It's been stated as fact many times that efforts to legalize weed for recreational use in Washington will deal a significant blow to Mexican drug cartels. But now that I-502 has passed, and possessing up to an ounce of processed pot for those 21 and older is set to become legal in Washington this week, is that really the case?
While pot legalization in our state and Colorado seems destined to forever change the way Mexican drug cartels do business - both here and throughout the United States - the idea that efforts like I-502 will cripple cartels is likely, at best, overblown.
As former Seattle Weekly staff writer Keegan Hamilton expertly illustrates for The Atlantic today, the problem (and the way cartels are likely to react to marijuana legalization) is far more complex than many have given it credit for.
As Hamilton writes for The Atlantic:
The notion that legalizing marijuana will cripple Mexico's brutal drug cartels has gained steam in recent years, and finally boiled over last month when Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Adults 21 and over in both states will be allowed to possess up to an ounce of processed pot, reversing a prohibition policy that stood for the better part of a century. It's unclear whether the federal government will tolerate the repeal, but if legal pot remains the law of the land, it is widely assumed that Mexican drug cartels will be out several billion dollars in annual revenue.
But talk to entrepreneurs familiar with the existing marijuana industry in Washington and Colorado -- and to law enforcement agents who deal with gang crime -- and there is reason for skepticism. Not only have the cartels diversified their portfolios (to borrow language applied to other multinational, multibillion dollar operations); the Mexican suppliers have already been edged out of the local markets in the two new green states.
That stiff competition, of course, comes via the booming medical marijuana industry.
More from The Atlantic:
Both Colorado and Washington, however, have booming medical marijuana industries that aid legitimate pain patients in need of extremely potent hybrid strains and also indirectly supply an untold number of connoisseur stoners. Mexican marijuana, typically grown outdoors on large plantations, contains little more than 5 percent THC -- the compound responsible for marijuana highs -- compared to the 15 percent or more found on the top shelf of a U.S. dispensary. Josh Berman, cofounder of the 4Evergreen Group, an organization that bills itself as Washington's "premier medical cannabis patient network," says the shrink-wrapped Mexican schwag is looked upon with scorn.
Joe Gagliardi, a gang-unit detective in Seattle's county sheriff's office, says product from local growhouses has largely replaced the once-coveted "BC Bud" imported from neighboring Canada. Gangs, he says, will sometimes trade Washington pot to get discounts on meth shipments that originate in Mexican labs. The detective foresees gangsters buying out weed stores' inventory and selling it in other states, or perhaps using the black market to undercut the heavily regulated legal one, which levies a 25-percent tax at each step of the way from grower to smoker. (The duty adds an estimated $500 million to Washington state coffers every year.)
"I just don't see the legislation of marijuana causing any problems for the criminals," Gagliardi said. "The gangs are still going to grow marijuana and they're still going to sell marijuana, only now it will be legal for them to walk around with an ounce supply individually packaged and not have any repercussions."
What might actually cripple Mexican drug cartels? The Atlantic cites the Mexican Center for Competitiveness, a think-tank responsible for an oft-referenced report estimating that legalization in Washington could cut Mexican cartels' annual marijuana profits up to $1.37 billion. However, As Hamilton points out, "The only way cartels will be seriously affected by the new pot laws, according to the Mexican Center for Competitiveness, is if Washington and Colorado's legal weed spreads to parts of the country more reliant on Mexican grass."
Considering widespread marijuana legalization throughout the country doesn't seem likely anytime soon, Mexican drug cartels are likely to adapt and keep on trucking.
Read Hamilton's full piece - which is packed with stats and evidence in support of such assertions - here.