In news that no one had to be Nostradamus to predict, the legalization of marijuana has had a ripple effect on the “War on Drugs,” massively impacting the profitability and reach of Mexican drug cartels, which are taking a huge financial hit. The cost of the “drug” has dropped on the black market, and in turn has dropped the pay to farmers growing it in Mexico from $100 a kilo to $25 since it’s so readily available legally. With growers based in the US, the demand has plummeted for cannabis that has to be smuggled into the country. The market is showing its efficacy very clearly (read a thorough breakdown on this topic from James Miller here). This is upsetting not only to the cartels, but also to the DEA.
The natural effect of legalization is for bootleggers and smugglers to die off, taking the violence that accompanies any illicit trade with them. You may remember a little thing called “alcohol prohibition,” which is universally viewed as an idiotically bad idea that cost millions of dollars (and in 1920s dollars nonetheless!) and thousands of lives. Everyone agrees it was pointless and the country was better off when it ended than when it began. The insane war against marijuana (and other drugs) falls into the same category, yet quixotically it’s only now that people seem to be waking up to that fact.
The DEA even acknowledges this fact, yet continue to vehemently support the War on Drugs.
Former DEA senior intelligence specialist Sean Dunagan told VICE News that, although it’s too early to verify the numbers: “Anything to establish a regulated legal market will necessarily cut into those profits. And it won’t be a viable business for the Mexican cartels — the same way bootleggers disappeared after prohibition fell.”
Why keep the war going then? For the same reason that any bloated government agency vocally cries out when their validity is questioned: money and power. The DEA gets a massive amount of funding – 2.77 Billion dollars in 2013. With the legalization of marijuana, which is unquestionably the most used “illegal” drug and the most smuggled, that already unjustifiable budget stands out as in dire need for trimming.
“The DEA doesn’t want the drug war to end,” said (retired federal agent) Terry Nelson, when asked about a possible connection between the agency’s hatred of legal pot and its buddies in Sinaloa. “If it ends, they don’t get their toys and their budgets. Once it ends, they aren’t going to have the kind of influence in foreign government. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but where there’s smoke there’s probably fire.”
Nelson makes a fantastic point – drug smuggling isn’t just good for the smugglers, but also good for our own forces who can use relationships and the ability to “look the other way” to their own advantage and that of their friends in power. Vice goes much deeper into the cozy relationship between the DEA and Cartels in its article. It’s worth a read.