Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

How Might Prop. 19 Affect Drug Trafficking From Mexico?


Supporters of Prop. 19 say that Mexican drug cartels will take a major financial hit if marijuana is legalized in California. A recent study by the Rand Corporation calls into question some of the figures that are being cited by Prop. 19 proponents. So, what kind of impact could Prop. 19 have on the cartels, and drug trafficking in the state?

Supporters of Prop. 19 say that Mexican drug cartels will take a major financial hit if marijuana is legalized in California. A recent study by the Rand Corporation calls into question some of the figures that are being cited by Prop. 19 proponents. So, what kind of impact could Prop. 19 have on the cartels, and drug trafficking in the state?


JW August, managing editor for 10 News.

Scott Lewis, chief executive officer of

Ricky Young, watchdog editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, yeah, it's not the amount it's whether it's legal or not legal, I would assume. Okay. We have to go on. And I'm sorry we didn't get to the restructure of the board. But next time you're on, Ricky we'll talk about that. I'm going to give our phone number out right now and ask you whether you believe that proposition 19 to legalize marijuana would help to reduce drug violence, drug cartel violence that's coming out of Mexico, because if we're gonna get any of your calls in, we'll have to do it very, very quickly. 1-888-895-5727. Because the California vote on proposition 19, if it's a yes, it would make recreational marijuana legal, and it's getting lots of national attention, it's also getting international attention because its proponents say that legalizing marijuana would curtail the power of Mexico's drug cartels, and that would be a good thing, and perhaps curb the violence on that side of the border. But the Rand corporation just came out with a study that doesn't seem to corroborate that idea. JW, let's start with this study. How much would drug trafficking organizations be affected if prop 19 passes?

SCOTT LEWIS: If you read the Rand study, can which I did, and it's quite interesting. They don't think very much. And the further you read in the study, the more you realize, I kind of did a switch, I went into this thinking, buying the government line about the all of dope being smuggled into the country and what kind of dope it is, and what it affects, I don't always buy the government line, but who else is my source for information on drug smuggling in when you Rand corporation report, you begin to see that the methodology the federal government used is way off. Where it goes and not by a little bit, but by a lot. There's a great deal of inconsistency. Given all of that information, and given the fact that California is 23409 the entire pot market for the cartels, and that the heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine are their big money producers, it would probably have very little effect on the violence.

GLORIA PENNER: Very little effect. All right. Scott. It's interesting that there's an argument against proposition 19 from Mexican president Felipe Calderón, who says it represents inconsistency if the United States demands that Mexico crack down on drug trafficking and where the encourages consumption if it passes Prop 19.

SCOTT LEWIS: This whole debate and issue is characterized by inconsistency. I think there are proponents of legalization who say, you know, it's inconsistent for you to lump marijuana with methamphetamine. Of they don't have the similar consequences physically or society wide. They, you know, there's all kinds of questions about that, and I even heard on KPBS, the governor of Baja California who said that he was worried that this would actually increase marijuana consumption in Tijuana if it were not good for them to give it to California they would just keep it here and develop a market that somehow would be more viable than it is now because California can grow and keep its own marijuana. I think this all breaks down to whether, you know, if you support legalization there's all kinds of arguments you can make about the lessening of the prison system, the easing of law enforcement resources all those kinds of things and if you oppose it, then you can strike fear and raise the red flag.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay before we turn on our callers, Ricky, we just got a notice from attorney general Eric holder, who said that the federal government will continue to enforce its laws against marijuana even if the California voters approve a ballot measure to legalize the drug. It will enforce federal law in California. So what does this tell you?

RICKY YOUNG: Yeah, I saw that and it certainly sets up the same kind of tension that there's been over medical marijuana in terms of state versus federal law on that. So, you know, the temptation to picture some great impact on the cartels in Mexico is -- I think becomes more and more remote they're diversified a great deal. I don't know how important that crop is to them anymore. And you know, that's 49 other states and it looks like this will still be somewhat illegal in California regardless of what the voters decide.

GLORIA PENNER: At this point we don't want really know. We just heard from the attorney general however. Let's hear what our listeners have to say. We'll start to Shawn in lake side.

NEW SPEAKER: I don't believe that it will contribute to any sort of violence. I agree with Scott when he says that people are lumping this in with substances like amphetamine asks tough like that. It's completely out of the bawl park. I don't believe it will contribute at all.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay of thank you very much. Jose in San Diego is with us now. Jose, you're on with the editors, please make it brief.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. Can you hear me? First of all, I've just got one comment, and that is that the violence did not start in Mexico and come up to the United States. The violence started in all of the rural areas in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City. Whenever the drugs violence began way back when. Of the violence has dripped into Mexico. And now it's out of hand. And with that comment that was just said right now, about the federal government stepping in, and saying they're not going to honor whatever California says, we have to realize who makes money on the drugs being sold in the United States. And that's my comment.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Thank you very much, Jose. And actually, you know when you look back at prohibition, what happened during prohibition in this country, Scott? You were here.


SCOTT LEWIS: I watched movies, yes.

GLORIA PENNER: But JW definitely was.

JW AUGUST: I definitely was. I remember. I could use a drink. That's all I remember.

GLORIA PENNER: You had a big under ground market in alcohol.

JW AUGUST: But this is -- you can't say, this is apples and oranges. You can't draw a parallel, but it's not just booze these guys sell, it's everything else, prostitution, gambling, just like the mob did back then.

GLORIA PENNER: So you're not worried about prohibiting any drug creates an under ground as it did during prohibition.

JW AUGUST: I didn't follow that.

GLORIA PENNER: Prohibiting any drug creates this lucrative under ground if you say marijuana is illegal, there's an under ground for it.

JW AUGUST: Oh, absolutely.

GLORIA PENNER: If you say alcohol is illegal --

JW AUGUST: Sure, prescription drugs today.

GLORIA PENNER: So if it isn't marijuana, won't drug lords peddle other drugs and maintain their power and their profits.

JW AUGUST: They are, they absolutely are. And the argument the Rand corporation says, the government here gives too much credence to the pot, how important it is to the cartels. It's a small piece of the action for them now.


SCOTT LEWIS: Well, yeah, I don't think anybody should vote for this bill thinking it's gonna solve the 600 plus murders happening in Tijuana right now. And let's put the Eric holder, the attorney general's statement into perspective. What's he gonna say in yeah, we're gonna decriminalize marijuana for the entire nation? No, but there's also not a core of federal police here. When that would be enacted is when you would run into federal authorities say, if you say to take the pot to some other state or if you cross -- you try to ship it. Or if you run into a border authority. Or some kind of federal agent that would be when that comes into play. But let's make no mistake about it, the biggest issue we need to focus on is how are local governments going to deal with this if it's legalized? How are they gonna regulate it? Because it's all up to them at this point. They could benefit with tax revenue, they could also suffer if they don't do a good job explaining and outlining exactly where these facilities can go that people can pick up their pot.

GLORIA PENNER: Ricky I have not really called on you very much during this segment. We're almost out of time. But it seems to me that although the killings in Tijuana seem to slow lately there's been an increase in the last few days.

RICKY YOUNG: That's true. Yoke that's brought on by Prop 19. But again, I don't think that drug policy up here is going to have that much effect. I mean, the state just passed a bill that decriminalizes a lot of the marijuana stuff already.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. So on that note, I know you want to say something, JW, but our time is up. Thank you very much. JW August of ten news, Scott Lewis from voice of San, Ricky Young from the UT. Thanks to our listens and our callers and we'll see you again next week. This has been Editors' Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.