How Legalizing Marijuana is Affecting Mexican Cartels
The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington is changing the dynamics of illegal drug trade. Everyone has been affected by these recent changes to the law, and those that are perhaps feeling this shift the strongest and losing money are south of the border. For years, Mexican cartels have controlled a staggering portion of illegal drug trade in the United States, with the top cartels doing business in over 1,000 major US cities across the nation. Now that marijuana has been legalized, cartels, as well as the farmers that grow for them, are being forced to cease major marijuana growing operations as wholesale prices of the crops have quickly decreased in value. A kilo that not long ago went for $100 is now only worth $25.
Sinaloa has long been reputed for producing some of Mexico’s largest marijuana harvests, as well as turning out some of the most famous members of the country’s notorious cartel. Since the legalization of pot in the US, things in the “Golden Triangle” are starting to change and it is affecting not only the cartel, but farmers, families, and communities that are sustained by these illegal crops. With farmers no longer able to make any money, they are being forced to pull out, and are quickly losing a business that has sustained them for years.
Rodrigo Silla is one such farmer in this famous region who has been growing marijuana for decades. At the age of 50, he has been growing marijuana crops his entire life and says he can’t remember a time when he or the many other marijuana farmers in the region have had to cease growing cannabis. As a second generation marijuana farmer, he learned to cultivate the herb from his father and has since passed the tradition to his own sons. His boys, however, may be the last in Silla’s family to learn these farming practices. “There is no other way to make a living here,” Silla says, “and now it’s not worth it anymore. I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”
Marijuana legalization doesn’t look like it will be stopping anytime soon, which means bad news for the Mexican cartels who cannot meet the demands of falling wholesale prices. The ability for more crops to be grown in the states directly affects the demands of importation of the crop. Before legalization of cannabis, only ten million pounds were grown in the US, with forty million pounds smuggled in from Mexico. These numbers will potentially flip-flop with the ability to grow pot without consequence in two US states. Pot, legal or not, is much easier to smuggle over state lines than it is over international borders.
While precise numbers are difficult to pinpoint, it is estimated that before legalization, Mexican cartels were making up to 40 percent of their income through illegal marijuana cultivation and distribution. These numbers are drastically declining as the need for weed from outside sources drops and trade is kept within US borders. Fields that were once filled with rows of marijuana plants have been stripped of the harvests that rooted there for decades, and farmers are forced to turn to new sources of cultivation.
Although the legalization of marijuana has been a game changer for Mexican cartels and the farmers that are supported through illegal drug trade, they have been quick to turn to other methods of distribution that will allow them to continue to make money where they have lost it. Fields that were once filled with cannabis are now being sown for a different crop, one that will support a rapidly rising population of heroin addicts. Where weed once reigned, opium is now making its way across farms in Mexico, and will give cartels back what legalization has taken away.
A report released by the Mexican government released in 2012 clearly showed that poppy cultivation has now replaced marijuana grow operations. The report taken from studies the same year, showed officials seizing 40 percent more opium plants than it did marijuana plants. In 2007, when marijuana was still being evaluated for medicinal use in the states where it is now full blown legal, the destruction of marijuana crops was around 50 percent greater than that of the poppy.
The legalization of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use is becoming widespread across the United States, and old ways are being forced to change to conform to new standards. With the legalization of marijuana comes a shift in dynamics that those running illegal drug trade must conform to if they wish to continue to control the vast amount of illicit substances that are sure to continue crossing international borders every single day.