Pubdate: Fri, 24 Jan 2014
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2014 The Dallas Morning News, Inc.
Author: Alejandro Hope
Page: 21A


Cartels Will Remain Strong in Dysfunctional Nation, Says Alejandro

Since Jan. 1, Colorado has had a legal marijuana market.

The same will soon be true in Washington state, once retail licenses
are issued. Other states, such as California and Oregon, will probably
follow suit over the next three years.

So does this creeping legalization of marijuana in the United States
spell doom for the Mexican drug cartels?

Not quite.

The illegal marijuana trade provides Mexican organized crime with
about $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year. That's not chump change, but
according to a number of estimates it represents no more than a third
of gross drug export revenue.

Cocaine is still the cartels' biggest moneymaker, and the revenue
accruing from heroin and methamphetamine isn't trivial.

Moreover, Mexican gangs also obtain income from extortion, kidnapping,
theft and various other types of illegal trafficking. Losing the
marijuana trade would be a blow to their finances, but it certainly
wouldn't put them out of business.

But wouldn't Mexico experience less violence if marijuana were legal?
Yes, to some extent, but the decline wouldn't be sufficient to
radically alter the country's security outlook.

In all likelihood, marijuana production and marijuana-related violence
are highly correlated geographically. Marijuana output is concentrated
in five states (Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Michoacan and Guerrero)
that accounted for approximately a third of all homicides committed in
Mexico in 2012. Assuming improbably that half of all murders in those
areas were marijuana-related, we can estimate that the full
elimination of the illegal marijuana trade would reduce Mexico's
homicide rate to 18 per 100,000 inhabitants from 22 - still about four
times the U.S. rate.

Well, but couldn't the Mexican government gain a peace dividend by
redirecting some resources from marijuana prohibition to other law
enforcement objectives? Yes, but the effect would probably be modest.
Only 4 percent of all Mexican prison inmates are serving time
exclusively for marijuana-related crimes.

In 2012, drug offenses represented less than 2 percent of all crime
reports in the country. When it comes to only federal crimes (7
percent of the total), the share of drug offenses rises to 20 percent,
but that percentage has been declining since 2007. So the legalization
of marijuana won't free up a huge trove of resources to be redeployed
against predatory crime.

Whatever the legal status of marijuana, Mexico needs to tackle its
many institutional malfunctions. Its police forces are underpaid,
undertrained, undermotivated and deeply vulnerable to corruption and
intimidation. Its criminal justice system is painfully slow,
notoriously inefficient and deeply unfair.

Even with almost universal impunity, prisons are overflowing and
mostly ruled by the inmates themselves.

Changing that reality will take many years.

Some reforms are underway, some are barely off the

As a result of a 2008 constitutional reform, criminal courts are being
transformed, but progress across states has been uneven.

With a couple of local exceptions, police reform has yet to find
political traction.

The federal Attorney General's Office is set to become an independent
body, but not before 2018.

The reformist zeal that President Enrique Pena Nieto has shown in
other policy areas (education, energy, telecommunications) is absent
in security and justice.

Security policy remains reactive, driven more by political
considerations than by strategic design.

Results have been mixed at best: Homicides declined moderately in
2013, but kidnapping and extortion reached record levels.

Marijuana legalization won't alter that dynamic.

In the final analysis, Mexico doesn't have a drug problem, much less a
marijuana problem: It has a state capacity problem.

That is, its institutions are too weak to protect the life, liberty
and property of its citizens. Even if drug trafficking might very well
decline in the future, in the absence of stronger institutions,
something equally nefarious will replace it.

Former intelligence officer Alejandro Hope is a security policy
analyst at IMCO, a Mexico City research organization.
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