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 Mexicos Sinaloa state, in particular, have stopped planting cannabis, citing significantly reduced prices over the last months and year.
Given that Mexican cartels have historically controlled the majority of the illegal drug trade in major U.S. cities, according to the Department of Justices 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, cant 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 Mexicos 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 lineswhich may not prove to be trueit 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 wont be a viable business for the Mexican cartelsthe 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 theres less demand for Mexican cannabis, its 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.