How California’s Legalization of Marijuana Impacts Mexico’s Cartels

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US voters in three states — including California — have approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, a decision that is likely to accelerate the trend of Mexican criminal organizations shifting production to other illicit drugs, particularly heroin.

Voters chose to legalize the use of recreational marijuana in California, Massachusetts and Nevada during the November 8 elections, and the drug will also be available for medicinal purposes in three additional states, reported the New York Times.

The percentage of US citizens living in states with recreational marijuana legislation rose from five to 20 percent, according to the Times. The addition of California to the list of states that have now legalized marijuana is of particular significance.

California is the most populous US state, and its economy ranks as the fifth largest in the world. A 2015 study found that California accounted for 49 percent of the US marijuana market in 2014, and that it is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, according to The Huffington Post

InSight Crime Analysis

The legalization of marijuana in California is sure to have a big impact on criminal groups south of the border, as they continue to respond to the changes in supply and demand for illicit drugs in the United States. 

The production of opium poppy, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, has been growing in Mexico as a result of a boom in the US market for the drug, which has been linked to the overprescription of legal medical opioids. Studies have estimated that poppy cultivation could now amount to 40 percent more than that of marijuana in Mexico.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Heroin

This shift has been accelerated by the legalization of marijuana in a growing number of US states, which has led to a decrease in demand for black-market marijuana smuggled in from Mexico. These criminal organizations are increasingly switching to poppy in order to curb the financial losses incurred by the fall in marijuana profits. With the number of potential consumers in the legal US marijuana market quadrupling overnight, Mexican smuggling groups will be further incentivized to make the transition to heroin and other illicit drugs such as methamphetamine

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