File Under “Duh”

Andrew Sullivan recently reported on some interesting research into the consequences of state-level marijuana legalization.

A 2012 research paper by the Mexican Competitiveness Institute in Mexico called ‘If Our Neighbours Legalise’, said that the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado, Washington and California would depress cartel profits by as much as 30 per cent. A 2010 Rand Corp study of what would happen if just California legalised suggests a more modest fall-out. Using consumption in the US as the most useful measure, its authors posit that marijuana accounts for perhaps 25 per cent of the cartels’ revenues. The cartels would survive losing that, but still. “That’s enough to hurt, enough to cause massive unemployment in the illicit drugs sector,” says [fellow at the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center David] Shirk. Less money for cartels means weaker cartels and less capacity to corrupt the judiciary and the police in Mexico with crumpled bills in brown envelopes. Crimes like extortion and kidnappings are also more easily tackled. …

Mr Shirk puts it this way. If you ask enforcement folk how large a dent their interdiction efforts – seizures, arrests, helicopter raids and so on – actually have on cartel earnings, they will say between 5 and 10 per cent. But just a few states embracing legal cannabis may end up robbing them of two to five times that amount.

In other words, when you reduce demand for an illegal product–in this case, by offering a legal alternative–you reduce illegal behavior associated with the marketing of that product.

Since cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, regulating its sale and taxing it–rather than criminalizing its use– would appear to be a win-win.


  1. AND we should never have a pot smoker in any jail… EVER
    The crazy pot laws exist mostly to keep the Prison INdustrial Complex going.
    They pay lots of elected folks to keep it that way

  2. “File under Duh”. Sheila, I came across your very interesting blog yesterday when googling my aunt, Sheila Kennedy! I hail from Sydney Australia. While I agree with the civil libertarian position on legalised marijuana, and I support its ready access for pain relief, I don’t support its unregulated wider use. This is not for moral reasons at all. Now 61 and tertiary educated and having had senior jobs etc, I was a regular cannabis user in my teens and twenties. Over time it had a devastating effect on my memory and my psychological health, which took me several years to heal from and be functional again. There are studies documenting the deleterious effects of marijuana on people with borderline psychological conditions who would otherwise not have mental health episodes. We have this discussion here from time to time and while as a matter of principle I support a progressive view, this is not a black and white issue.

  3. As a member of a family of alcoholics, I say, smoke ’em if you got ’em. The long term effects of alcohol are far worse than smoking some plant. Even those effects wear off but alcohol? It destroys every living organ in your body and I have the family members to prove it. I doubt any of them will make it 60.

  4. But Kristin, the question becomes, why alcohol and not marijuana? Alcohol has the same issues, can lead to fits of anger and depression. Moreover, (as a heavy user myself from the age of 20-24) one thing that someone who uses will realize is that marijuana effects different individuals in DRASTICALLY different ways. Some become mellow, some anxious and paranoid, some like zombies, and some motivated to create or consume original content. I was the latter. I was inspired to read and study and expand my horizon while other friends refrained from participating become of how it put them on edge. This is often lost in the debate and I think is a key point in the larger discussion of drug use. Alcohol effects people the same way, some people may be quieter and less belligerent, but all of their motor skills are greatly diminished. Regardless, in any society where alcohol (and tobacco to a lesser extent) is legal, marijuana should absolutely be legal.

  5. Hi Rusty, I agree, it’s complex. No reasonable person advocates prohibition. At the same time, complex issues need clever and evidence-based public policy responses including good public education. I’ll drink to that … in moderation! Glad you escaped the paranoia!

  6. In my seafaring day’s, during the 70’s a Ships Surgeon emphatically stated that prolonged pot smoking caused permanent damage to the Brain Cells. If the government is really concerned about health abuse, why are they selective about it? That is to say, it’s ok to smoke cigs and drink booze but not ok to smoke pot. Clearly, all these vices cause damage to the body.

    Kristin, I used to have a few drinks (with my colleagues) in the Orient Hotel at Circular Quay in Sydney every second Saturday (when we were in port) at that time, I was serving on the S.S. Arcadia (P&O Cruises) 1978, July to December.

  7. You’re welcome back any time Red-George, the Orient is still there. You might be interested that in October last year Sydney Harbour hosted naval war ships from 40 countries and tall ships from 18 countries to celebrate the 100th anniversary, in October 1913, of the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy, not long before the start of the Great War in Europe. The celebration was a huge and complex logistical and planning exercise with sailors from all over the world in town, Sydney harbour awash with private craft, Air Force fly-pasts, 21 gun salutes and in the evening fabulous fireworks and light shows. A great uncle joined the RAN in 1913 and with his grandson I toured through his war ship during the celebration. The whole thing all fabulous.

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