Several media outlets have recently run articles about the impact the legalization of marijuana has been having on the Mexican cartels. Most (such as those from VICE or DailyKos) have been crowing that the legalization of pot is “crippling” the cartels. But is this a realistic view? Let’s take a look.
Marijuana is legal in Alaska, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. Washington D.C. just passed a legalization law for recreational use in line with the aforementioned states, but Congress has overturned it. Twenty-eight states have medical-marijuana laws, making it legal to possess small amounts of pot with a prescription.
A couple of interviews (notably the same two referenced in the VICE, Daily Kos, and World.Mic articles) with Sinaloa State marijuana farmers do point to a drop in marijuana prices, and thus an undercutting of cartel business. And it is undeniable that pot has provided substantial income to the cartels, historically. A Mexican Institute of Competitiveness study in 2012 estimated that marijuana accounted for up to 30 percent of the cartels’ income. Legalization will have the same effect on that market as the end of Prohibition had on the Mafia in the U.S. in the 1930s, so it does account for a major income loss.
However, the question remains just how much the marijuana market really is being affected. Four states legalizing recreational use while it is still illegal on a federal level (and there have been several municipalities in the legalization states that have objected and maintained local prohibitions) is unlikely to collapse the Mexican pot market overnight, or even in a matter of a few months. Two interviews with struggling pot farmers and a lot of hope from the legalization camp don’t make it fact. Furthermore, determining actual flow of illegal goods is notoriously difficult; it’s not like the illicit networks have reporting requirements, or an interest in reporting how much of what drug they move.