Study: Pot legalization in U.S. states could hurt Mexican cartels
MEXICO CITY -- This may not weigh heavily on the minds of voters in Seattle, but if Washington and two other U.S. states decide to legalize marijuana in next week's election, the effect on drug traffickers in Mexico could be enormous.
Such is the suggestion of a new study by a Mexican think tank.
"It could be the biggest structural blow that [Mexican] drug trafficking has experienced in a generation," Alejandro Hope, security expert with the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, said in presenting the report.
Producing and distributing marijuana inside the U.S. would supply a less expensive and better quality drug to the millions of American who smoke it, Hope said. Demand for Mexican pot would decline, cutting into cartels' profits by 22% to 30%, the study calculates.
The consequences would be most dramatic, Hope added, for the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which is based in western Mexico and controls most of the marijuana production.
It is estimated that around one-third of Mexican drug gangs' income is from marijuana, surpassed only and narrowly by cocaine.
Washington, Oregon and Colorado have legalization initiatives on their ballots. Hope cited polls that showed likely approval for the measure in Washington and Colorado and defeat in Oregon.
Taking into account taxes, markups, transportation costs and other factors, U.S.-produced marijuana would retail at a little more than half the cost of illegally shipped Mexican pot, Hope's study indicated.
However, he acknowledged that legalization in one or more U.S. states would create an illicit contraband of the drug to other states -- precisely one of the main arguments used by opponents of the ballot measures.
One unpredictable fallout is how the cartels would react. Would the thousands of people employed in marijuana production turn to other illegal -- and possibly more violent -- activities like kidnapping and extortion?
Also, Hope said, the study does not consider what will happen in the likely event that the U.S. federal government acts to impede or challenge legalization measures approved by state voters.
But any legalization in the U.S. is an exciting prospect, he said, because it would probably cut illegal production in Mexico and change the debate over drug use worldwide.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: Mexican soldiers guard a marijuana plantation discovered in western Mexico last month. Credit: Alexandre Meneghini / Associated Press