What Will the Cartels Do After Drugs Are Legal?

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Opponents of legalizing drugs often argue that you can’t really eliminate the cartels because they'll just move on to other crimes. Here's the drug czar's version of that argument:

"Some think legalization will reduce the violence," Kerlikowske said. "It will not. If drugs were to become legal, I doubt very seriously that (the criminals) would take up jobs at Microsoft or Intel. Criminals are not going to change." [El Paso Times]

It's an interesting debate in light of today's news that Mexican drug cartels have been tapping into oil pipelines, stealing astronomical amounts of oil, and then selling it to corrupt American businessmen. It's easy enough to assume that many of these diabolical criminal masterminds will look for ways to stay in business even if we take away their drug profits through legalization and regulation. There's some truth to this and it's pretty creepy to think about what these horrible thugs will do when their primary funding source suddenly vanishes. But that's not an argument against legalization.

Making drugs illegal is what created these maniacs in the first place. Selling drugs is what made them greedy and evil. It's how they learned to launder money. It's how they paid for their weapons and armies. It's where they got the capital to fund other criminal enterprises like stealing oil from the Mexican government. All their power comes from selling drugs, and anyone who supports the drug war shares responsibility for what the cartels do next.

Maybe legalization won't crush them overnight, but it will close down the massive criminal college that the drug war has become. It will stop future generations of potential super-criminals from ever becoming indoctrinated into a life of crime, because there will be far fewer jobs in the crime industry. In the meantime, those criminals that remain won't have any more drug money to line the pockets of public servants and pervert justice at every turn.

They can attempt other criminal endeavors, but it will never be the same because selling drugs is the easiest most-profitable crime on the planet and it can never be replaced. More than a few drug war idiots have suggested that the drug lords will simply switch to human trafficking, as though you could just start selling slaves to the people who used to buy marijuana and cocaine. One could write a very long book about how stupid that is, but it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

What would really happen to the cartels if drugs were legal? There's only one way to find out.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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The cartels would follow

The cartels would follow four paths:
The smart ones would go legit and produce the drugs legally or consult with the agribusinesses on how to raise the crops
The devious ones would continue the designer drug trade creating ever more addictive drugs and using them to enslave people
The vicious ones would move on to other pursuits where they can kill the competition
and the dumb ones would continue as they are today and just kill/bribe the regulators, inspectors and tax authorities

Drug Czar

When I first heard Kerlikowske was to be the new drug czar, I had high hopes. He seemed intelligent and able to recognise the problems with the drug war that his predecessors could not.
I was a fool. Is he really this stupid or is he just pandering to the Powers That Be? Either way, I think it's clear we're not going to see any significant change in US drug policy while under his authority. Sad.

I'm reserving judgment on

I'm reserving judgment on Kerlikowske. He's the drug czar. He's required by law to fight against marijuana legalization efforts, even medical marijuana. He's supposed to be trying to reduce illegal drug use. I don't see how we can expect any drug czar to be our champion. What he could be is not nearly as bad as previous drug czars. That's about all we can ask for from a drug czar. People gripe a lot about him and Obama, but compared to presidents and drug czars we had before, these guys aren't so bad at all on marijuana issues at least.

Kerlikowske argument against legalization of drugs:

It would be more believable if the U.S. Government and other globalists were not secretly the same as the cartel committing the same atrocities with full immunity and official denial. Just compare Freeway Ricky Ross and Oliver North. Only the lower ranks are allowed to be caught and punished just like at Abu Ghraib. Remember alcohol prohibition was started by wealthy global industrialists who dominated at smuggling all manner of illegal drugs while exempt from punishment. Drugs usually produce a resource which the common person can locally produce. Alcohol was Americas fuel and pharmaceutical extractor before Rockefeller made it illegal against the will of the majority of the people,replacing it with petrochemicals,and we all know the cannabis story. Same global black market run prohibition with different names. Drug Czar; a stupid slap in the face umbrella for government officials to do the same things they prohibit. All for the purpose of artificially inflating/gouging the prices of every product and service everywhere. I got to admit that the prohibitionist drug cartel are criminally genius masterminds at hiding in plain sight.


Maybe the best example of what really happens after prohibitions is what happened after Prohibition.

Many successful alcohol criminals retired.  A few invented stock car racing.  Many went to work in legit saloons, breweries, distilleries.  Organized crime was diversified enough to survive on other sources of illicit income, i.e., drugs.  Also legitimate businesses like laundries, juke boxes (that’s how we got the Top-40 song list) and fresh milk delivery services (the mob invented food standards for milk—Grade A… very family oriented group).  One rum runner went on to become an ambassador and father a future president.

Kerlikowske’s assumption that criminals don’t change is typical of how law enforcement continually underestimates the capacity of people to adapt to virtually anything.  Individuals adapt to prohibitions by going around them or taking advantage of the easy opportunities.  But they also adapt to new economics.

Most will prefer a legal, new economic option if it’s available.  If not, selling adults a relatively benign and popular forbidden-fruit like weed for recreational purposes is the least harmful, least reprehensible criminal alternative a person can choose in order to make a few kilobucks.  These people aren’t so much dangerous criminals as they are opportunists.


Agreed, and alcohol criminals went into politics too...

Agreed, and alcohol criminals went into politics too... where they still reside today. Kennedys anyone? Or what about Senator John McCain and his millionaire beer/drug baroness wife. Why isn't she 'Wanted' for 'distributing drugs' more dangerous then marijuana... a dealer of dangerous drugs hiding in plain but socially acceptable sight? What a world... corrupted by wankers!

How do people become drug criminals?

Lower level drug dealers are drawn mainly from the ranks of those for whom school has been a complete waste of time. The dry, abstract, academic and arcane subjects that are the subjects held as being of the greatest 'good' as learned by people who have a natural ability for them (and, for the most part, have a home where there are books to read, a quiet place to work and adults with whom to converse seriously) are equated with 'success' by (of course) other people who were themselves good at these subjects at school. Becoming a drug dealer enables these 'school failures' to become skilful entrepreneurs where academic qualifications are not required. Those who are successful move up the ranks of the drug industry just as any 'legitmate' businessman does.

When governments finally see the light and legalise the drug industry, they need also to reflect on how young people are educated. The present system 'fails' around 50% of kids. The insistence on having irrelevant academic qualifications excludes hosts of young people who may not be good at 'school' but who have many and various 'non-school' capabilities that, when allowed to flourish, could be of enormous value to the world and, rather more important, to themselves as individuals. At present we wilfully create a world for young people where a life of crime doesn't just seem to be the only option, but where, given the artificial barriers to mainstream work, it is seen as a sensible career choice - and very likely it is.

John Harrison, co-author 'Wot, No School? How schools impede education' See www.wotnoschool.com

Reply To How People Become Drug Criminals

You forgot to include the terroristic torture and abuses the drug cartel leaders impose upon innocents. Terrifying and abusing people of all ages and occupations. Living off others like scapes after they terrified them, force some out of legitimate work, make them work for them to set them up and kill some in the end. It is what some do and everybody is afraid to talk about it or stop it. Too much human life is being wasted and thrown away is not something I can support or accept. Legal or not legal I don't want it in my life under any terms.

Legalising drugs would be welcomed by criminal cartels

The one question that I can never get an answer to from the pro drugs lobby is this. Who is going to persuade the organised crime cartels and terrorists organisations to give up their franchises on the growth and distribution of drugs? The answer which the pro drug lobby evades is this.

As we all know there is an established and thriving black market in what is sometimes described as 'unauthorised distribution' of prescription drugs; it is a matter of public record that well known pharmaceutical companies have played a significant part in the development of that market; it follows that should drugs be legalised a similar market will emerge. Let's not forget that when cocaine was legal and eulogised by leading lights of the medical profession of the day, whose research was funded by pharmaceutical companies who are still in existence today, as the elixir of life and a cure for morphine and alcohol addiction, there was an epidemic of addiction in both the USA and Europe, together with a marked escalation in crime by those who were desperate to get their 'fix'

Pharmaceutical companies will have to get their raw material supplies from the same sources as drugs come from at this time. Of course that will be shielded by 'front' companies set up by the criminal cartels; a simple process of history repeating itself. The criminal cartels will rub their hands in glee at the thought of an expanding and growing market, where they will no longer have the overhead of bribes to concern themselves with.

Those with sufficient funds who are disposed to drug use will get a prescription from their doctor; those without that sort of funding will form the profitable secondary market, but will need to continue to engage in similar criminal activities as they do now to fund their drugs of use, thus the criminal cartels would continue to prosper as indeed would 'Big pharma'. As H. L Mencken pointed out “For every complex problem there is a solution that is neat, simple and wrong”.

Those who overtly and covertly, under various guises, lobby for the legalising of toxic addictive substances have vested interests which do not include the welfare of their fellow human beings. The users who add their voices in support are delusional; (a common characteristic of drug use) if they believe that legalisation will make their life better. If it were true that it would why do we have so much crime and violence and mental problems arising from the use of that highly addictive substance we call alcohol?


If the cartels remained involved in cultivation after legalization, they wouldn't be criminals anymore.

Huge improvement over the current situation. Next question?

Yeah sure..

I hate to bust your bubble, Peter, but that's not some profound new understanding. There has always been a separate market. This is no secret. What legalizing would do is allow for more of the "revenue" from it being consumed (because it will be bought and sold REGARDLESS) to go towards educational funding, or alternative energy research, anything. It undeniably would take a generous amount of the cash away from the cartels because we would have more power to better manage our sources of marijuana.. We could pick from whom we buy.


I am all for legalizing drugs. The government could set up a distrubution are for those in need. Overnight the drugs gangs would go out of business. Drugs fund these gangs and provide the money and resources for them to tap into other criminal activities. Remove the money from drug gangs.

John Harrison: cartel prices can't compete with legal markets

unless the government gets greedy and makes the tax too high. Sure there will still be a problem with black market sales being made to children not allowed to have them, but that will be a much more manageable problem than we've got now, as people who make those sales will have to deal with a much more united community firmly opposing them, and there will no longer be a shortage of jail cells to handle the much lower number of drug dealing criminals. And of course there would be more money available for drug education and voluntary treatment, where there is a chronic shortage of funds being made worse by the current financial collapse of government resources. And we'd have drug education that isn't twisted up in knots by having to minimize the danger of alcohol so that the law on alcohol vs. cannabis doesn't appear as ludicrous as it really is.
Your blanket attack on the motives of those who disagree with you is ridiculous and offensive. It's as ridiculous as saying every drug warrior is in it only to protect their economic interests and social dominance.

John Harrison and the damage done by alcohol

"The users who add their voices in support are delusional; (a common characteristic of drug use) if they believe that legalisation will make their life better. If it were true that it would why do we have so much crime and violence and mental problems arising from the use of that highly addictive substance we call alcohol?"
Thanks for making my point for me. The reason we have so much violence and grief being caused by alcohol even though it is legal is because it's such a highly dangerous drug. The only thing worse than allowing alcohol use is trying to ban it, as we found out in the 1920's. All you've done with this comment about alcohol is point out how ridiculous it is for cannabis to be illegal, because it simply does not have the relationship with violence or the toxicity that alcohol does. That's not opinion, that's scientific fact.

Just chiming in to say that

Just chiming in to say that using idiotic words like "pro drug lobby" is like calling proponents of the death penalty "the pro death lobby". And implying that everyone who supports a change in drug policy must be a delusional drug user is like saying you must have had an abortion in order to support abortion.

"criminals are not going to change"

Saying "criminals are not going to change" is an excellent reason not to create more criminals with our present day Prohibition.

A study in California released 8/5/09 showed 24,000 low-level, nonviolent drug offenders locked up in overcrowded state prisons at a cost of $1.2 billion per year.

most of those low-level nonviolent drug offenders in California

were dealing to support their own use. Cut out the black market prices and there's a good chance they'd live their lives without causing the rest of us any problems. That's assuming legal work is available, which is another area that needs working on.

Uh, oh, I confused John Harrison with Peter O'Loughlin

Sorry about that. Actually I agree strongly with what John Harrison is saying about how school is too dry and academic to work for many many students, and society too hung up on academic credentials. Alternative paths are needed, partly to help prevent drug abuse, and I hope to look further into John Harrison's ideas.
Peter O'Loughlin is welcome to reply to my posts (first was unsigned).

Confusion of me with Peter O'Loughlin

Thanks Anonymous. I was beginning to wonder what I'd said.

"Some think legalization

"Some think legalization will reduce the violence," Kerlikowske said. "It will not. If drugs were to become legal, I doubt very seriously that (the criminals) would take up jobs at Microsoft or Intel. Criminals are not going to change."

Duh! But this takes A LOT of money away from the criminals that will be hard to replace. Most of the big cartels need significant cash flow for their schemes to work; and shutting them off drugs is like taking taxes away from the government. This will shrink the illegal traders to a few big criminals instead of a cluster f*ck of little guys going cowboy. The drug czar is giving us a childish argument.

Show me, drug czar, another 'untapped' revenue stream anywhere close to what is generated by illegal drug trade! Legalize marijuana and you cut crime and create legitimate business opportunity. Maybe these guys don't go to Microsoft or Intel; but they sure have great jobs as growers and tenders for the now legal cannabusiness

Who gives a damn

what the drug cartels will do? What could be worse than what they're doing now? Maybe they'll find other criminal activity; maybe, minus our dirty war, Mexico's government and economy might stabilize enough to allow her people to get real jobs without dying in the Arizona desert. One thing the cartels WON'T do if freedom is legalized -- they won't be selling illegal drugs. I don't care how big and bad you are, you can't force people to buy what they don't want. One of the many false concepts in drugwar mentality is that of the bad ol' "pusher" forcing people to buy and use dangerous addictive drugs. The fact that most illegal drugs aren't dangerous or addictive is beside the point. But then, everything about the drug war is beside the point, isn't it?

Human trafficking

"Drug trafficking" is drugwar-speak for buying and selling drugs, but human trafficking doesn't refer to buying and selling people. Human trafficking used to be called smuggling; those of us with common sense call it "helping people enter the country illegally." What the two terms have in common is being scare tactics. Both are used to make a victimless activity sound more sinster. And both are used to describe direct results of our own government's increasingly oppressive policies.

Unfortunately, human

Unfortunately, human trafficking is not a victimless crime. Whereas drugs don't die of starvation and disease in shipping crates and can't drown in shoddy boats, humans do. Furthermore, many people being "trafficked" end up as prostitutes or indentured servants, often coerced by their smugglers into these "careers". On top of that, most people give up their life savings for that one trip, ending up destitute on arrival - if they make it at all.

LEAP_Speaker's picture

Mexican drug cartels have been tapping into oil pipelines

"Mexican drug cartels have been tapping into oil pipelines, stealing astronomical amounts of oil, and then selling it to corrupt American businessmen".

If you think drugs are the only criminal enterprise these "diabolical criminal masterminds" are currently involved in, I think the article it's self proves otherwise. Few things have the enormous profit of drugs.

Drug profits allow the cartels to venture into other criminal activity. Do you think they would have the money to build long hidden pipe lines to steal the oil without the enormous profits from drugs?

Leave the cartels out of it, and look at gangs that sell drugs. Again, without drug profits these guys will be driving a Mazda rather than a Mercedes, and be reduced to selling stolen cars for a few hundred dollars. Car theft is something law enforcement can deal with.

Around 100,000 cars are stolen each month, that's 2,000 cars per state. Surveys, cited by the DEA themselves, say there are about 12,700,000 people who used illegal drugs in the last month. I think law enforcement can deal with 2000 cars per state, much easier than 254,000 drug users per state.

We have over 2,000,000 people in U.S. prisons now. States may be able to deal with 2,000 car thieves, but where are you going to put the 12,700,000 people who used an illegal drug last month? Are we going to close schools, reduce public services including police to lockup all these drug users?

Just how many people do you want to lockup? What are YOU willing to give up to accomplish your goal? It's easy to say we can win the drug war, but the last 30 years of failed U.S. drug policy tell us it not.

It's time for a change, drugs are a medical problem, not a law enforcement problem.....

E. Jay Fleming
LEAP Speaker
[email protected]
Mohave Valley, AZ

Mary Jane


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