State Marijuana Legalizations Cut Profits to Mexican Drug Cartels

When citizens in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, the primary reasoning was local and small-scale. Legalization would allow responsible adults to choose for themselves whether or not to indulge in the plant, gain tax money for the state, and save local law enforcement budgets for more important public safety concerns than busting harmless pot smokers.

But what they didn’t realize is that their votes are having a resounding impact on the international scene.

Even before the votes were tallied, reports estimated that legalization in the three states with ballot measures (OR, WA, CO) could substantially cut profits to Latin American drug cartels. And while Oregon’s measure didn’t pass, legalization in the other two states could hit cartels in the wallet, cutting profits by as much as 25%.

But in addition to impacting the income of these drug lords, legalization has Latin American leaders paying attention. Why? Because they have had growing doubts about the U.S.-led international war on drugs and though the U.S. government has steadily pushed for greater enforcement, more spending, and continued attacks on the drug trade, leaders in countries like Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and Costa Rica have been quietly considering backing down.

According to the Washington Post,

The declaration by the leaders of Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica did not explicitly say they were considering weakening their governments’ efforts against marijuana smuggling, but it strongly implied the votes last week in Colorado and Washington would make enforcement of marijuana bans more difficult.

The four called for the Organization of American States to study the impact of the Colorado and Washington votes and said the United Nations’ General Assembly should hold a special session on the prohibition of drugs by 2015 at the latest.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that voter legalization of marijuana in the United States represents “a paradigm change” in regards to the typical U.S. stance on the international drug trade.

You don’t have to look far to see how the drug trade and the war against it has impacted these countries. Over the last six years, tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mexico, coinciding with the military-campaign against the drug lords of that area.

Mexico produces a good portion of the marijuana we see in the United States. Countries like Belize and Honduras are trafficking ports between other producers in South America and the U.S. All of these countries—and many more—are negatively impacted not only by the drug trade but by the “Drug War” being waged against it.

How legalization is handled in Washington and Colorado, and the impact of the new legislation will provide the groundwork for other states to follow and possibly for other countries to take a hard look at the costs and benefits of this futile War.

About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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