While the United States is focused on the Nov. 6 presidential election, the Mexican drug cartels may be more worried about marijuana ballot measures in three states that could cut deeply into their profits if passed.
According to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMC), the outcome of marijuana legalization propositions in Colorado, Washington and Oregon could affect the $11 billion Mexican drug trade.
“It would pose the most important structural shock to drug-trafficking in a generation, since the massive arrival of cocaine in the late eighties,” said the 47-page report released Wednesday. “The Sinaloa drug cartel would be the most affected, it could lose up to 50 percent of its income. The Caballeros Templarios (Knights
Templar cartel), would also be affected, and the rest would also see moderate losses.”
The Mexican states that would be most affected if all or any of the three U.S. states vote to legalize marijuana are Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa, and possibly Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca.
Drug kingpin Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán is the current leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which waged a brutal four-year war against rivals of the Carrillo Fuentes (Juárez) drug cartel that left more than 11,000 people dead.
The two groups, known smugglers of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, battled each other for control of the Chihuahua-Texas-New Mexico border-smuggling routes.
The Mexican drug cartel wars that began
in 2007 during President Felipe Calderón’s term, killed thousands more throughout Mexico.
On Nov. 6, residents in the three U.S. states will vote on statewide ballot measures related to the possession, production, distribution and sale of marijuana:
- Colorado: Supporters are calling for Amendment 64 to pass so that the state can “regulate marijuana like alcohol.”
New Mexico and 16 other states and the District of Colombia already allow the limited use of marijuana for medical purposes only.
NORML, a national organization that advocates for the legalization of marijuana, is in favor of the ballot measures. The organization’s tracking data indicate that the measure in Washington state has the best chances of passing, said Allen St. Pierre, NORML executive director in Washington, D.C.
“If it passes, it could kick up the discussion over legalizing marijuana into an entirely new gear,” St. Pierre said. “As we’ve seen in the past, if it passes, we can probably also expect the federal government to seek an
injunction, probably against retail sales.
“The federal government, however, cannot force a state to change any of its laws that reduce or eliminate state penalties for possessing marijuana. In Alaska, for example, marijuana is illegal, but there is zero (state) penalties for possessing it.”
St. Pierre agrees with the IMC report that legalization in the United States would affect Mexican drug cartels.
“Call it the Corona beer effect, where you make it, tax it, regulate it and import it,” St. Pierre said. “Legalization would lead to stabilization of our border with Mexico, and put an end to laws that create criminal profits and syndications.”
This year, Uruguay became the first country in the Americas to start taking steps to legalize marijuana.
The IMC report is titled “If Our Neighbors Legalize.” Among other things, the report said that 40 to 70 percent of the marijuana now consumed in the United States is imported (smuggled) from Mexico. The IMC is a nonprofit think tank, based in Mexico City, that conducts research on a variety of topics.
According to the report, the United States has about 30 million marijuana users who spend from $500 to $1,000 on pot each year.
In addition to Mexican drug-traffickers, television specials have highlighted U.S. local growers that produce and sell marijuana clandestinely, including some in California.
Experts estimate that Mexican drug dealers generate $11 billion to $12 billion in marijuana sales each year, which makes up half their total take for trafficking all illegal drugs.
No one was available Wednesday for comment at the White House Office. The Drug Enforcement Administration, the primary drug enforcement agency of the federal government, maintains on its website its position against the legalization of marijuana.
The IMC report also said Mexican drug traffickers would lose business to U.S. producers who could grow and distribute pot to consumers throughout the United States at a lower cost than smugglers do now.
Mexico’s drug dealers have to pay laborers to grow the marijuana, bribe police and other officials to protect their product, transport the product, smuggle it across the border, and distribute it to users.
In Mexico, it is not against the law to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. However, the government does not tax or regulate marijuana production or sales, and trafficking is still a violation of federal laws.
The IMC report said it’s also possible that Mexican pot producers would lose their competitive edge to U.S.-grown superior, seedless marijuana containing higher levels of (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) than the Mexican marijuana now possesses. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana.
“When Prohibition ended in the United States, there were (labor) displacements into other illegal activities, as well as in the legal economy,” the IMC report said.
Prohibition against alcohol beverages in the United States produced a lucrative liquor-smuggling industry in Mexico from 1920 to the early 1930s.
In response to the possible legalization of marijuana in the United States, the IMC recommends that the Mexican government:
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6140.
- Oregon: Measure 80 is intended to end the state’s prohibition against marijuana.
- Washington: The I-502 measure asks voters to approve the regulation of marijuana instead of a ban.
- Not take steps to legalize marijuana until the U.S. federal government defines its response to legalization by one or all three U.S. states.
- Launch alternative development programs (agriculture) in the marijuana production zones.
- Monitor against potential reverse smuggling from the United States.