Published November 21, 2012
Pot-supporting crowds cheered on election night as Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Many expected Mexican drug cartels, who earn billions of dollars a year by smuggling marijuana into the United States, to be in a state of panic – but one expert said they will carry on just fine if pot is legalized.
“The cartel is going to likely adapt to that situation and move other types of drugs into those two particular states,” said Alex del Carmen, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas-Arlington.
Del Carmen said if marijuana laws in the United States change, the cartels will adjust and likely concentrate on harder drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine.
“You look at what we’ve done on the border by adding more agents, by being able to improve our technological devices," he said. "And the cartel has always managed to get drugs to the U.S. in spite of our efforts.”
Del Carmen said it’s difficult to know the exact amount of revenue cartels will lose by state-to-state legalization -- which doesn't change federal laws against marijuana. Colorado and Washington State are standing by to see how the federal government responds to the new controversial laws.
“Most of the drugs that come into the United States are not identified and not caught by law enforcement,” he said.
People who live in the border city El Paso, Texas, have seen first hand the devastating affects of the war on drugs. Its sister city, Ciudad Juarez, has lost more than 10,000 lives since the Mexican drug war was declared in 2006.
The U.S.-Mexico border serves as a corridor for smuggling drugs into the U.S.
Michael Friel, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson, told FoxNews.com that the new state laws are not changing the way the agency operates.
“CBP’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a schedule 1 controlled substance," Friel said.
El Paso City Council representative Susie Byrd co-authored a book with Rep.-elect Beto O’Rourke titled "Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico."
Byrd and O’Rourke wrote of the need for the federal government to reconsider its current regulation on pot. They said keeping it illegal in the U.S. fuels drug cartels to produce for the United Sates, the largest consumer of illegal narcotics in the world.
That has led to the fierce violence as Mexican drug cartels fight for smuggling routes into the U.S.
Byrd said voters in Washington State and Colorado have made a statement to the feds: “You’ve had two states essentially say: ‘This drug policy does not work. It’s not working for us and we have an alternative.’”
Byrd, who is married and the mother of three children, said she does not support marijuana use; however she believes two states legalizing it will lower the amount of pot smuggled into the U.S., thus leading to a dip in violence sparked by drug cartels.
“It minimizes that power and the influence and the profits of drug cartels in Mexico,” Byrd said. “They don’t go away, they just become a less powerful force, both in the neighborhoods and in the political and economic life of Mexico.”
Yet del Carmen said he doesn’t expect the violence or cash to dwindle for the cartels.
“They engage in violent activities on a daily basis, and they live lifestyles that require for them to make a lot of money. They will find a way to perhaps even engage in other types of activities.”