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Forget the Russians: The drug cartels are coming

January 24, 2013|By Dan Turner
  • No sale: A warden with the state Department of Fish and Game hacks through marijuana plants found in a forest near Kern County.
No sale: A warden with the state Department of Fish and Game hacks through… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

With this month's seizure of 7 tons of marijuana at the U.S.-Mexico border, it's probably time to stop pretending that the assorted statewide legalization measures sweeping the country in recent years are the foundation for a domestic pot-growing industry that will create jobs and can be taxed and regulated like other industries. Marijuana -- medical and otherwise -- has already been largely taken over by the Mexican drug cartels, which enforce their personnel regulations with bullets and do not pay taxes to ship their goods across the border.

To grasp just how much marijuana 7 tons is, consider that it filled a tractor-trailer with 600 bales weighing in at 14,551 pounds. This was the largest seizure to date; the second largest was at the same port of entry in Nogales in 2010, when officials seized 12,000 pounds of pot. Obviously, if you're going to take the risk of getting the stuff over the border rather than just making a quick trip down from the growing fields of Humboldt County to Los Angeles, it makes sense to ship in bulk.

I'm familiar with the arguments of marijuana proponents: If pot were legal nationwide, we wouldn't have to be in bed with these scary characters from Mexican cartels and none of this would be a problem. I can't help but wonder, though, how much less scary the domestic variety of growers from points north can be.

Despite the fondest hopes of marijuana enthusiasts, I also can't see their legalization dream coming true anytime soon. On Tuesday, a U.S. appeals court ruled that marijuana has no medical use whatsoever, meaning it will continue to be classified alongside heroin in terms of its perceived dangers to the public. That's not going to change anytime soon, probably not for years. So get used to the cartels.

No need to spend too much time on the reasons for this lunacy: Though numerous studies have found beneficial medical effects from medical marijuana, especially when it comes to restoring appetite for cancer patients, none has been of the size and scope needed to convince the Drug Enforcement Administration or the courts. This is largely because the sole supply of legal research-grade marijuana is under control of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, whose mandate is to prevent drug abuse, not research medical benefits.

Whatever. Getting back to distribution, I dug up an interesting chart showing that California appears to be getting it from both ends -- huge supplies of drugs from both Mexico and Humboldt County, from whence it is also shipped in bulk eastward. Texas is another big hub, from which it spreads like green fingers up into the Northeast.

I'm a fan of medical marijuana myself, but I have no illusions that it's going to lead to a clean, taxable, regulated, well-controlled industry anytime soon. States are creating a real mess by legalizing a product before the federal government is ready to act, and increasing lawlessness near the border will be only one symptom of this.

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