It’s an argument marijuana legalization advocates have been using for years: If marijuana were legalized and regulated in America, drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and gangs would be put out of business. But how much truth does that argument hold?
The expansion of medical marijuana dispensaries and growers in California, Michigan, and Colorado could provide all the proof as Mexican drug trafficking organizations now have something to fear, loss of profits from the relatively new “pseudolegalization” represented by medical marijuana.
Basic economics and a little history suggest that cartels and DTOs will adapt to pseudolegalization because they still have a market in the U.S. Many already have, and it isn’t pretty.
In the national forests and public timberlands of Northern California, Mexican growers shoot at U.S. law enforcement agents with growing frequency and use fertilizers and pesticides that pollute watersheds and start fires. A 90,000-acre blaze in Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest in August began on a marijuana farm run by Mexican traffickers, according to authorities.
The traffickers are also engaged in an escalating race to achieve higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical ingredient that gives pot its potency. The THC content of Mexican marijuana seized at the southwest border jumped from 4.8 percent in 2003 to 7.3 percent in 2007, according to U.S. officials.
These problems seem to be the lingering effects of marijuana prohibition as legalization becomes increasingly appealing. Remember when President Obama opened up Change.org for questions? The number-one question was whether he would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana to help the economy. He laughed it off at a town-hall meeting.
California’s medical marijuana industry thrives despite the recession and provides a service California residents desire. Take a look at Harborside Health Center in Oakland, CA, for example. You’re greeted outside by a friendly security guard who checks your medical marijuana recommendation or ID card. Inside, the Center is clean and welcoming, with baristas waiting to tell you anything you need to know about their cannabis options. Harborside is one of the few dispensaries that monitor the THC levels of the medicine. They also test for levels of other cannabinoids, like CBD and all medicine is inspected for mold and other fungi. First-time visitors get a free gram of medicine.
So if you had the option to buy marijuana at a clean store that also offers an activism center, free yoga classes, acupuncture and massage, would you ever go back to buying shwag from someone you don’t know? Probably not.
You also pay taxes when you purchase marijuana at Harborside. Oakland voters passed a 1.8% tax on all medical marijuana sold in the city’s four dispensaries. This is estimated to bring in around $300,000 a year per dispensary for the city. Dispensaries brought in about $18 million in California state taxes last year. These numbers are one reason the marijuana industry isn’t going away anytime soon.
Just like with food, when if comes to pot, buy local; you could be helping bring down drug cartels more effectively than law enforcement is.