Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, June 19, 2011

NYTimes Op-Ed: Legalization Won’t Kill the Cartels

by Sylvia Longmire
New York Times

FOR a growing number of American policy makers, politicians and activists, the best answer to the spiraling violence in Mexico is to legalize the marijuana that, they argue, fuels the country’s vicious cartels and smugglers. After all, according to official estimates, marijuana constitutes 60 percent of cartels’ drug profits. Legalization would move that trade into the open market, driving down the price and undermining the cartels’ power and influence.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Marijuana legalization has many merits, but it would do little to hinder the long-term economics of the cartels — and the violent toll they take on Mexican society.

For one thing, if marijuana makes up 60 percent of the cartels’ profits, that still leaves another 40 percent, which includes the sale of methamphetamine, cocaine, and brown-powder and black-tar heroin. If marijuana were legalized, the cartels would still make huge profits from the sale of these other drugs.

Plus, there’s no reason the cartels couldn’t enter the legal market for the sale of marijuana, as organized crime groups did in the United States after the repeal of Prohibition.

Still, legalization would deliver a significant short-term hit to the cartels — if drug trafficking were the only activity they were engaged in. But cartels derive a growing slice of their income from other illegal activities. Some experts on organized crime in Latin America, like Edgardo Buscaglia, say that cartels earn just half their income from drugs.

Indeed, in recent years cartels have used an extensive portfolio of rackets and scams to diversify their income. For example, they used to kidnap rivals, informants and incompetent subordinates to punish, exact revenge or send a message. Now that they have seen that people are willing to pay heavy ransoms, kidnapping has become their second-most-lucrative venture, with the targets ranging from businessmen to migrants.

Another new source of cartel revenue is oil theft, long a problem for the Mexican government. The national oil company, Pemex, loses hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of petroleum every year to bandits and criminal gangs who tap into pipelines and siphon it off. Now the cartels are getting involved in this business, working with associates north of the border to sell the oil to American companies at huge markups.

In 2009 a federal court convicted an American businessman of helping to funnel $2 million in petroleum products stolen from Pemex by a Mexican cartel, eventually selling it to a Texas chemical plant owned by the German chemical company BASF. The chemical company claims never to have known where the products came from.

Cartels are also moving into the market in pirated goods in Latin America. The market used to be dominated by terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, who operated in the triborder area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Now the field is being overtaken by Mexican cartels, which already have so much control over the sale of pirated CDs, DVDs and software that many legitimate companies no longer even bother to distribute their full-price products in parts of Mexico.

Taking another page from traditional organized crime, cartels are also moving into extortion. A cartel representative will approach the owner of a business — whether a pharmacy or a taco stand — demanding a monthly stipend for “protection.” If those payments aren’t made on time, the business is often burned to the ground, or the owner is threatened, kidnapped or killed.

A popular cartel racket involves branded products. For example, a cartel member — most often from Los Zetas and La Familia Michoacana, two of the largest and most diversified cartels — will tell a music-store owner that he has to sell CDs with the Zetas logo stamped on them, with the cartel taking a 25 percent cut of the profits. Noncompliance isn’t an option.

With so many lines of business, it’s unlikely that Mexican cartels would close up shop in the event of legalization, even if it meant a serious drop in profits from their most successful product. Cartels are economic entities, and like any legitimate company the best are able to adapt in the face of a changing market.

This is not to say that drug legalization shouldn’t be considered for other reasons. We need to stop viewing casual users as criminals, and we need to treat addicts as people with health and emotional problems. Doing so would free up a significant amount of jail space, court time and law enforcement resources. What it won’t do, though, is stop the violence in Mexico.

Visit the author's blog at


  1. longmire has nothing to do with or in mexico
    for years now
    she is a pr mfg so called expert and one i ignore. ever see her in an interview where she has to answer questions?

    i rest my case

  2. even if drugs represent only 50% of their profits(which i really doubt)legalization would take all that profit away from these groups. that means less money to bribe officials less money to fund their private armies, and less money to live lavishly. legalization will not end organized crime but it will definitely decrease their power nationally.

  3. HELLO!! CRIMINALS who operate in a criminal friendly Enviorment such as Mexico will and do engage in ANY activity to Make MONEY, there are no limits whatsoever, Kidnapping,Extortion,theft, killing anybody who gets in their way!! Women,children ,politicians,police dogs cats anybody and everybody. It is true that a 50 year thriving Drug trade Corrupted Mexico to its core,BUT today the Cancer has spread, The increase in Criminal activity,throughout Mexican Society has reached INTOLERABLE levels. The only choice is for Mexico to stand up and Deliver a functioning Working Responsive Government SOUNDS INSANE and it may not happen,But for Mexico to achieve any level of legitimacy for its citizens and Neighbors it must happen,NO MATTER THE COST in money lives or property.

  4. Basically, nothing will kill the cartels but legalization stands as the best way to take out a chunk of their profits.

  5. The article is rubbish. Yes, it is a business. but if weed was legalized then it would be stupid to import it from Mexico. Legalization means locally grown. And besides, all of mexico's problems are because of the USA. There are no drug users in Mexico, only the USA.

  6. but they will cause a huge strain, what does new york times know...They aren't generals they do this to taliban they destory the poppy fields but not to many because thats what makes up a large percent of econmy in afganistan.

  7. The brief article is absolutely correct! From my POV we would do well to change the "Mexican Drug Cartel" label and change it to "Mexican Crime Syndicate". Mexican drug cartels have indeed morphed into other legal and illegal enterprises. They have entered politics, law enforcement, real estate, ranching, resorts-tourism, gambling, on and on.... And of course the lucrative criminal enterprises and activities as the article states.

    Mexican crime syndicates (formerly Mexican drug cartels) are the new reality and it is time we recognized the semantic shift in our thinking in order to make better policies.


  8. To Anonymous 11:17:
    "There are no drug users in Mexico"?
    Statistics on drug users in Mexico and in the U.S. are unreliable.
    Your comment is simply opinion.

  9. Everything about this article is bullshit. I don't know how true the 60% figure is but her actual argument in dismissing the idea that a loss of MOST OF THEIR INCOME will effect the cartels at all is "that still leaves another 40 percent". Or that somehow the marijuana trafficking will still cause violence on legalisation, because that's exactly how the alcohol trade worked at the end of prohibition? And honestly what in fucks name exactly would Hamas or Hezbollah burning a few DVDs on the sly in Paraguay have to do with violence in Mexico?

    Sure, the violence wouldn't end overnight if they legalised all drugs. There'd still be a lot of hardened criminals on the loose who've become accustomed to the idea of doing horrible things to make money. But that doesn't excuse this article.

  10. Well, at least, when we are kidnaped, we would have the satisfaction that it would be in an environmentally friendly Hugo rather than a God damned Escalade!

  11. One of the most asinine arguments against legalization I've ever read. By the writer's own logic, even if legalization took away 99% of the cartels' profit, it shouldn't be an option because it would leave 1%. Pure idiocy.

  12. Most lower grade mexi cannabis consumers are broke, plain and simple. Legalizaton is useless nless the government is able to provide domestic MJ at about $600.00 a pound taxes included which I really doubt. They would tax the hell out of it at about $5 a gram. Your typical ghetto gangbangers or trailer park trash would continue to smoke mexi MJ.

  13. this article is completely misleading.

    legalize weed, most kids/adults that try/use coke/speed/crack whatever don't have access to cannabis. harsher laws for hard drugs, close our homeland legalize it! its just a plant and everyone knows the original "guerro green" or "oxacca sativas
    are gone and only private growers have those genes. mexi brick is rubbish and if its legal no one would frickin smoke that stress. no way.

  14. The New York Times has long operated as the main press organ of the US elites that launches and pushes for all US government made wars, almost without exception. Can anybody think of a war by the US government that the NYT has not shilled for? I can't.

  15. still make profit from cocaine, heroin etc.?? the idea is to decriminalize all drugs.

    you get rid of prohibition, you get rid of corruption nd violence. cops have more time to focus on real crimes.

  16. Longmire is clueless and has been for a long time. She only says what she says to sell her own books. She is no expert.

  17. Legalization is to pothead, what a tax cut is to a Republican: the fountain of youth that cures all ailments.

  18. June 19, 2011-11:17AM,

    Talk about not having a, there are no drug users in Mexico? Then what are all those drug rehab centers in Mexico for? Who do you think make up the vast majority of the low ranking cartel members..DRUG ADDICTS! How do you think these cartel members are able to commit such macabre acts of violence on women, children, and their fellow man..they are "wired up" on drugs! Do yourself a favor and don't make stupid comments, when you don't have a clue!

  19. Supporters for legalization of drugs- get over it because it's never going to happen! The vast majority of Americans do not favor/support legalization. They tried to legalize Marijuana for personal use in California..and it failed! California is probably the most liberal of states! Plus, even if it would have passed in California, the Federal Government threaten to take action to block the law from ever taking affect (Federal Law supercedes state law). And for those of you, who are using Amesterdam as an example of how legalization works..keep in mind the Dutch recently passed a law banning any foreigners from being able to visit those famous "pot serving coffee shops." Now, in order to smoke weed in Amsterdam you have to be a registered coffee shop member and membership is only open for citizens!

  20. @June 19, 2011- 8:12PM

    She must be doing something right..she writes for the N.Y. Times and you just wasted your time reading an article she wrote! As far as an expert, dunno..but I guarantee her educational pedigree far exceeds, are you an expert?

  21. And why can't legalization of most drugs occur, Anonymous 9:49? It is not a total panacea but neither is constant war against all these substances made illegal by the State a panacea either.

  22. @ Ardent war of 1812

  23. sooo......there say the Times promotes war....and who owns the New york Times?...

    answer that and you will reveal one of the hidden hands who shape public opinion towards endless war waged on those who are against usury

    control the mind through the mass media in order to direct attention and stir hysteria

    control the soul through creation of religion in order to instill guilt and fear

    control the body and physical existence through the manipulation of the money supply

    mind +body+soul=total control

    you have hoisted thyself by thine own petard...ard


  24. That last post mind +body+soul=total control sounded like a Glen Beck rant.

  25. She has one good point. If we do decide to legalize marijuana and have dispensaries around the nation to oppose the cartels. Who's going to stop these same people from crossing over to the U.S and demanding profit from these organizations? Don't get me wrong, I believe in our legal system and police force. But hasn't anybody read about the Prohibition? Every mob was trying to take control of every liquor store in Chicago to New York. Who's going to keep these cartels from hurting and threatening these family's that own these shops? You think some of these guys care weather they die or go to jail? The most frightening part is a lot of these Cartel leaders are either citizens and or born in the U.S


Comments are moderated, refer to policy for more information.
Envía fotos, vídeos, notas, enlaces o información
Todo 100% Anónimo;