HomeNewsBriefDEA Chief’s ‘Mexico Cartels in US’ Marijuana Alert Smacks of Politics
BRIEF

DEA Chief’s ‘Mexico Cartels in US’ Marijuana Alert Smacks of Politics

DRUG POLICY / 4 APR 2014 BY MARGUERITE CAWLEY EN

The US DEA’s top official has claimed criminal organizations from Mexico are “setting up shop” in the states of Washington and Colorado following marijuana legalization, a politically charged statement that fails to give a full picture of the situation.

Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), implicitly criticized the legalization of the drug in those two states in comments made before a House of Representatives committee on April 2, reported the Huffington Post.

She expressed concerns about the potential rise of a black market, stating: “Whatever the price will be set in Washington and Colorado, criminal organizations are ready to come in and sell cheaper.” Leonhart added that many legal marijuana distributors were already acquiring their product from Mexican cartels.

During her formal speech (pdf), the transcript of which does not include the remarks cited by Huffington Post, Leonhart also highlighted heroin as an increasing threat in the United States, and detailed the DEA’s strategy to topple drug trafficking organizations by taking down the highest priority targets.

InSight Crime Analysis

The 2012 legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado — which went into effect in Colorado on New Year’s Eve 2013 — has been heralded by drug policy reform advocates as a major breakthrough. One Mexican research institute estimated shortly before the legislation was passed that it could result in a 30 percent drop in drug cartel profits.

However, while the legislation aims to regulate all aspects of the production, sale and consumption chain, concerns remain over the potential for criminals to exploit the system. In Colorado, legal marijuana costs $400 an ounce after taxes — twice the price of medical marijuana in the state — while high grade marijuana can be bought for as little as $156 an ounce on the black market, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in January. Problems could also be posed by current caps on production, which could mean legal sales cannot meet demand.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

Nevertheless, Leonhart’s explicit focus on Mexican organizations — as well as her demonization of the legalization move — reeks of political bias. The DEA has been a vocal opponent of the legislation in Washington and Colorado, and continues to frame the drug as a highly dangerous substance, while Leonhart’s past statements on marijuana use and legalization have been highly controversial. 

Furthermore, though Leonhart’s assertions regarding the black market potential may not be completely unfounded, there is no reason to suggest only Mexicans will cash in on the trade, with criminal gangs of all stripes and nationalities inclined to take advantage of the price distortions.

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 3 APR 2018

The recent arrest in Colombia of two veteran air traffic controllers linked to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel has once again highlighted…

CHINA AND CRIME / 12 FEB 2019

In October 2017, two Chinese men—Xiaobing Yan and Jian Zhang—were indicted for conspiring to manufacture and distribute “large quantities” of…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 18 JUN 2015

Reported seizures of firearms in Colombia and Mexico far outstrip those of war-torn Iraq, according to a new United Nations…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …