On March of 2011, at least 300 people were kidnapped from their homes in the wet ranch lands of the Mexican state of Coahuila, never to be seen again.
They had vanished. Desaparecidos. Disappeared. They were rounded up and taken by Los Zetas, a major drug cartel in Northern Mexico.
In a less-than-earnest effort to understand what happened to these innocent civilians and farmers, the Mexican Federal Government sent a forensics team to the small town of Allende, which suffered the brute force of the damage, three years after the fact.
While much of the town had been pillaged and burned to the ground, forensics teams uncovered piles of dirty, weather worn clothing next to large metal drums. These drums, grotesquely referred to as “kitchens” by the Zetas, are makeshift crematoriums. Artifacts of a grave atrocity hiding just below the surface, out of sight from mainstream media attention.
The massacre lasted for several days. During that time, witnesses watched as members of their own local police force helped mobsters pillage and burn down homes and businesses. Taking jewelry, heirlooms, and even complete furniture sets with them before setting the structures ablaze. It’s clear: the Mexican drug cartels gain from the war on drugs.
U.S. Funding Still Rolling In
Since 2008, the United States has given $2.5 US billion to Mexico via the Mérida Initiative. According to the U.S. Department of State, Mérida “is an unprecedented partnership between the United States and Mexico to fight organized crime and associated violence while furthering respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
Simply stated, the Mérida Initiative allows the U.S. to train, equip, and accredit Mexican policing agencies and carceral facilities. Mérida takes the U.S. War on Drugs international.
Though the goal of the agreement was to reduce violence by arresting major narco leaders, strengthening communities, and “professionalizing” federal, state, and municipal law enforcement, Mérida has seemingly become a legal mechanism for funneling weapons and funding into the hands of corrupt institutions.
Though the U.S. Consulate had received communications that government officials in Coahuila were connected with Los Zetas, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continued police training with potentially compromised institutions.
Mexican President Peña Nieto made an effort to respond to police corruption last year by giving State government agencies control over municipal police forces, however DEA training programs are still in full swing, with continued funding for increased militarization of police forces.
Cannabis Legalization Shakes Things Up
Marijuana used to be one of the primary drugs traded and sold in the transnational drug trade, making up about 30% of export revenues for Mexican cartels. However, with recreational cannabis now legal in 4 U.S. states, and medical cannabis programs in over 20 others, seizures of smuggled Mexican grown herb have dropped from 2.5 million pounds in 2008, to 1.9 million in 2014.
The wholesale price in Mexico’s prime cannabis producing state, Sinaloa, has also seen a huge drop over the past 5 years—what used to sell for $100 per kilogram now runs a meagre $25. This drastic price decrease has caused many cannabis farmers to stop growing cannabis altogether.
These statistics raise some big questions: if cannabis legalization in only four US states has forced narco-farmers to swap out their crops and change the way they do business, how would full legalization disrupt Mexico’s illicit cannabis economy? Bigger yet, what would it look like if we decided to put drug policy reform to the test, and took a good, hard look at how we treat drug use and consumption here in the U.S.?
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