Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jul 2014
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Copyright: 2014 The Daily Iowan


There are many reasons to be excited about the inevitable end of the
War on Drugs, specifically the incredibly wasteful practice of marijuana 
prohibition. The end of wasting billions of dollars
upholding an unenforceable law, the discontinuation of a system that
intensifies the worst racial injustices of the American legal system
through the disproportionate sentencing rates of African Americans
and Latinos compared with whites, and boatloads of revenue should
be reaped from taxation of the newly legalized drug.

In a political environment that's up to its eyeballs in bad news,
it's incredibly uplifting to find a public-policy issue in which
our political representatives seem to be heading toward a sane

There is, however, such a thing as being too optimistic, and one of
the more giddy claims around the demise of marijuana prohibition
deserves some greater scrutiny: the theory that marijuana
prohibition's end will be followed by the collapse of the main
supplier of illegal narcotics into the United States, Mexican drug

This isn't an especially uncommon argument among champions of
legalization. It's a line that's been embraced by the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the former foreign
minister of Mexico, Jorge Castaneda, and many others who see legalized
weed as the only way to dismantle the dangerous narco-state that
Mexico has become.

There is significant evidence that ending the draconian restrictions
of marijuana in the United States would be devastating to the cartels.
Stanford Professor Keith Humphreys, a former adviser to the Office of
National Drug Policy, says marijuana accounts for approximately 30
percent of the cartels' total revenue (Sylvia Longmire, a former Air
Force special agent and an author of numerous books on the drug war,
estimates that it may be as high as 60 percent). Shutting down such a
large portion of the cartels' business model would clearly not be
ideal from the standpoint of the cartels, which is why many cartel
farmers, as documented by VICE News, in the Sinaloa region of Mexico
(home to the country's most dominant cartel) are none too pleased with
the choice of Colorada and Washington (state) voters to legalize
recreational marijuana. "I wish the Americans would stop with this
legalization," one was quoted as saying.

However, a detrimental effect on the cartels is not the same as a
ruinous one. Marijuana may be the engine for the creation of the
cartels, but it is not sole driver of its existence. For one thing,
cocaine and heroin are incredibly profitable products for the cartels.
Humphreys estimates that the two combine for about half of the
cartels' overall profits, and with a lack of a push for legalization
of these substances, it's hard to see why the cartels can't transition
their drug-trafficking efforts to exclusively heroin and cocaine.

Outside of drugs, Longmire has demonstrated, the cartels have gotten
their fingers onto many different illicit industries, such as
kidnapping, prostitution, stealing oil from Mexican companies and
selling it to American suppliers, extortion (similar to the Mafia's
"protection racket"), and black-market goods. These non-drug
operations account for a chunk of the cartels' overall revenue, and
they are unlikely to be affected by legalizing pot north of the border.

Cartels are massive, and like any other massive institution, Mexico's
will find a way to survive. The war on pot may have created the
cartels, but unfortunately, it won't dismantle them. Weakening the
cartels is one of many reasons to liberalize marijuana, but we
shouldn't pretend they will disappear the moment pot becomes available
at the local smoke shop.
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