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The Pros and Cons of Legalizing Marijuana
The Pros and Cons of Legalizing Marijuana

AIR DATE: July 5, 2011

One Nevada legislator this year tried to expand on the state's existing medical marijuana laws by making easier for patients to get the drug by striking down existing challenges like making it illegal to possess seeds. That bill failed but it leaves a bigger questions about the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana altogether. Some argue that if states legalize the drug they will eliminate the criminal rings that grow, traffic and sell it. But others argue that marijuana is only a small part of what big drug cartels do so making marijuana legal won't slow that criminal activity down.
So what are the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana? Would it help or hurt? What are the public health concerns? And is there a reasonable way to regulate the industry? We'll hear from an expert panel about the good and bad of legalizing marijuana.
Jude Joffe-Block, reporter, Fronteras: The Changing Americas Desk
Sylvia Longmire, blogger and retired Air Force captain and former Special Agent, Air Force Office of Special Investigations
Keith Humphries, Prof of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
Allen St. Pierre, Exec Dir, NORML
Where Does Pot Come From: Domestic Growers Or Mexican Cartels?

It’s estimated that some 15 million Americans smoked marijuana last month. But are those pot smokers supporting Mexican drug cartels?

Research from one think tank finds that as much as two-thirds of the pot in the U.S. could be coming from Mexico, sales of which fuel the drug war south of the border. At the same time, the growing acceptance of medical marijuana may be boosting domestic production.

That fact is that when you buy pot on the black market, there’s usually no way to know where it came from. In the world of high-end marijuana, there aren’t any labels or stickers; just fancy sounding cannabis strains.

“We were just dealing with some AK-47, Sour Diesel, and O.G.,” explained a dreadlocked marijuana middleman after making a pot purchase.

What he and his partner do is illegal, so they asked that their identities not be revealed. They are both in their 20’s and asked to be described as “the conservative looking one and the hippie with dreads.”

They are part of a tiny section of the drug economy that actually knows where their product comes from.

They drive to Northern California to buy directly from growers or from distributors who buy from growers there. Most of their business is from the so-called “Emerald Triangle,” a cluster of counties that are to marijuana what Napa and Sonoma counties are to wine.

“I would feel that we are kind of a rarity as far as being as connected as we are,” the clean-cut one said.

He said he knows who is profiting from his purchases. It is not violent drug cartels in Mexico, but working people in the Emerald Triangle.

He said money going to them “is going to profit families and paying mortgages.”

After the middlemen make their purchases, they sell to other dealers, college kids, medical marijuana users and professionals in Las Vegas. Those are customers who are serious enough about quality to pay $60 for an eighth of an ounce – or enough for about 15 joints.

“They want a high THC content. They want to see no seeds,” the clean cut one said. “They want to see big, puffy nuggets, sticky, sticky weed.”

And it’s getting easier for those smokers to get what they want.

“There has never been a time where it has been this easy to get access to high quality marijuana,” said Beau Kilmer, the co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the Rand Corporation in Los Angeles, a public policy think tank.

That availability seems to be a result of the rising medical marijuana industry in California and more people growing domestically. A few years ago a pound of pretty high end Northern California weed at wholesale price went for about $3500, now the price has fallen to about $2500 (though street prices have remained constant).

But Kilmer’s research shows high quality marijuana remains a small part of the national market.

“The large majority of the country still is consuming commercial grade marijuana, not the high quality stuff,” Kilmer said.

In fact, at least 80 percent of the marijuana smoked in the US is commercial grade, according to Kilmer’s estimates. It costs just a fraction of the nice stuff coming out of the Emerald Triangle and is likely less potent. And where does that commercial grade pot come from?

Kilmer says a large chunk is imported from Mexico. Purchasing that smuggled pot would benefit the Mexican cartels who are engaged in violent turf battles south of the border.

While law enforcement officials said Mexican nationals are behind much of the cultivation of marijuana on California’s public lands, there isn’t evidence at this point that those sales directly benefit the major drug trafficking organizations south of the border, such as the Sinaloa Cartel or the Gulf Cartel.

Regardless of the social implications, Mexican-grown weed doesn’t have a good reputation in Las Vegas.

“Oh man, Mexican is like, jeez, it’s like dirty,” said Ryan Chrisman, a local construction worker who was relaxing on the Las Vegas strip on a recent week night. “It has seeds. It taste like nothing.”

Another smoker complained of the side-effects.

“It gives me a headache, the Mexican weed does,” said a man hawking water bottles to tourists. He just gave his first name, Mike, which was also tattooed on his neck.

“I’d rather smoke the stuff in the smoke shops that ain’t even weed,” he said.

Finally, a visiting hip hop artist from Chicago who uses the name Donahmeni, explained the American appetite for Mexican pot.

“I ain’t gonna front: I love the dirt,” Donahmeni said while selling his CDs in front of the Bellagio. He calls the low-grade marijuana that is typically grown in Mexico, “dirt,” as in dirt weed. And he likes it because it’s cheap.

“I can smoke 20 blunts, you know what I am saying,” Donahmeni said.

Beau Kilmer’s research finds that somewhere between 40 to 67 percent of all marijuana in the US probably comes from Mexico. But it’s impossible to track the marijuana market with any certainty because much of the data remains murky.

To quantify the American appetite for pot, researchers must rely on survey data that asks only limited questions about marijuana use. Or on data from law enforcement seizures that may not be a useful proxy for the amount of pot actually distributed and consumed.

Good statistics on who is smoking what, from where, and how much, is critical for making effective marijuana policy, according to Kilmer.

“This is important for assessing the amount of revenues that the Mexican drug trafficking organizations are bringing in,” Kilmer said. “It’s also important for making projections about legalization.”

    -Jude Joffe-Block

comments powered by Disqus
I dont remember ever seeing or reading An article of a horrible accident or criminal Aft where the person or persons responsible were High on marj. Its non violent and social herb. But yet We have bars on every corner in most citys
cjJun 30, 2011 10:23:23 AM
Legalization would change the focus and criminality from users and producers to one of tax revenue collection and controll. Any taxes collected will be off set by enforcment and prosecution of tax evaders among those who are now, and will continue to grow in the present manner. The hunt for and confiscation of illegal grows will continue with the same success rate as they do now. A good place to start would be the total decrininalization (not legalization)for possession of marijuana in consumer quantities. At the same time the development of controlled and licensed producers and distributors should be pursued. The effect of legal supply could then be observed as to its effect on the availability of traditionally supplied product. Those who continue to produce large commercial grow and distribution operations would then be subject to IRS penalty, etc. As commercialy produced and taxed product is ready to be marketed, legalization of those products should be afforded.
Duane ReedJun 30, 2011 10:22:08 AM
If marj. Was for sale in all the corner stores ,markets other Stores people would buy it there and not on the street. Example. I dont see anyone buying any Alcohol or tobacco products through some Street dealer for a bargain price from mexico. Unless its been stolen. We know more now on Regulation practices to better regulate the legalization Of marj. Than yrs ago with alc. Or tobacco. We have already Spent tons of gov. Money trying to figure out to legalize or Not. We need to spent this time and money on laws to Regulate it the best way. Its not going away So we the american people need to keep the money from sales of marj in this country in thos country. Mexico is a Huge parasite on our country illegally and legally wiring Money to mexican nationals from the usa everyday. I see Money being western union to mexico constantly. The marj issue will only b small part of slowing It down but a.big part on boosting money staying home.
cjJun 30, 2011 10:12:01 AM
Just a question for the panel: Since use of marijuana causes impairment to the user, how will legalization of marijuana play out in a court case, such as a custody matter?
PatriciaJun 30, 2011 10:03:03 AM
I find it fascinating that your commentators are speculating. I would like to hear from the psychologist how poor people using marijuana is better than locking up poor people for selling marijuana.
Thomas CarrollJun 30, 2011 09:42:59 AM
My son is fighting nerve cancer, and doctors give him dangerous narcotics that are very addictive and leave him so sleepy that his quality of life is impacted severely. A friend baked him a batch of marijuana cookies, and with just one, he gets an appetite and can hold down food, and I get my normal son back. He takes a lot less of the narcotics, and can actually "enjoy" the time he has left. However, I'm scared to death to go out and buy marijuana because it is illegal and I don't know what else might be in the marijuana. His doctor prescribed Marinol, but that doesn't work hardly at all for him. Why can't at least a doctor prescribe it, and we pick it up at the pharmacy?
LisaJun 30, 2011 09:41:46 AM
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