Marijuana fuels Mexican drug cartel profits

One of the major sources of income for the Mexican drug cartels is the smuggling of marijuana into the US. The marijuana is grown in the Sierra Madre, then hauled over the border in many devious ways, and sold on the streets of the US.

US pot heads are providing the cash flow to fuel Mexican drug cartel violence.  Some estimate that as much as 60% of the revenue to the drug cartels comes from marjuana.

Just the other day a rancher in Tubac spotted a rider on horseback with a gun strapped on his back leading a mule train with huge bundles on the mules…presumably marjuana. This about 20 miles north of the border.

There are lots of stories about how farmers in the Sierra Madre have become slaves to the cartels, being forced to grow marijuana. The Tarahumara Indians have been especially hit hard by this.

That many Mexicans cannot make a living being farmers due to globalization of agriculture and having to compete with big US agribusiness has also made growing dope a lot more profitable than growing corn.

The destruction of subsistence farming in Mexico has also exacerbated the immigration problem.

There are obviously 2 solutions that must be considered to deal with both drug smuggling and illegal immigration:

–legalize marijuana and take the drug cartels out of the game. California has a ballot proposition to legalize marjuana on its November 2nd ballot.

–stop the unfair competition between US agribusiness and Mexico’s subsistence farmers so they can survive by staying  on their farms in Mexico.

This Arizona Republic article discusses the relationship of marijuana and the cartels.

Marijuana still a ‘cash cow’ for Mexican cartels
Focus on drug war lets growers thrive
by Tim Johnson – Sept. 5, 2010 12:00 AM
McClatchy Newspapers

CORRE COYOTE, Mexico – Times are good for the dope growers of the western Sierra Madres. The army eradication squads that once hacked at the illicit marijuana fields have been diverted by the drug war that’s raging elsewhere in Mexico.

The military’s retreat has delighted farmers who are sowing and reaping marijuana. Cannabis cultivation in Mexico soared 35 percent last year and is now higher than at any time in nearly two decades, the State Department says.

It’s also been a boon for Mexico’s powerful organized-crime groups.

Marijuana is perishable, bulky and less profitable than their other exports – heroin, cocaine and crystal meth – but drug-trafficking experts say that every major trafficking organization in Mexico reaps significant income from marijuana, drawing on cross-border criminal networks that carry cannabis to scores of U.S. cities.

“They tend to be a cash cow for the drug-trafficking organizations,” David T. Johnson, the assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law-enforcement affairs, said during a visit to Mexico last week.

An aerial tour deep into the Sierra Madres at the side of a Mexican army general and a small army eradication unit – one of a handful that are still actively working – shows marijuana crops flourishing in valley after valley of the rugged, pine-covered region.

The slopes and valleys in the part of southern Chihuahua state are sometimes called Mexico’s Golden Triangle – after the opium-producing Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia – because of their productivity. Illicit crops include not only marijuana but also poppy, the flowering plant that provides the white gummy latex that’s later processed into opium and heroin.

It’s a dangerous area. Even the poorest farmers tote weapons. A third of the region’s population is thought to earn its living from the illicit-drug industry.

Peasant farms need little to grow small fields of marijuana: bags of seeds, some fertilizer, hose for primitive irrigation systems and a few months for the crop to mature into 10-foot-tall plants.

According to State Department estimates, the areas of harvestable marijuana fields in Mexico grew from 10,130 acres in 2001 to 29,652 acres in 2009. During the same period, the area of eradication dropped by half.

Destroying marijuana crops isn’t easy. Unlike Colombia in South America – which aggressively uses armored aircraft to spray herbicide on coca fields, killing the raw ingredient for cocaine – Mexico largely relies on the brute force of troops to yank up marijuana crops.

On a recent day, sweat poured off soldiers as they tugged to uproot tall marijuana plants. When the soldiers couldn’t pull them up, they hacked at them with machetes.

Then, with a good dousing of gasoline, the piles of uprooted plants went up in flames. After a dozen soldiers had worked hard for several hours, barely an acre or so of weed had been pulled up and burnt.

Farmers see little stigma – or risk – in growing cannabis.

“Growing it is like growing corn,” said a general, who spoke to a journalist on the condition – set by Mexico’s Defense Ministry – that he not be named.

Marijuana pays better than corn – but not by much. A couple of pounds sells locally for barely $15 or $20. It isn’t until the weed moves closer to the U.S. border that the price climbs.

It used to be that smugglers packed tons of marijuana into tractor-trailers crossing the border. Smugglers now use tunnels, ultra-light aircraft and other methods to get the dope across, even packing it on the backs of illegal migrants.

“Marijuana is very, very profitable but it is difficult to transport,” said Francesco Pipitone of global risk-consulting company Kroll Associates’ Mexico City office.


About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
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