Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organisations?

Yes, it would seem.  The subtitle is “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime,” the authors are Evelina Gavrilova, Takuma Kamada, and Floris Zoutman, and the outlet is The Economic Journal.  Here is the abstract:

We show that the introduction of medical marijuana laws (MMLs) leads to a decrease in violent crime in states that border Mexico. The reduction in crime is strongest for counties close to the border (less than 350 kilometres) and for crimes that relate to drug trafficking. In addition, we find that MMLs in inland states lead to a reduction in crime in the nearest border state. Our results are consistent with the theory that decriminalisation of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organisations.

Here is the link to the paper, here are earlier versions.  For the pointer I thank Peter Metrinko.  That said, I learn from Kevin Lewis that the high school graduate rate goes down.


Good weed isn't coming in from south of the border. Are users simply replacing riskier-to-acquire drugs with medicinal (in name only) marijuana in California and other states with similar laws?

So you're saying that Mexico is not sending its best ....

This would be an excellent study if it turns out to be true.

Not medicinal. CA and a bunch of other states have made weed legal for recreational use.

The study probably didn't monitor recreational weed because that relevant datasets (both in terms of states and years with available data) are probably too small to be analyzed for trends (yet). Will take years to know if full decriminalization has additional impact

Lets say weed was a crop like any other. Where would be the optimal place be to cultivate it for US consumption? I suspect Mexico has the climate and lower cost labor to optimize on it. People growing it in the US under 'grow lights' in basements would normally be quite un-optimal.

You forgot the know-how. Pot grown on basements may not be cheap or environmentally friendly but it is good. Don't underestimate the knowledge US growers have compared to Mexico ones.

I've seen estimates that the entire US demand for legal marijuana could be satisfied in 10,000 acres. That's hardly anything, about 4 miles square, and is nothing compared to the area of any of our large agricultural regions. Tobacco production takes about 500,000 acres total in the US (call it not quite 28 miles square), but tobacco obviously requires more bulk production per user (no one smokes a pack of weed a day). 10,000 acres is the size of a 4 average ranches in Montana, call it 500 or so head of cattle per year.

Fully legal, marijuana should cost as about as much as oregano. There's no big business here.

Cool, we can get our national forests back.

I'm no expert, but weed production has long thrived in the Pacific Northwest, northern California's coastal counties and on to the north.

"Lets say weed was a crop like any other. Where would be the optimal place be to cultivate it for US consumption? I suspect Mexico has the climate and lower cost labor to optimize on it"

This seems like a classic Ivory tower statement. In the real world, the US agricultural industry has a greater output at a lower cost than the Mexican agricultural industry.

Outdoor growing is suboptimal most of the time - controlling yield & potency is best handled by manipulating the day/night cycle for the plants. The lifecycle is also shorter - 6-8 weeks versus an outdoor crop like corn that takes most of a season.

Anyone thinking that pot needs a south-of-the-border climate to grow well is simply not paying attention. They can't have even been bothered to use google on the topic.

Prohibition made us move inside.

Or they are replacing the not-so-good, illegal, and more expensive weed from Mexico with much better, legal and cheaper weed in the US.

So that is it. We must corrupt ourselves to defeat corrupt Mexicans. He who fights monsters...

What, exactly, is "corrupting" about NOT imprisoning (or murdering) people for growing a plant?

There was so much corruption under the "totally illegal at every level" system that your statement is insane or indicative of you living under a rock (metaphorically, not literally).

We have created a few new smokers, but mostly what we've done is legalize what was fairly common behavior.

If by doing so we reduce the level of violence, then that's a double win.

With regard to the apparent trade offs of legalized marijuana, that is, the simultaneous reduction in crime and HS graduation rates - is this worth it? I would say yes. Short term effects of legalization may include decreased graduation rates, but I would think this would self-correct over the long term due to incentives.

+1 and we have been making progress against alcohol, I would hope and expect marijuana use to slowly decline similarly.

Since most marijuana is smoked, the same ant-smoking laws against tobacco should certainly apply.


why not, if you don't want to be affected by drugs, people shouldn't be smoking them next to you, second-hand smoking has similar risks of the effects of smoking.
just because you want to be high doesn't mean you can sit anywhere you want and drive people away.

also smoking indoors (tobacco or marijuana) sticks to the walls, ceiling, floor, objects, clothing, etc. making it extremely hard to get rid of, being nasty to touch, and smells like rot. (friend of mine moved into a house where the person that lived there before had smoked allot (both tobacco and marijuana), which was hard to get rid of, with him spending 2 weeks trying to get rid of the smell)

also smoking in highly populated areas, would bother most of the citizens, as well as it might affect children.

(1) I've heard if kissing toads, but smoking ants?

(2) I'd advise avoiding logic. You're not good at it.

Wonder how much $ the cartels are investing in US campaigns against decriminalization?

This has long been the claim by libertarians and potheads, and I am glad to see evidence that US legalization does help Mexico.

Too bad Sessions has a bug up his posterior.

(In my quiet California circle, I see zero social change with legalization.)


Spark up, loser.

I don't mean zero pot, I mean about the same.

It will be interesting to see if sales increase that much over very lax "medical" sales.

It will be interesting to see how this goes with Sessions.

Does he A. Just think pot is bad, B. Thinks the law needs to be enforced because it's the law, let Congress legalize it if it wants., or C. Kind of like DACA, make Congress act to make it actually legal.

I read an interesting observation: the Trump administration actually is very rules-based. Which is why it drives both liberals and conservatives sometimes crazy: the admin is enforcing laws "as written" rather than 'as selectively enforced'.

There's an old saying: "if you want a bad law changed, rigorously enforce it".

I suspect that Sessions wants Congress to legalize it - the Trump admin is generally in the direction of less-government.

But Congress hasn't taken action for decades - and this is his way of nudging them.

I would expect that, as a LEO, it's a real mess when you have a law that's broadly ignored.

"I suspect that Sessions wants Congress to legalize it"

That's because you are smoking the good stuff

This article doesn't show that it helps Mexico. In fact, it found no effect on homicide rates in Mexico. What it found was a reduction in violent crime in U.S. counties, especially those bordering Mexico.

This sort of story always bothers me. Suppose we were talking about another industry where one product line suddenly became less profitable. Would we expect the whole sector to go belly up and liquidate? Almost certainly not. We would expect the capital (human and physical) to be reallocated to an area where the firms have some sort of competitive advantage. Some firms would falter during the transition and everyone would have problems as personnel left the sector and transient expenses associated with the reorientation mounted. But we would expect some firms to figure things out and use their capital well in the post-shock marketplace.

So what capital do these organizations have? Copious amount of weapons and surveillance technology. A pretty nice black supply chain. Corrupted politicians. Members with skills in violence, intimidation, and law enforcement evasion. What are their current sidelines towards which they would most naturally reorient? Human trafficking, extortion, and other drugs. After all, the Xalisco heroine distribution system has been getting more pervasive concurrently with marijuana's licit access growing. It already seems to me that we are seeing bulk shifting of criminal focus moving towards heroine and that has far higher external costs than marijuana ever could. I certainly am seeing an awful lot more heroine in my patients and they suck down vastly more resources than other drug users.

We ran this experiment before. When we legalized booze it did not end the Mafia. They moved into loansharking, prostitution, gambling, extortion, and narcotics. By most measures, the 1950s-1970s Mafia was stronger, more violent, and more pervasive than the 1920s-1940s Mafia. Why should I expect the long view to be any different for marijuana?

If you're taking the long view on the Mafia things didn't go so well for them.

Sure, largely because they were systemically hunted by law enforcement and then displaced by other organized crime operations, particularly in the 70s and 80s. Are you advocating that we return to 80s levels of policing? Absent that level of increased enforcement this seems to be a far cry from "crippling" anyone.

It just seems utter silliness to me to say that cartels that have amassed lots of specialized capital would just fade into oblivion rather than retrenching and utilizing that specialized capital in new contexts. The mafia was far from "crippled" by losing the profits from booze, I suspect this will play out the same.

So, let's try "exterminated".

Nowhere but in the headline does the article claim that the cartels have been or are being "crippled."

A decrease in violent crime does not equate to "crippled."

Exactly what I was going to comment. I'm glad you beat me to it.

The DEA has detected high-quality cannabis being smuggled from the US into Mexico. It really is different. Actual open markets work.

Guess which organizations are trafficking US-grown pot across state lines to where it's still illegal and therefore profitable? You guessed it.

"That said, I learn from Kevin Lewis that the high school graduate rate goes down."

So, this is interesting... looking at the paper (I'm assuming a pre-pub version of a March 2018 article) we find in their Section 5 (Conclusion) that:
"According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 3.6 million students are expected to graduate from high school in the 2017–2018 school year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). Our results estimate that nearly 13,000 students will not graduate as a result of the MML implementation."

This is testable. We can come back next year and look at exactly how accurate their (and/or NCES's) results estimate was.

I mention this because of a somewhat-analogue to the connection between cannabis and lung cancer.

Logic tells us that ingesting *any* burning plant matter into ones longs is probably contraindicated...

But thus far (last I checked at least), lung cancer and/or lung cancer mortality rates have not kept pace with predictions.

Comments for this post are closed