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Legalizing marijuana in California would not curtail Mexican drug organizations, study says

A new study concludes that Proposition 19, which would partially legalize marijuana in California, would do almost nothing to curtail violent Mexican drug organizations that ship the drug across the border, a finding that undermines one of the main arguments proponents have made.

The report, released Tuesday by the Rand Corp., the non-partisan research institute in Santa Monica, estimates legalized marijuana could displace Mexican marijuana sold in California, but says that accounts for just 2% to 4% of the revenues gangs get from drug exports.

The researchers said that if California’s legal pot were smuggled around the country, it could replace most Mexican marijuana sales, slicing more deeply into cartel revenues.

They say, however, that that scenario is highly unlikely. “We do not believe that the federal government will stand idly by if California were to capture the entire national market now held by Mexico-sourced marijuana,” they wrote in the report, called “Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico: Would Legalizing Marijuana in California Help?”

Comparing the Mexican drug gangs to the mafia after alcohol prohibition, the researchers also say that they are likely to find other businesses, just as the mafia did to replace bootlegging. In the short term, they conclude, violence might even increase as gangs fight over smaller revenues.

Proposition 19 would allow cities and counties to authorize the cultivation and sale of marijuana. It’s unclear, even if the initiative passes, how many would do that. It’s also unclear whether the Obama administration would allow it, since marijuana is illegal under federal law. The researchers do not address those issues. The initiative would also allow people 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce and grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana.

The initiative has triggered a serious debate south of the border, where a four-year campaign against drug gangs has left 30,000 people dead. Last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon stressed his opposition, saying that the United States has done too little to suppress consumption. But Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, supports the initiative and has called for legalization in Mexico.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the initiative would not solve Mexico’s drug problems in the short term, but said, “When marijuana is legal, over time, the criminal organizations are going to lose all of their competitive advantage.”

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the campaign against Proposition 19, said it would have little impact on cartels if it passed. “There’s going to be a tremendous opportunity to traffic in marijuana and make money in avoiding the taxes, so there’s still going to be a shady element,” he said.

The Rand report takes a harsh view of U.S. government estimates of the role marijuana plays in the revenues earned by cartels, dismissing the commonly cited claim that it makes up 60%. The researchers estimated marijuana revenues at between 15% and 26%. The higher estimate was published by the drug czar in 2006, but the researchers could find no documentation to support it.

“This 60% figure is a truly mythical number, one that appeared out of nowhere and that has acquired great authority,” they wrote. “This figure should not be taken seriously.”

The report also notes that U.S. government estimates of marijuana production “have long been inconsistent and sometimes implausible.” To illustrate the absurdity of one number, the researchers calculated regular users would need to smoke a joint every two hours they are awake.

The researchers suggest the government should start collecting better data. “Existing estimates about drug production and consumption are cryptic, inconsistent, and often impossible to verify,” they conclude.

Gil Kerlikowske, the drug czar, embraced the report’s conclusion that Proposition 19 would not dent the cartels. “At a time when drug use in America is on the rise,” he said, “we must focus our efforts on actions that will protect young people from the harms and consequences of illegal drug use instead of supporting initiatives that will make our nation’s drug problem worse.”

As part of their study, which they acknowledge is replete with uncertainties that could alter the results, the researchers had to do such calculations as determining the average weight of a joint: .46 grams.

The researchers also conclude that Mexican marijuana, which is lower in quality and lower in the main psychoactive ingredient than California-grown pot, has a U.S. market share between 40% and 67%.

Putting the wholesale price of Mexican marijuana at about $400 per pound, they determined that Mexican drug organizations make about $1.5 billion from exporting marijuana to the United States.

The researchers conclude that California marijuana, grown legally, could compete with the price of Mexican marijuana, even if it were taxed. And they note that California consumers would likely prefer the state’s pot, which is at least two times as potent. In an earlier report, Rand concluded that the price of marijuana would plunge about 80%, if it were legalized.

-- John Hoeffel

Comments () | Archives (91)

I'm proud to be an American when I read the comments by The People here exposing the bias of this article, and outright b.s. Wow, Rand corp is big pharma, and brought us the Pentagon Papers... big surprise.

That's the best thing about LA Times, it gives a chance for the real news to come out in the comments.

My two cents: If we can keep high school and college kids away from buying stuff from gangsters and having any sort of contact with that lot, then hell ya, legalize it.

For those who think marijuana use does not lead to problematic dependency in a significant number of people, consider that in LA County during the last fiscal year, over 3,500 peopole were treated in county-supported substance abuse treatment programs whose primary drug problem was marijuana. If there is further decriminalization, more people will use, and more will have problems.

At the vary least, possession should be treated as a violation, sort of like a traffic ticket.

Rand Corporation's guess on what would happen. They ultimately guess like everyone else, they just get paid far better for guessing. We all have our ideas f what would happen. One thing I think is that fewer people would have their lies ruined over personal use of the product.

LMAO "We do not believe that the federal government will stand idly by if California were to capture the entire national market now held by Mexico-sourced marijuana"

Priceless. J.

"Rand concluded that the price of marijuana would plunge about 80%, if it were legalized."

That's enough for me! Yes on prop 19!!!!

Just to let people know, RAND Corporation (Research ANd Development[2]) is a nonprofit global policy think tank first formed to offer research and analysis to the United States armed forces by Douglas Aircraft Company. It is currently financed by the U.S. government, a private endowment,[3] corporations [4] including the healthcare industry, universities[5] and private individuals.[6] The organization has long since expanded to working with other governments, private foundations, international organizations, and commercial organizations on a host of non-defense issues. RAND aims for interdisciplinary and quantitative problem solving via translating theoretical concepts from formal economics and the hard sciences into novel applications in other areas; that is, via applied science and operations research. RAND has been led since 1989 by Dr. James Thomson, a physicist. The second in command of the organization since 1993 has been Michael D. Rich.
In 1958, Democratic Senator Stuart Symington accused the RAND Corporation of defeatism for studying how the United States might strategically surrender to an enemy power. This led to the passage of a prohibition on the spending of tax dollars on the study of defeat or surrender of any kind. However, the senator had apparently misunderstood, as the report was a survey of past cases in which the US had demanded unconditional surrender of its enemies, asking whether or not this had been a more favorable outcome to US interests than an earlier, negotiated surrender would have been.[18]

In April 1970, Newhouse News Service reported that Richard Nixon had commissioned RAND to study the feasibility of canceling the 1972 election. RAND denied it and reviewed its recent work for possible sources of the story. They said that the review was fruitless.

RAND is an off chute of MacDonald/Douglas, a large military supplier to our government. RAND is just a paid for think tank to push one political parties agenda. Before you believe something written is true RESEARCH IT!

only a jerk would think that legalization of pot will not interrupt the cartels .

prop 19 won't solve all problems, but a significant number of people will grow their own and that takes their drug use completely out of the criminal element

people that stay home, grow their own pot and smoke it don't cause trouble or get into trouble

I wonder if the dopers will start protesting outside the HQ of the Rand Corporation like the gay rights activists have done outside the HQ of the Mormon church.

Who knows? Maybe they can even follow that "blueprint"from the gay-rights "playbook" even further by obtaining the NAMES of individuals involved in the study & harass, threaten, intimidate & vandalize their property.

ah, the big pharmaceutical companies and the booze manufacturers must have paid a pretty penny for this propaganda.

Remember this study is only about Mexican DTO's (drug trafficking organizations). It doesn't include domestic distribution income to criminals (cartels or MS 13, 18th st, etc.) which is probably the most important consideration to Californians. It doesn't including growing in California either. Read the study. Here is an excerpt:

"As noted earlier, it is very difficult to calculate the overall effect of marijuana legalization
on the Mexican DTOs because we neither know the extent of their current involvement in the
domestic marijuana trade in the United States nor the role they would play in smuggling California
sinsemilla to other states postlegalization."

It also calculates the Mexican wholesale pound at $400 (or $25 an ounce). That means any markup goes to other criminals not covered in the study. In the 90's when I smoked cheap mexican pot (sorry I was poor!), it was about $60-70 per ounce. It may be the same now, but still that's a large markup for criminals retailers.

To Robert who posted, "For those who think marijuana use does not lead to problematic dependency in a significant number of people, consider that in LA County during the last fiscal year, over 3,500 peopole were treated in county-supported substance abuse treatment programs whose primary drug problem was marijuana."

3,500 in a county of almost 10,000,000 people? That's a total of .003%!!! Yes, marijuana dependancy is a BIG problem. ;p

War on Drugs is a 50 billion dollar industry for the US Drug Czar and his gang. We aren't not fighting against the Mexican Cartels but our own government. Who's winning this War on Drugs? No one? Why is that? Cause it's planned that way... 50 billion a year on tax payers' money each year for how many year? Why would they ever want this war to be over?

I believe proposition 19 would throw a curve ball in the mexican cartail practices as it stands they are recieving money that the state of ca and other states are in great need of most people would purchase there marijuana from the state or grow there own just because it would be safer than what is found on the streets.

Sure, why would the Federal Government want to support the local economy. Keep the Black Market Drug Business in the hands of Foreign Criminals.

From a non-smoker, If legalized I think a lot of crime would drop. Drug Thugs would have no customers and be forced to change game.

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