Election 2012: Mexican Cartels to Lose Billions if Marijuana Legalized

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By Eli Epstein | November 7, 2012 2:05 AM EST

When state voters hit the polls Tuesday in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, a lot more will be at stake than just Romney and Obama.

In those states, citizens will decide whether to legalize marijuana or not, which, if the measures pass, could be a devastating blow to Mexican drug cartels who pocket billions from exporting marijuana into the United States.

According to a report, via Quartz, by researchers at the Mexican think-tank the Mexican Center for Competitiveness (IMCO), marijuana legalization in those three American states would be “the biggest structural shock suffered by drug trafficking in Mexico since the massive arrival of cocaine in the late eighties.”

The IMCO and the Rand Corporation estimate that cartels earn $6 billion each year from bringing marijuana into the US. If ballot proposals are passed, that could slash total cartel income by 20 percent. Washington, where the legalization measure is most likely to pass, could take an estimated $1.37 billion out of the cartels’ pockets.

With domestically grown, premium, and cheaper marijuana grown right on America's doorstep, cartels and other illegal foreign distributors would be driven out of the pot market due to the rising cost and unprofitability of their operation.

While that scenario seems ideal, it’s unlikely to take root as a whole, anytime soon.

That’s because the federal government doesn’t want it to. All was well and good when states were distributing marijuana to their own citizens, but once states began licensing growers and entrepreneurs started shipping pot over state lines, the feds got involved.

What began as a crackdown against intrastate distribution soon became a full-court press against any state trying to build a regulatory economy for marijuana. This is exactly what the IMCO warns could empower cartels — the federal government limiting the states’ legalization efforts. 

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