Stop Smoking, Or Juarez Gets It, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

In this article the author said that if anyone had better numbers to email them in.  These numbers vary widely.  The numbers from the 2009 World Drug Report are much different than those from the 2008 World Drug Report mentioned in the article.  Production numbers from Mexico are all over the place, and many estimates put the amount produced in Mexico much higher than the 7,400 metric tons mentioned in the article. In the 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment put out by the National Drug Intelligence Center, part of the USDOJ, they said that , "According to U.S. Government estimates, approximately 15,500 metric tons of marijuana were produced in Mexico in 2007, primarily for export to the United States. "  In the 2009 World Drug Report (pdf, see page 91) they said Mexico produced 27,806 metric tons of herbal cannabis in 2007 and 15,800 metric tons in 2008.

The estimates are all over the place for Mexico. They are the biggest producers in the world.  They produce huge amounts of marijuana. Only a very small percentage of their population are marijuana consumers according to all the existing data. Most all of what they produce comes here. In places like where I live (Arkansas) Mexican pot completely dominates the market.  I've handled thousands of pounds worth of pot cases as an attorney, mostly drug mule cases where loads were stopped on I-40 that cuts across the United States. I've also handled plenty of little pot cases and the stuff the officers bring to court in their evidence bags is almost always compressed Mexican pot, the same brickweed the interdiction officers are pulling off the highway. In other parts of the country indoor grown marijuana is much more prevalent, but in the South this Mexican pot is so cheap that people just bring themselves to spend five times as much for pot that isn't five times as good.

Not only is there a lot of pot smuggled in from Mexico, but increasingly Mexicans are producing it right here on our own soil. They talk about this in the Drug Threat Assessment and of course we are always reading about Mexican grows in our national forests.  They are also starting to get into the indoor growing game in a big way too. In the past this was a much less organized effort except for some Cuban gangs in Florida and Asian gangs originating mostly out of Canada that produce large amounts of indoor grown marijuana in the U.S. What's happening is that the more law enforcement cracks down, the more marijuana production becomes the province of organized crime. They scare away the old hippies and good ole boys growing weed on the back forty. Organized crime comes in using expendable workers and knowing that they'll lose a few grows. That's all just a cost of doing business for them, much like a tax. They have lots of grows and expendable workers who take the fall for them. They get rich because they always have plenty of other grows that don't get popped.

The production estimates are not very accurate.  About the most concrete numbers we have are seizure numbers, but those aren't as great as they might seem because all we are getting are federal seizures.  There is no accounting of what state and local authorities seize. Small amounts seized in simple possession cases probably only add up to a few tons nationwide, but they make a lot of big seizures too. I am certain that many tons are seized on I-40 running through my state every year, and there are plenty of other seizures involving hundreds of pounds or tons or more from highways throughout the country and from stash houses where product is stored for later distribution.  And then of course there are all the standard drug busts where they'll catch people with larger amounts. The feds seize something like 1,300 pounds a year on average within our borders.  State and local authorities probably seize at least hundreds more tons every year.

Our last drug czar, John Walters, said that marijuana is the "bread and butter," the "center of gravity" for Mexican cartels.  The ONDCP estimates that they make over 60% of their income from marijuana bound for the U.S. Other government estimates have put the percentage of their income derived from marijuana even higher. It is clear that marijuana is their big money maker. This isn't because profit margins are so high with marijuana, it's because Americans consume thousands of tons of marijuana every year. Profit margins are higher with drugs like cocaine, meth and heroin, but Americans only consume in the hundreds of tons a year of all these drugs combined.

Even in my own work as a public defender handling drug mule cases it's which drugs are most prevalent. According to the feds, Mexican organized crime smuggle in and distribute most all the cocaine, meth and heroin consumed in this country. Cocaine is the second most popular illegal drug in the country. We see a lot of loads of cocaine on the highway, but they are much smaller than the marijuana loads and there are a whole lot fewer cocaine loads. The amount of pot seized absolutely dwarfs the amount of cocaine seized. Much less meth is seized and only relatively tiny amounts of heroin are seized. That's what we see on the major drug pipelines like I-40 and that's what the federal numbers show.

Mexican organized crime would be devastated if we could run marijuana through legal channels. They make most of their money from pot. Not only that, but they use their vast distribution networks for marijuana to move their other drugs. More marijuana is consumed in this country than all other illegal drugs combined. The black market for illegal drugs is mostly a black market for marijuana. All the drugs can be found in this black market though, with most of them coming from the same organizations up the line. When we legalize marijuana we're going to take millions of participants out of the black market for illegal drugs. This will make it harder for these Mexican DTOs to get their cocaine, meth and heroin and whatever else they are selling out to the public. If we have "pot stores" like liquor stores, these pot stores will be no more likely to sell all these other illegal drugs than liquor stores. The black market for illegal drugs and organizations like these Mexican drug trafficking organizations will shrink down to something much smaller and easier to contain.