Open Thread: Effects Of Marijuana Legalization On Illicit Drug Industry?

Just a little musing I had…

From the little I know about the workings of the illicit drug market, marijuana is one of the main crops. Pretty much everybody — at least everyone in my generation — knows at least one pot-smoker in their lives. Far fewer know people who use (or admit to the use) of hard drugs. But drug dealers are a lot more likely to be one-stop shops than explicitly limiting themselves to a specific drug. So the illicit drug industry — for those who are looking to use hard drugs — is served by a relatively innocuous drug like marijuana being illegal. It ensures that the drug dealers have a much wider prospective net of potential customers. To put it simply, by knowing a few marijuana users, an individual is only a few phone calls away from access to pretty much any illicit substance they want.

So the simple question is:

What would happen to the illicit drug industry if pot — and only pot — were legalized?

There’s a chance that it would sever a link between most people and most dealers. How much illicit drug use would go away simply by legalizing the one drug that connects a large group of drug users to their black market connections?

  • Ganja Blue

    Interesting point. I’m with you on that. The reason that marijuana is even associated with harder drugs is because of it’s illegality. It’s also the bread and butter of a lot of criminal enterprises.

    I recently learned that Tennessee produced $1.8 Billion in agricultural products in 2008, while the marijuana production approached $5 Billion. With marijuana legal, you’d virtually wipe out international drug trafficking. Domestic production would probably increase because we grow better weed here than they do in Mexico or Columbia. With the profits removed from the foreign cartels, many of them would not be able to continue with cocaine or heroin alone.

    For the drug war machine marijuana busts are also a cash cow, quite literally. Just think of the air power that would be eliminated as a result of the scrapping of CAMP, marijuana eradication, projects. Home and auto seizures based on marijuana production and distribution would cease. Cash seizures would also be down.

    I think an overlooked outcome of marijuana legalization comes from the smell. You often hear that a search was justified, where cocaine and other drugs are found, because the law enforcement officer smelled marijuana. The other drugs are essentially odorless without a dog, and the sweet, skunky, beautiful smell of ganja would no longer be pretext to a host of civil rights violations.

  • phuckpolitics

    The government should legalize it, tax it and get us out of this recession.

  • Peter

    If the government legalized marijuana and started taxing it, there would be a bunch of people “concerned for the children” who would insist all the tax revenues be spent on “education” to help us all quit.

  • Night Time

    Legalizing it makes it a win win.

  • VRB

    Legalizing only marijuana, may have the same effect as when Nixon had the fields in Mexico destroyed; it boosted the sale of harder drugs. Heroin may become free as an introduction during the transition to legal. Legalize all at once.

  • Akston

    You make an interesting point about marijuana’s connection to other drugs via the current vendors. I wonder how many cigarettes used to be sold at bars.

    Still, it is simply not the function of the federal government to limit the personal use of any drug. They should all be decriminalized.

  • Akston

    They should all be decriminalized legalized.


  • Uly

    but what aboutt the drug dealerssssss??

  • Stephen Littau

    Brad, I suspect that you are right. Just think of the illicit drug trade in purely economic terms. Assuming marijuana is a major revenue stream for drug dealers (and I think it’s safe to say it is), how big would the impact be if marijuana were suddenly legal to possess, buy, sell, and use? If local liquor stores could suddenly sell the product, we would see the price go down dramatically and there would no longer be an incentive for illicit traders to sell the product. Buyers would also prefer to make their purchase legally in the light of day in a significantly safer environment. The market price for cannabis would go down also because the market would no longer be distorted by a restricted supply (cannabis can grow everywhere in the world except the Arctic Circle).

    As a result, we would see far fewer people incarcerated and a freeing up of police resources to combat violent crime.

    On the other hand, taking away this revenue stream from the illicit drug trade might also force the price of the remaining drugs to go up. As the price for the illegal drugs increase, so would the stakes for staying in business. Though I believe the overall crime rate would be reduced significantly, the violence among the remaining competition and law enforcement would probably be bad or worse than now.

    Legalizing cannabis would be a great first step to drastically reduce violent crime but to truly make the streets safer, all drugs should be legalized.

  • TKDietz

    If there is any question here about whether marijuana is the cash cow for in the illegal drug trade, consider this. The ONDCP estimated recently that Mexican drug cartels gross about $13.8 billion dollars a year on drugs bound for the U.S., with about $8.6 billion of that, about 62%, coming from marijuana alone. Cocaine was the second most popular drug. They gross about $3.9 billion from that, but they are only the middlemen for cocaine which must first be purchased and smuggled from South America before they smuggle it into this country. Marijuana is their cash cow. If we take the marijuana industry from them they will lose most of their income. They’ll get smaller and become less powerful and less of a threat, and they will be easier to contain.

    It will be harder for them to sell their other drugs too, because those drugs piggyback in on the marijuana. Mexican drug trafficking organizations now control the biggest part of wholesale illegal drug distribution in this country. The Colombians have allowed them to take over cocaine distribution here. They produce a little bit of heroin, but there isn’t a huge market for that drug anyway. They produce most of the meth consumed in this country. According to government estimates though they’re only bringing in a few hundred metric tons of all these other drugs, less than a 1000 metric tons total. They’re bringing in thousands of metric tons of marijuana though. The USDOJ in their 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment said that in 2007 about 15,500 metric tons of marijuana was produced in Mexico and most of it came here. The same people are bringing in all these drugs, and they are working with the same organizations to get them distributed around the country.

    It’s down at the bottom end of the drug distribution chain that things fan out though. We have way more pot smokers and pot sellers than users and sellers of these other drugs. But often pot sellers will get these other drugs from their suppliers and offer them to the people who buy pot from them. If these pot sellers want cocaine all they have to do is ask their pot suppliers and someone up the line will get them some cocaine to sell. If the people up the line need to move more cocaine or meth, maybe a few more low level coke or meth dealers get busted, all they have to do is offer these drugs to pot sellers down the line and they’ll move their hard stuff. If we regulate the production and sales of marijuana these drug trafficking organizations will lose all this. They’re going to have a harder time getting the drugs out to end consumers because pot smokers are going to be going to licensed marijuana retail shops that will be no more likely to sell the drugs like meth or cocaine than liquor stores are today. This is going to decrease the exposure pot smokers get to the hard stuff and it’s not going to be anymore of a gateway drug than alcohol and cigarettes.

    Will it increase violence as someone suggested? There probably will be some violence as these people fight over what is left of the illegal drug trade. But that will sort itself out. These organizations will have far less money to hire their little private armies and bribe officials and all that. Some folks will die. Some will get arrested. Some will just give up, and there won’t be money left to replace all these people. These organizations will end up being smaller and much less of a threat, and with less money to fight over there will eventually be less fighting. At first there may be a blood bath, but so be it. It will sort itself out and we’ll be left with a much smaller problem that is easier for us to manage.

    Who am I and why am I popping up and posting here? I’m just some lawyer who stumbled upon this thread when I was looking for something on Google. I’ve handled thousands of pounds worth of drug cases and every other type of criminal case and I think we ought to have legalized pot a long time ago. I even used to be a prosecutor. I’ve been watching this stuff for years and am excited to see that we’re getting close to seeing marijuana become legal. It may take ten or twenty years. It may happen in a few short years. But things are moving now and it will only be a matter of time.

    Cheers all.