The following is excerpted from an article by InSight Crime* analyst Elyssa Pachico
Approval last week in Colorado and Washington state of measures allowing the recreational use of marijuana has fueled debate on whether legalization will reduce drug traffickers’ profits and the violence surrounding the illicit narcotics trade. In both states, ballots passed with comfortable margins of 53 percent (Colorado) and 55 percent (Washington). The measures legalize personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and allow the drug to be legally sold (and taxed) in licensed stores. A similar initiative failed to pass in Oregon, gaining less than 45 percent of the vote.
A recent study by a Mexican think tank, the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO), and Alejandro Hope (an InSight Crime contributor) found that passage of the initiatives in all three states would reduce the revenue of Mexican drug trafficking organizations by as much as 30 percent. Hope has pointed out on Animal Político, a popular Mexican news site, that the impact will depend on the U.S. federal government’s response. Attorney General Eric Holder strongly opposed such measures in 2010 when California residents voted on Proposition 19, but he did not issue strong statements this year. The government’s response to last week’s votes has been muted; according to Reuters, the US Justice Department reacted to the measures by stating that its drug enforcement policy had not changed.
Mexico, a major supplier of marijuana, is unlikely to feel the impact of these measures for a while. Parts of the Colorado measure will come into effect after 30 days, but the Washington measure will not take effect for a year. But, over the long term, the votes indicate shifting attitudes towards marijuana prohibition in the United States – on the heels of similar shifts in Latin American countries eager to find alternatives to the current war on drugs. The presidents of Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia have emphasized the need for discussions, and Uruguay and Chile have considered their own marijuana legalization bills. InSight Crime cautions, however, that the drug organizations have proved to be very adaptable in finding new sources of revenue – including methamphetamines, migrant smuggling, and even illegal mining.
* Insight Crime is affiliated with American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, which produces AULABLOG. Click here for the full text and additional links.