Public opinion no longer views marijuana as “the devil’s weed.” In addition to three states voting on the legalization of medical marijuana, Oregon, Colorado and Washington have voted on the legalization of pot for recreational use.
The push for legalization is very real and now stronger than ever, as those continue to step forward to speak of its medicinal benefits and its role as a more or less benign modifier of consciousness. Public support for marijuana legalization has been steadily rising since 2002, breaking a record at 50 percent of Americans favoring legalization. This added with the fact that more than 70 percent of Americans who believe weed should be made legal for medicinal reasons has the potential to significantly alter the social and cultural status of many Americans who do smoke marijuana. It also would have an incredible impact on our infamous war on drugs.
Anyone familiar with U.S. history might know that marijuana was once both legal and endorsed by the American government. Our Founding Fathers had their own hemp crops where they sowed the harvest for multiple purposes, smoking being one of them. It wasn’t until the 1930s that marijuana was nationally prohibited. Since then, fear, ignorance and demonization of the plant have made it one of the biggest players in the drug war. Almost an eighth of drug prisoners are being held for crimes related to pot, meaning that Americans pay more than a billion dollars per year to hold such
While these measures up for debate in Oregon, Colorado and Washington will have a real effect on America’s prison systems, economy and pharmacy, they may more directly change the power and activity of Mexico’s most popular drug cartels. The Mexican states Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa are
expected to be most impacted by legalization, as they are home to the biggest drug cartels in Mexico. Sinaloa may be the most affected, perhaps losing up to 50 percent of its revenue.
Right now, the U.S. gets between 40 and 70 percent of its marijuana from Mexico. The Mexican drug trade makes about $11 billion a year and has resulted in more than 60,000 deaths of government officials, reporters, activists and civilians over the last six years. Legalization of recreational marijuana use would considerably lower violence and revenue in these cartels. In Washington alone, a projected $1.9 billion in state revenue would be generated in a five-year period. With a proposed 25 percent tax on marijuana, the drug would still be sold for cheaper than if it was brought from Mexico. This home-growing idea would provide less expensive, better quality cannabis for people in the U.S. If these measures are passed, the cumulative revenues would lead to a loss of almost $5 billion a year to cartels.
It seems that the American people are relearning what our Founding Fathers and these drug cartels have already known — that marijuana is a cash crop. We also seem to be learning that, contrary to the 1930s idea of “Reefer Madness,” weed has been shown to be less harmful than alcohol and less addictive than nicotine. Aside from this issue, the distribution and sale of marijuana in these states will remove income that would otherwise go to organized crime and instead use the money for the state. This simply means state offices, small businesses and individuals would yield higher profits.
Clearly, legalization would not end cartel violence in Mexico, but there is no doubt that cartels would lose a significant amount of power. If any of these states pass their legalizing amendments, it will give both the U.S. and Mexico the chance to redefine drug policy when it comes to marijuana. The time has come.