US marijuana legalization is making life tough for Mexican cartels

The shift toward legalization for marijuana in the U.S. is having an unintended consequence in Mexico: Cannabis farmers who previously grew the drug for Mexican…

This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office shows an estimated $4 million worth of marijuana that was found Sunday, March 17, 2013 at Arroyo Camada beach in Santa Barbara County, Calif., next to a panga boat. Cannabis growers in Mexico are worried that their crops are no longer a valuable export to the U.S. (AP Photo/Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office)

The shift toward legalization for marijuana in the U.S. is having an unintended consequence in Mexico: Cannabis farmers who previously grew the drug for Mexican cartels are struggling.

As cannabis growers pop up across the U.S., the international demand for the drug has plummeted. Especially in places such as Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use, more and more Americans are looking to produce their own supplies or are buying marijuana locally.

Many farmers in Mexico’s Sinaloa state, in particular, have stopped planting cannabis, citing significantly reduced prices over the last months and year.

SEE ALSO: Uruguay’s illegal marijuana is getting cheaper and better

Given that Mexican cartels have historically controlled the majority of the illegal drug trade in major U.S. cities, according to the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center, marijuana legalization may represent the beginning of a serious shift in the war on drugs.

No Longer Profitable

Rodrigo Silla, a cannabis farmer in central Mexico, can’t make a profit off of his product anymore. Speaking to the Washington Post, Silla noted that he wishes that the Americans “‘would stop with this legalization.’”

Prices for marijuana in Mexico’s Sinaloa state have dropped precipitously over the last year. While it used to cost $100 for a kilogram, it now costs just $25, forcing many cannabis farmers to focus on other crops.

The Mexico Institute for Competitiveness conducted a study showing that legalization in the U.S. could cut into cartel profits by up to 30 percent.

According to CBS, the Mexican think tank calculated that marijuana legalization in Colorado would eventually lead to a $1.425 billion loss for Mexican cartels, while legalization in Washington would cause a $1.372 billion loss. If Oregon legalizes, IMCO predicts another $1.839 billion loss.

Similarities to Ending Prohibition

While the study makes several assumptions about the ease of moving marijuana across state lines—which may not prove to be true—it does highlight the real impact changing attitudes toward marijuana may have on the illegal drug trade.

Like the end of Prohibition, many have suggested that decriminalizing cannabis will effect a cultural shift. Not only will prices drop, but the urgency of an illegal trade will all but evaporate.

According to a DEA official quoted in Vice News, Mexican cartels with a focus on marijuana may be on their way out, permanently: “…it won’t be a viable business for the Mexican cartels—the same way bootleggers disappeared after prohibition fell.”

Curbing the Drug War?

Retired federal agent Terry Nelson reported that prior to marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado, 40 million pounds of the drug came from Mexico, while only 10 million pounds were grown in the U.S.

With those numbers shifting quickly, some government officials are hopeful that legalization will help to curb the illegal drug trade and the violence that goes along with that: According to Mother Jones, Mexican cartels are responsible for an estimated 60,000 murders over the past decade, many of those associated with transporting marijuana to the U.S. If there’s less demand for Mexican cannabis, it’s possible that those numbers will decrease.

On the other hand, many have pointed out that Mexican cannabis farmers are already moving north to California and setting up illegal growing areas there. Whether this will simply move the violence to that state remains to be seen.

SEE ALSO: Local marijuana pushers peddle the old-fashioned way