origins. No self respecting Cannabis user buys Mexican weed because they like it. It is the worst “brand” you can buy, but the cheapest so I would agree a segment of the populace would migrate to it initially, but after tasting quality American grown cannabis one would never want to return to the Mexican “brand”.

    That being said, American cannabis would surely be a bit more expensive in the short term. In the long term with cannabis legal, and growers allowed to employ modern greenhouse methods of cultivation the cost of American cannabis would certainly go down, production would go up, and the Mexican cartels would be the hardest hit.

    As far as them smuggling more hard drugs because they are more profitable, that is nonsense. Simple supply and demand. They can bring all the crack, meth, and heroin they want over the border you still have to have a market to sell it to. That particular market is going to get their hard drugs no matter what, and the availability will not cause a rise in new users. Ask yourself this question. If meth, heroin, and crack were legal today would you do it? Exactly.

  11. Brian, I would have guessed that the drugs like cocaine, heroin, etc would come from Mexico and south but it doesn’t make sense why drugs like weed and meth would come from all the way down there, crossing borders and increasing risk of getting caught when both of those can be made/grown in your home. I have never heard of anybody getting those drugs from somewhere other than locally, but then again, I am not a cop who deals with that element on a regular basis. I admit you probably have more empirical data to work from, I am just talking from personal experience. Still, it is absolutely provable that the “war on drugs” has done nothing but reduce freedom in the name of safety, and led to the militarization of our police forces, as well as the runaway spending on said police forces and military tasked to stop the drug trade. The people are being fleeced out of their money and freedom based on a lie that somehow if we let our police become a standing army, and give up ever increasing amounts of freedom, somehow we will be saved from the evil “drug culture”….which we have only that self-perpetuating governments word that it really is as bad as they say. I for one believe that a government that lies to it’s people about everything else doesn’t have any qualms about lying about how bad “drug culture” is either, and has been using these lies for years to get the people to support unconstitutional laws. The people are finally seeing through the lies, however, and 502 was just part of that backlash from a public that has had enough.

  12. lovethemountains says:

    A bit off the track of this article and responses is the fact that the legalization of marijuana will not be the demise of our local growers/seller. The legal and production and sale of weed will see the private illegal providers cutting the price of the legals. Hefty state taxes will see to that.

  13. Harry_Anslinger says:

    Marijuana was never illegal because it is dangerous; it is dangerous because it is/was illegal.

    Prohibition of cannabis has had the same intentional and unintentional consequences as alcohol prohibition along with other negatives including increasing demand and supply to minors, driving it underground creating boutique qualities and potencies, enabling the growth of a black market and the violent crime and cartels that go with it, creating a bloated beauracracy (DEA)that has spent a trillion dollars to play cops and bad-guys and never stop but a mere fraction of manufacture/distribution/useage, criminalizing otherwise law-abiding, hard-working Americans, ignoring lost tax revenues, protecting BigPharma, alcohol, and tobacco lobbies…

    For the millionth time for the dense…this isn’t about ‘pro-pot’ this is about ‘anti-prohibition’ and it’s enormous waste of money, government hypocrisy, infringement of constitutional freedom, fiscal irresponsiblity, infringment of states rights, and zero chance of any measure of ‘success’. Bacially it’s about common sense. Gee what a concept.

  14. Harry_Anslinger says:

    I also want to make the practical point that in Colorado they literally have a seed-to-sale tracking program that ensures that every plant is grown by a licensed grower. It is very detailed and effective and it looks like our state is very interested in that model. That in itself would eliminate the cartel question completely.

  15. Brian O'Neill says:

    The point you are missing in your argument is that there are still 48 states where marijuana is illegal. If Mexico loosens the border to drug shipments because two states legalize marijuana, it will flood the country with cheaper meth, cocaine, heroin and marijuana. It really is too soon to say where this will all lead.

  16. mojjonation says:

    Those that want it already have it. Those that don’t, still don’t care. There are a number of people who will now try it because it has been legalized, but the percentage will more than likely be minimal. As far as inciting riots and violence in Mexico, I really don’t see anyone on this side of the border giving two cents about it since the weed is junk. Unless legalizing weed in Washington and Colorado sends illegals back to Mexico to grow it, I don’t see where it changes how things run in Mexico. If Calderon thinks two states who decriminalized it is going to cause some type of problem in his country, I’d tell him to check out his non existent/pick and choose police and military force before he comes and tries to tell us how to do things.

  17. “If Mexico loosens the border to drug shipments because two states legalize marijuana, it will flood the country with cheaper meth, cocaine, heroin and marijuana”

    Incorrect. Both Mexico AND the US would have to “loosen the border”. The flaw in the article is the assumption that the only possible response to this change is complete abdication of ALL border and drug enforcement. Smuggling is still smuggling, last time I checked.

    There is a fundamental difference between state and federal responsibility here. I am often disappointed by the seeming unwillingness of the TNT to embrace nuance and eschew scare tactics.

  18. ivedunnit says:


    You said “I can tell you definitively, based on first hand observations, that all the various types of scheduled drugs – from cocaine to meth to marijuana and more – cross our southern borders and find a path to Washington.”

    Did they let you ride shotgun? Please inform us of your ‘first hand observation.’ Did you hitch a ride up to Washington with the cartels or something. I’m fascinated how you could have first hand knowledge.

    Of course other drugs make their way across our border. Where is a demand for a product, a supply will find you.

    Further, we could easily cut out the cartels by producing our own supply. The problem does not lie with the two states that legalized, but the 48 that haven’t and the federal government that wont wake up.

  19. Brian O'Neill says:

    The amount of narcotics that already crosses our southern border from Mexico – by tunnel, trucks, individuals, boats, planes, etc. – is vast. As a police officer I have come across Hispanic gang members and cartel operatives who have penetrated our system and distributed their wares across our state. I won’t go into detail on those operations because of their sensitive nature. Suffice to say, the distribution rings were and are successful despite both countries aggressive efforts to prevent the flow. Thus, removing the efforts of one partner, Mexico (whose army has seized huge amounts of marijuana, meth, cocaine and heroin), from this equation would free up a vast amount of drugs for delivery here.

    Honestly, it’s basic logic.

  20. Lynnwoodfats says:

    Don’t forget, we’re talking about something anybody can grow, in their yard or in their house.

    It seems that you desparately want to find something “bad” about cannibus that you can point your finger at. Not suprising coming from a cop. No one wants to give-up their power.

    FREEDOM! God gave us cannibus, the gov’t has no right to take it away.

  21. rivitman says:

    God gave you a lot. Pot you gave yourself. There are specific prohibitions against such things in the books of Moses. God no more gave you the weed for the purpose of becoming stupefied than he put poison ivy on the earth for you to rub in your eyes.

  22. NotPoliticallyCorrect says:

    Could legalized marijuana increase cartel profits violence?

    The question I would like to ask. If it did and those who voted in support of legalization of marijuana. Would they really care if it did?

  23. elmerfudd says:

    I guess all this must have started when we eliminated prohibition. Those Mexicans saw we were no longer serious about drugs and they’ve been shipping them across the border ever since and of course all the stoners here in the states are going to suddenly opt for the worst weed grown now that it’s legal.

  24. seanmdoyle says:

    Caldron is right. Stop making this Mexico’s problem just to support irrational laws in the US. It also is not Washington’s or Colorado’s responsibility if our rational decision complicates the rest of the states irrational ones. The drug problem in our country, and Mexico, has always been more about the consequences of these laws than about the impact of drug usage on society. Many more young people have had their live’s destroyed by having criminal records for youthful indiscretions than otherwise hurt themselves or society. I am not an advocate of drug usage by any means, but I speak as a 57 yr old man who survived his youthful indiscretions unscathed by drug usage or the legal system. My life could have turned out very different had my luck went the other way.

  25. tomwa007 says:

    Is anyone here trying to say that alcohol in not harmfull or that any other drug like alcohol that alters brain chemestry to give an un-natural high is good for society.

    If it is taxed, someone will sell it without tax and the problem still remains.

    Stupid people, stupid bill, ignorant idiots will pass anything to get high.

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