U.S. Legalization Hurts Mexican Drug Cartels


Marijuana legalization advocates have long campaigned on the claim that ending prohibition will reduce the power of the often violent organized crime networks that control the illegal market.

A Mexican Institute of Competitiveness study, for example, released just before the 2012 elections — when legalization was on the ballot in Colorado, Oregon and Washington State — found that cartels’ drug trafficking revenues could fall by 22 to 30 percent, some $4.6 billion, if the three initiatives passed. The measures in Colorado and Washington did pass that year, and Oregon voters approved a separate legalization initiative this year after narrowly rejecting the 2012 one.

Now National Public Radio reports that the increasingly successful movement to legalize marijuana in U.S. states is indeed cutting into the profits of Mexican drug cartels.

“Two or three years ago, a kilogram of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,” a 24-year-old Mexican marijuana grower named Nabor told NPR. “But now they’re paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It’s a big difference … The day we get $20 a kilo, it will get to the point that we just won’t plant marijuana anymore.”

As prohibition comes to an end across the U.S. and consumers are given a wide variety of high-quality strain choices in the newly legal market, fewer people see the need to buy pot on the black market, where there’s no quality control and the product isn’t tested and labeled for potency.

“Is it hurting the cartels? Yes. The cartels are criminal organizations that were making as much as 35-40 percent of their income from marijuana,” Terry Nelson, a retired federal border agent who now works with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, told VICE earlier this year. “They aren’t able to move as much cannabis inside the U.S. now.”

“At one time, virtually all the weed smoked in the States, from Acapulco Gold to Colombian Red, came from south of the border,” NPR reported. “Not anymore.”

Alaska and Washington, D.C. also voted to legalize this year, and several states — such as California and Massachusetts — are expected to consider legalization on the ballot in 2016. That means Americans in even more regions of the country are likely to have access to legal, high-quality marijuana and fewer will have to resort to the black market for their weed needs.

As Nabor, the grower who supplies the Sinaloa cartel, put it, “If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they’ll run us into the ground.”

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

1 Comment

  1. “U.S. Legalization Hurts Mexican Drug Cartels”
    Gee, I feel so bad. Their weed used to be okay, but what they’re smuggling across now isn’t worth the risk. It’s so compressed and it tastes terrible and it stinks and the results are like, “I think I feel it !”

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