In a New York Times editorial, Sylvia Longmire attempts to generate interest in her upcoming book on drug cartels by arguing that marijuana legalization wouldn't actually do much to damage their profits:
FOR a growing number of American policy makers, politicians and activists, the best answer to the spiraling violence in Mexico is to legalize the marijuana that, they argue, fuels the country’s vicious cartels and smugglers. After all, according to official estimates, marijuana constitutes 60 percent of cartels’ drug profits. Legalization would move that trade into the open market, driving down the price and undermining the cartels’ power and influence.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Marijuana legalization has many merits, but it would do little to hinder the long-term economics of the cartels — and the violent toll they take on Mexican society.
What follows is familiar territory covered before by the drug czar and his friends:
For one thing, if marijuana makes up 60 percent of the cartels’ profits, that still leaves another 40 percent, which includes the sale of methamphetamine, cocaine, and brown-powder and black-tar heroin. If marijuana were legalized, the cartels would still make huge profits from the sale of these other drugs.
This is what you call doing "little to hinder the long-term economics" of these organizations? Imagine a CEO telling his shareholders not to worry because profits were only projected to shrink by around 60%.
Plus, there’s no reason the cartels couldn’t enter the legal market for the sale of marijuana, as organized crime groups did in the United States after the repeal of Prohibition.
No reason other than the fact that Americans are better at every aspect of the marijuana business other than smuggling it over the border. Cartel tactics are worthless in a legal market. What are they gonna do, sell us schwag at gunpoint?
Still, legalization would deliver a significant short-term hit to the cartels — if drug trafficking were the only activity they were engaged in. But cartels derive a growing slice of their income from other illegal activities. Some experts on organized crime in Latin America, like Edgardo Buscaglia, say that cartels earn just half their income from drugs.
Indeed, in recent years cartels have used an extensive portfolio of rackets and scams to diversify their income.
It's really quite a mess, I agree completely. But it all came about because we allowed these scumbags to make so much money selling drugs that they can now afford an R&D department that works around the clock to invent horrible new crimes. This isn't an argument against legalization, it's another disastrous consequence of prohibition that's going to keep getting worse every single day the drug war continues.
We can go back and forth forever about how much of the cartels' money comes from what, but one thing we all know for sure is where these vicious criminals found the power to become what they are today. It was through drug prohibition that this legacy of bloodshed and brutality was born, and the long process of unraveling it all cannot even begin until prohibition itself is brought to an end forever.
by Scott Morgan
June 21, 2011