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US, Mexican Authorities Say Prop. 19 Won’t Squelch Drug Cartel Violence

Supporters of Proposition 19, that would legalize marijuana in California, argue that regulating the drug will end violence associated with Mexican drug cartels. Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border doubt that because marijuana is just one of many drugs that cartels smuggle.

Mexican police investigate a violent drug-related crime scene on March 21, 2010 in Juarez, Mexico.
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Above: Mexican police investigate a violent drug-related crime scene on March 21, 2010 in Juarez, Mexico.

KPBS SPECIAL COVERAGE

The Marijuana State

The street is quiet. The homes and two stories and look tidy yet lived-in in this Chula Vista neighborhood about 10 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

People here still talk about one afternoon three years ago. That’s when the convoy of police SUVs crept into the cul-de-sac. “I was simply sitting on my couch and my father told me, look outside,” says Brandon Price, who has vivid memories of that day.

He was nine years old. He peeked out of the living room window to see what was going on. His dad went outside. “They pointed a gun at him and told him to get back inside,” recounts Brandon.

The SWAT team had surrounded the house across the street. They eventually rescued a 32-year-old Mexican businessman. He’d been kidnapped by a drug gang, Los Palillos, eight days earlier.

Authorities later discovered the gang had killed nine people. They dissolved two bodies in acid and dumped others in the streets.

It’s an example of drug violence, tied to Mexican cartels, that occasionally flares up around San Diego. “And if you look at the violence in Mexico that just can’t continue,” says Richard Lee, a marijuana activist and a key backer of the proposition to legalize marijuana in California.

About 30,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug war in the last four years. Though drug violence has subsided in Tijuana, drug murders grind on in the city’s outskirts and hundreds of tons of drugs continue to stream across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Lee says Proposition 19 is the best way to undermine drug cartels. “The strongest argument I think personally is to make a first step toward ending the violence in Mexico. It’s worse than Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Lee and other Proposition 19 backers say legalizing marijuana in California will slash cartels' profits. Marijuana has been their cash crop for decades. Under Proposition 19, Lee says, there would be no need to buy from cartels anymore because Californians could grow their own legally.

But, David Shirk who directs the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego, doubts that losing the California market would hurt the drug gangs that much. “The reality is that you would probably have to legalize consumption of marijuana throughout the United States, or in several significantly sized states, to have any kind of reverberations here in Mexico,” says Shirk.

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Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: David Shirk says marijuana would have to be legalized throughout the U.S. to have an impact on Mexican Drug Organizations. Shirk is the director of the Transborder Institute of the University of San Diego.

Joe Garcia, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement says regardless, pot isn’t cartels’ meal ticket anymore. “They diversified, there’s a larger increase in manufacturing of meth in Mexico. Eighty percent of what U..S authorities seize comes from Mexico,” says Garcia. Besides, he says Proposition 19 wouldn’t touch cartels’ profits from their other illegal activities, “Heroin, cocaine, extortion, gun running, bulk cash smuggling, whatever. They’re going to find a way to do it.” And the violence that comes with smuggling those drugs, cash and guns will continue.

South of the border, Mexican President Felipe Calderon opposes Prop 19. He says it represents inconsistency. He asks, how can US drug policy demand Mexico crack down on drug trafficking and also encourage consumption, like he says Prop 19 does?

The Mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Ramos, fears Prop 19 means smugglers would pump even more pot through his city to feed California’s demand. “And that’s costs us a lot of lives and peace here in Tijuana,” laments Ramos.

On the flip side, Baja California Attorney General Rommel Moreno fears cartels will forgo smuggling marijuana to California and sell it in Tijuana instead. Why go through the rigmarole of smuggling if there’s little profit?

Moreno says whatever happens with Proposition 19 in November, Mexico and California should make decisions about marijuana together. “Making decisions in isolation would be suicide,” cautions Moreno.

Meanwhile, Mexican drug organizations are already growing hundreds of tons of marijuana in California, mostly on public lands.

Authorities have arrested dozens of Mexican nationals tending these fields throughout California. However, they haven’t been able to tie them to major Mexican cartels.

Some authorities fear Proposition 19 opens a new legal market for this marijuana and Mexican drug groups will cash in.

One recent report by the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement indicates that the amount of pot grown in the state last year was three times greater than the amount seized along the entire U.S. Mexico border.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Cann_Do'

Cann_Do | October 11, 2010 at 6:22 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

From the article:
"But, David Shirk who directs the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego, doubts that losing the California market would hurt the drug gangs that much. “The reality is that you would probably have to legalize consumption of marijuana throughout the United States, or in several significantly sized states, to have any kind of reverberations here in Mexico,” says Shirk."
*********************

Yes. Of course. And PROP 19 is the BEST way to get this process going. This is an argument in favor of PROP 19, not against it. ___________

California must lead the rest of the states to a rational policy for cannabis, so that we can get to where David Shirk says we need to be! PASS PROP 19, so we can end cartel violence, like David Shirk says! _____________

Also- from the article:
"Joe Garcia, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement says regardless, pot isn’t cartels’ meal ticket anymore. "
*******************

This is false. Both Mexican and American authorities estimate that ~60% of cartel income is derived specifically from marijuana sales and smuggling. Eliminating over HALF of the cartel's income by legalizing cannabis is a wonderful way to knock them down. There is no other single action that can devastate the cartels to the same degree as PASSING PROP 19. ____________

Also, Agent Joe is deliberately misleading you when he says that much of the marijuana isn't coming from Mexico anymore. That's true... BUT now its being grwon on US public lands by cartels, smuggled within the US by cartels and sold by cartels in the US. It's STILL cartel violence and devastating our public forests, even though its not coming from Mexico. PASSING PROP 19 will put an immediate stop to this as well. ___________

We do not have cartels growing grapes for wine and hops for beer in our national forests. A YES on PROP 19 vote will end the destruciton of public lands.

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Avatar for user 'daveed'

daveed | October 11, 2010 at 7:07 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

I believe this indicates police really need some economics training. To believe that ending marijuana prohibition won't hurt the black market is astonishingly ignorant.

Then there is one official that lists all the things cartels can smuggle, and concludes taking away one of those items is bad. The most logical conclusion would be ending MJ prohibition is a good first step.

I guess it's true, you can't make a man understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.

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Avatar for user 'ConservativeChristian'

ConservativeChristian | October 11, 2010 at 8:44 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Jesus said to treat other people the way we would want to be treated. I know I wouldn’t want my kid to go to jail with the sexual predators, or my aging parents to have their house confiscated and sold by the police, over a little marijuana.

Let’s change the world. Let’s get registered and vote.

Voter registration for California (deadline: October 18)
w w w . sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_vr.htm .
(just fill out the form and mail it in).

California request a ballot by mail (deadline: October 26):
w w w . sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_m.htm .

To vote early (like, Today!) contact your county election official at
w w w .sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_d.htm

Other states: Google your state name and the phrase, voter registration.

Students can usually register as a citizen of either your hometown or your college residence town. Share the voter registration info through your student newspaper, twitter, etc.

Five minutes. Register. Vote. Change the world. We can do it right now.

Pass it on

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Avatar for user 'mjs123'

mjs123 | October 11, 2010 at 10:13 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

There is only one and only one solution to this problem.
Don't buy and use marijuana. The pot users are the ones feeding the drug cartels with money. They are the ones at fault. If there are no pot users in the USA, there will be no suppliers. Simple economics. So the ultimate solution is education in pot dependency and treatment of pot dependency. Period. End of Story.

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Avatar for user 'hboooo'

hboooo | October 11, 2010 at 12:48 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

MJS123

your missing the point here!!! Consumption of marijuana in and of itself is not hurting anybody. You may agure of its health effects but people have to be able to make those decisons by themselves. So since people are choosing to consume this plant then it should be made available in ways that do not enrichen the cartels. End of story.

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Avatar for user 'ConservativeChristian'

ConservativeChristian | October 11, 2010 at 1:35 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Jesus said to treat other people the way we would want to be treated. I know I wouldn’t want my kid to go to jail with the sexual predators, or my aging parents to have their house confiscated and sold by the police, over a little marijuana.

Let’s change the world. Let’s get registered and vote.

Just Google your state name and the phrase, voter registration. In many states, you can simply print off the form and mail it in, but do it today! Registration deadlines are upon us!

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Avatar for user 'PabloKoh'

PabloKoh | October 11, 2010 at 2:29 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Just a thought. Why would we listen to the same government institutions that continue to fail at preventing drug violence? If they knew what to do about it shouldn't they have done it already after 30+ years of the War on Drugs? The violence has gotten worse, not better. The status quo does not work. It is time to drag the bureaucrats away from the gravy train that is the War on Drugs and make actual reforms that will make a difference.

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Avatar for user 'mjs123'

mjs123 | October 11, 2010 at 10:36 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Why is ephedra, a weight loss herb banned? Why is trans fat banned? Who smuggles those?

Really, if you are a real dope addict, you can pay people to rent their 25 sq ft to you so you have an endless supply of pot.

Or if you are looking to make millions of dollars, you can rent other people's 25 sq ft and traffic the cultivated pot to the other states for millions of dollars. You just need to have trusted customers in the other states. So, really. Prop 19 will turn many Californians to drug traffickers and drug dealers to the other states. And Prop 19 will turn many dope users into more dope dependent users, Prop 19 will breed a whole generation of pot babies from pot dependent parents. Prop 19 will turn many unscrupulous Californians into millionaires trafficking pot to the rest of the states with their BMWs, Mercedes and Rolls Royce.
That's what it boils down to. Oh, and it will turn Richard Lee, the self-professed stoner dude who wrote the proposition and founder of Oaksterdam pot University into a billionaire.

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Avatar for user 'Barry'

Barry | October 11, 2010 at 10:51 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Oh please... Very few people will grow their own. How many people grow their own Tobacco? Most people will simply buy it. It's going to be much cheaper once it's legal.

The only people who are against legalization are those who are profiting from it. The men that wrote this article obviously have an agenda but they did make one valid point. That Prohibition is the cause of all the crime. They admitted that if the rest of the USA legalized Marijuana that it would cripple the cartels. So how do they propose we do that? The ONLY way is by State Referendum. No Politician will touch this issue and if we left it up to them it would stay just the way it is forever.

Prop 19 is the best way to hurt the drug cartels' that is available to us now. It will lead to other States legalizing Marijuana and eventually it should be legal everywhere. People have been lied to about the dangers for too long.

I had a number of concerns myself at first, mainly for my kids. I really had to THINK about this and get out and educate myself on it. It takes a lot of education to overcome all the stigma. This is about more than just making it legal again. This is a human rights issue, and I feel it's important to carry that message. The Govt. has done an amazing job of convincing us that Marijuana is a "DRUG" just like Heroin and Cocaine when in fact, it's really just a "drug" with no spectacular consequences for everyday people. Hard to swallow that after so many years of indoctrination.

The only way to overcome that indoctrination is through education and by opening minds...

Upton Sinclair wrote, "It is almost impossible to get a man to understand something when his Salary depends on him not understanding it. "

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Avatar for user 'wayne'

wayne | October 12, 2010 at 7:34 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Amy Isackson does not mention former Mexican President Vicente Fox's call for the legalization of marijuana.

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-05-13/world/mexico.fox.marijuana_1_mexican-president-vicente-fox-colombian-president-cesar-gaviria-traffickers?_s=PM:WORLD

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Avatar for user 'Sail1999'

Sail1999 | October 12, 2010 at 9:04 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

KPBS is not doing its job of reporting. How about the other uses of marijuana, what we used to call hemp. Hemp has many uses: rope, textiles, construction, fiber products... And new industries mean new jobs. Prohibition of alcohol created organized crime, not the other way around. The end of prohibition eliminated the illegal trade of alcohol (which was a joke anyway) but left us with organized crime.

Marijuana is a political issue. If you don't think this is true, take a look at who sponsers the antidrug websites. It's the pharmaceuticals. Why? They don't want the competition.

And there's Mexico. The drug war have devastated the mexican economy beause Mexico depends heavily on tourism. The undocumented immigrant has no money or no job. Their only alternative is to head north.

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Avatar for user 'PROUDAMERICAN'

PROUDAMERICAN | October 12, 2010 at 9:09 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

POT IS THE LEAST OF OUR WORRIES COMING FROM ACROSS THE BORDER...

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Avatar for user 'Thwacke'

Thwacke | October 12, 2010 at 10:33 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Does this Mayor of TJ actually believe that if we legalize recreational Cannabis that American demand for Mexican Cannabis will not be affected??? Would you smuggle homemade beer into a state where you can just buy the real thing? Especially if it had not been proven to be better. Of course not. I GUARANTEE you that if you live in the Western half of the U.S. you can either buy or grow the best Cannabis in the World. If it is legal, then anyone can. You wouldn't even be able to profit from Mexican hashish I wouldn't think, since once it's legal this stuff will flourish like a weed... No. Cal. will become a capitol for hashish making with all of the outdoor and then what? How much easier would it be for law enforcement to act if you removed the need to look for illegal cannabis? A huge opportunity for Ca. show America that it's ok to let someone smoke a little theraputic medicine.

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Avatar for user 'Leonard Krivitsky'

Leonard Krivitsky | October 12, 2010 at 12:11 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Cannabis is less physically addictive than caffeine, while the so-called "gateway drug" theory is a complete fantasy, and it was just recently called "half-baked" as a result of a scientific study. CNN reported that Cocaine use has dropped sharply, by 30% since 2002, which is really good news. I worked in addiction medicine for years, and this is what I can advice on the matter: Any suppression of Cannabis use will be immediately followed by an increase in alcohol/hard drug/prescription drug abuse! You don't believe me? Then maybe you will believe the Big Alcohol lobby that is financing the Cannabis Legalization opponents for exactly this reason. Right now Cannabis is just simply perceived as a much safer alternative to alcohol/hard drugs, which is precisely how it should be perceived. To have a society in which there is NO psychoactive substance use is an illusion, and it will be good for our government to realize this. So then, it becomes a matter of "safer choices", just like with the sex education. And Cannabis is, without a shadow of a doubt, a much safer choice than alcohol or hard drugs! Just very recently a research study in addiction medicine has determined that Cannabis may actually serve as an "exit" substance for recovering alcoholics/hard drug addicts! And there is another extremely important property of Cannabis that the prohibitionists would love to keep secret: Cannabis use suppresses violent urges and behaviors and, as one prestigious textbook says, "Only the unsophisticated think otherwise" Then, of course, there is a potential of Cannabis in chronic pain, where other drugs may be ineffective (or physically addictive), with very important potential consequences for our wounded veterans, many of whom have chronic pain. It is also worth noting that Cannabis may have certain preventative value for such devastating conditions as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. And all this comes with no danger of overdoses or induction of a physical dependence! Let's be very happy that the cocaine abuse rate is dropping. Let's not interfere with these dynamics, and then we can possibly achieve what has already been achieved in the Netherlands where the drug overdose rate is 85%(!!) lower than in the US, and that is with much more liberal Cannabis possession laws than in this country! Maybe it is time to give up "dogma" about Cannabis, and to start listening to the experts, if we really want to lower the alcohol/hard drug use in this country, and the accompanying dependencies and overdoses!

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