Legal Weed in the U.S. Cuts into Cartel Profits

By Paul Gaita 04/13/15

But the cartels still make billions from cocaine and meth.

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The Mexican cartels continue to reap billions of dollars in the sale and smuggling of illegal goods to and from the United States, including cocaine, meth, firearms, and even crude oil. But the cartels’ control of the marijuana trade appears to be on the wane.

Both the U.S. Border Patrol and the Mexican military have reported a steady decrease in marijuana seizures over the last three years, from 2.5 million pounds in 2011 to 1.9 million pounds in 2014. The drop in sales also appears to have incurred a ripple effect across the Mexican crime industry, with homicide numbers dropping from 23,000 in 2011 to 15,649 in 2014.

Security analysts in Mexico have attributed the decrease to the capture, or death, of many of the most violent members of the cartel, but drug-reform advocates in the United States point to the rise in legal marijuana as a key factor in decreased sales.

“It is no surprise to me that marijuana consumers choose to buy their product from a legal, tax-paying business as opposed to a black market product that is not tested or regulated,” said Marijuana Majority chairman Tom Angell.

While marijuana for medical and recreational use remains legal in four states and the District of Columbia, drug-policy reformers envision a future in which legal marijuana is prevalent not only in the United States but Mexico, where cheaper labor could produce greater amounts.

The notion has attracted some high-profile supporters, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who has supported ex-Microsoft executive Jamen Shively’s plan to create a national marijuana brand supplied by Mexican sources. The United Nations would need to weigh in on any change to international drug policies, but any policy that takes power away from the cartels and supports the legal American marijuana trade is a step in the right direction for many reform advocates.

“I feel optimistic there will be change,” said Angell. “It’s interesting that the United States was historically a driver of drug prohibition. Now parts of the U.S. are leading the charge.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.