So Much for the 'Harmless Stoner' Sales Pitch: Legal Marijuana a Boon to Illegal Cartels

Oops.

Unintended consequences of legislation are more commonplace than they should be, but minimizing them would require more nuanced political debate and that option has probably left us forever.

A new article in City Journal details just how legal marijuana is the gateway drug to illegal marijuana enterprises:

Though advocates claim that one of the benefits of  legalizing recreational marijuana is that the black market will disappear and thus end the destructive war on drugs, the opposite is happening. States that have legalized pot have some of the most thriving black markets, creating new headaches for law enforcement and prompting some legalization advocates to call for a crackdown—in effect, a new war on drugs.

Unlicensed pot businesses have already become a problem for Los Angeles just a year and a half after legalization. The city is devoting police resources that are already stretched thin to address the situation.

City Journal notes that it's not just mom and pop scofflaws that are problematic:

Legal-pot states are attracting international criminal cartels. Mexican drug gangs have smuggled illegals into Colorado to set up growing operations, former U.S. prosecutor Bob Troyer  wrote last September, explaining why his office was stepping up enforcement. Rather than smuggle pot from Mexico, the cartels grow it in Colorado and smuggle it elsewhere—spurring violence. In 2017, seven homicides in Denver were directly connected to marijuana growers. “I would love to be able to shift some of my resources away from marijuana to other things,” Denver lieutenant Andrew Howard said last year. “But right now, the violence is marijuana or marijuana-related.”

More cartel violence and more illegal immigration...yay legal weed!

I'm no anti-pot Puritan, but I am on record as always having been frustrated by the discussions surrounding legalization efforts. They are rarely in-depth and mostly focus on marijuana's medicinal uses. It is often portrayed as harmless, which is nonsensical. It's not heroin, but it's also not baby aspirin.

What were almost never discussed pre-Colorado were the consequences of legalizing a black market drug. It's a bit naive to think that the major players from the black market would flee into the shadows once their commodity became legit.

Cartels may be illegal enterprises, but they are still businesses. They can adapt to changing markets. It would appear they are also adept at outreach:

Legal-marijuana businesses are getting in on the game, too. Last year, Denver authorities arrested the owners of a licensed chain of pot shops that employed 350 people for supplying the black market. In January, three owners of the business  pled guilty to drug and racketeering charges. In Oregon, federal prosecutors  arrested six individuals in 2018 and charged them with “vast” interstate-trafficking schemes that supplied black-market pot to Texas, Virginia, and Florida. Some of the suspects were also charged with kidnapping, money-laundering, and use of a firearm in a drug-trafficking crime.

So much for the harmless stoner sales pitch.

None of this is surprising for advocates of smaller government. Legalization and regulation were supposed to make the marijuana black market and its problems go away. Instead, as the City Journal conclusion observes, it's merely created "Black Market 2.0."

High times indeed.