Stop Smoking, Or Juarez Gets It

by Patrick Appel

DiA pulls tells pot smokers to stop toking up to help end the drug war in Mexico:

If Americans would, as a moral stance, agree to set aside their bongs that would go some way to helping our friends and neighbours to the south. It seems perfectly obvious but nonetheless bears mentioning; there are plenty of generally thoughtful, well-meaning people who keenly want to close gun-show loopholes but don't connect the dots between that kind of thing and their own recreational activities. So let's make sure it's explicit: Unless you are sure of where your pot comes from, odds are you are helping to finance a particularly vicious and rapacious industry.

I'm not a smoker, but this isn't a very convincing argument. I'm with this Economist reader:

Economics is as much the study of incentives as scarcity. Why propose a solution that comes with no incentive (except the avoidance of moral guilt -- because that works so well)? We know a voluntary relinquishing of bongs will not be forthcoming, and most reasonable people have already happened upon a straight-forward, if not perfect, solution: legalization.

I tried to find how much American marijuana comes from Mexico and came up empty. Here are the most recent statistics on international pot production I could find (If anyone has better numbers, e-mail and I'll update the post):

Worldwide production for 2006, the latest year for which figures are available, was around 41,400 metric tons, said the U.N.'s World Drug Report 2008. A metric ton equals 2,205 pounds. Mexico produced 7,400 metric tons, while the United States cultivated 4,700 metric tons, the U.N. report said.

We grow an awful lot of pot ourselves, so I'm not convinced that the "odds are you are helping to finance a particularly vicious and rapacious industry." rounds up the data on annual marijuana consumption in America:

[A]ll the data presented above suggests the most reliable estimate of annual supply is one that takes each of four most prominent estimates into consideration: 1) the 21,865 mt estimate based on seizures and domestic production; 2) the 17,000 mt estimate reported by the Library of Congress; 3) the 8,700 mt estimate generated by combining State Department and NDIC reports; and 4) the 9,830 mt consumption estimate above derived from National Survey data. The average of these four estimates of supply is 14,349 mt of marijuana available in the US on an annual basis.

If the 14,000 metric tons number is correct, then most pot smoked in America does come from abroad, but that doesn't prove that over half of our marijuana comes from Mexico. Almost 100 percent of their crop would have to come here for that to be true.