A marijuana dispensary in California

The passing of marijuana legalization ballots in Washington and Colorado raises the question of whether these measures will hit the profits of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

The two states became the first to legalize the recreational use of the drug in the United States. In Colorado, the ballot passed with 53 percent of the vote, with 47 percent against. In Washington, with 60 percent of the vote counted, the measure was passing with 55 percent to 44.

The measures legalize personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and allow the drug to be legally sold and taxed in licensed stores.

A similar initiative failed to pass in Oregon, gaining less than 45 percent of the vote.

InSight Crime Analysis

A recent study by Mexican free trade think tank the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO), (co-authored by analyst Alejandro Hope, an InSight Crime contributor) found that if the marijuana legalization ballots passed in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, it could reduce the revenue of Mexican drug trafficking organizations by as much as 30 percent.

But as Hope pointed out on Animal Politico, the impact of these measure will depend on the US federal government’s response. Drug legalization activists -- and critics -- have expressed surprise that US Attorney General Eric Holder did not issue any strong statements opposing the marijuana legalization initiatives as the election approached. This was in marked contrast to the strongly worded statement Holder issued before California residents voted on Proposition 19 in 2010. So far, the response from the federal government remains muted: according to Reuters, the US Justice Department reacted to the measures by stating that its drug enforcement policy had not changed.

As Hope argues, the consequences of these marijuana legalization measures depends on how quickly and vigorously federal authorities react. There are several things the federal government may now do, Hope states: try to overthrow the legalization measures in court, increase the number of federal anti-drug police in Washington and Colorado, or selectively persecute marijuana buyers, sellers, and distributors in these two states.

Mexico, one of the major suppliers of marijuana to the US, is unlikely to feel the impact of these measures for a while. Parts of the Colorado measure will come into effect after 30 days, but the Washington measure will not take effect for a year. As John Walsh noted in commentary for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the legalization may have more symbolic than practical impact. The outcome of the vote is indicative of shifting attitudes towards marijuana prohibition in the US, for elected officials and citizens alike. “Rather than considering marijuana policy reform as, at best, a topic to avoid, more politicians may see it in a new light -- as a potentially voter-friendly issue that spans the ideological spectrum,” Walsh states.

As Walsh sets out, the symbolic importance of this vote for drug legalization comes as other leaders across Latin America have called for alternative approaches to the current war on drugs. The presidents of Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia emphasized the need for debate before the United Nations in October. Meanwhile, Uruguay and Chile have considered their own marijuana legalization bills.

However, as InSight Crime has argued, even with marijuana now legalized in two US states, Mexico's criminal organizations have proved to be very adaptable in finding new sources of revenue. Criminal groups have already expanded their criminal activities to include methamphetamine, migrant smuggling, and even illegal mining.  Even if the predictions of IMCO come to pass, and groups like the Sinaloa Cartel lose as much as half of their total income from drug trafficking, it will not be a fatal blow to Mexico's traffickers.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.