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Reefer Madness
Did Legal Weed Cause the Heroin Epidemic?

One of the arguments for marijuana legalization was that it would take market share away from drug kingpins and turn the weed business over to responsible government bureaucrats. According to a bracing Esquire report by Don Winslow, that argument has been vindicated, but with a twist—the Mexican drug cartels responded to the shock by pushing greater quantities of an even more potent poison:

Okay, I’m going to say it: The heroin epidemic was caused by the legalization of marijuana.

We wanted legal weed, and for the most part, we got it. Four states have legalized it outright, others have decriminalized it, and in many jurisdictions police refuse to enforce the laws that are on the books, creating a de facto street legalization.

Good news, right?

Not for the Sinaloa Cartel, which by the time Colorado passed Amendment 64 in 2012 had become the dominant cartel in Mexico. Weed was a major profit center for them, but suddenly they couldn’t compete against a superior American product that also had drastically lower transportation and security costs.

Winslow’s argument is not the last word on the subject, and there are alternate explanations for America’s rising scourge of opioid abuse. But he makes a compelling case—one that voters ought to consider before November, when a handful of states are holding referenda marijuana decriminalization.

Read the whole thing.

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  • dwk67

    Perhaps we should examine why so many people feel the need to escape and/or numb themselves from reality in the first place. Could it be the constant negativity of the attention seeking mass media?, the decline of serious faith in America? the demoralizing modern inclination to measure ourselves against the best in the world in every pursuit rather than merely those in our locality, or perhaps it’s the effects of the modern epidemic of leaky gut which is brought on by the horrible state of current nutrition caused by overuse of antibiotics destroying our microbiome, processed foods, and toxins we are subjected to on a daily basis….or perhaps all of the above with a healthy dose of stress to go with it…

    • Fat_Man

      Drug addiction was a serious problem in 19th Century China. What ever those people had, or mostly lacked, as they were very poor, it was not caused by what they ate.

  • Fat_Man

    Balderdash, the fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves, not in our friendly neighbors to the south, unless, of course, you are certain weirdly coiffed orange faced presidential candidate who thinks that said neighbors are the source of all of our troubles.

    America must own up to the fact that drug addiction is a human weakness, and is not created by things, even things that are drugs. We can neither control nor limit drug addiction by laws about things. It is time to legalize all drugs and face drug addiction for what it is, a medical, psychological, and social problem.

    • Pait

      Even if one disagreed with your conclusion that drugs should be legalized, the argument that one cannot blame the ills of addiction on drugs themselves, nor on “foreign dealers”, is on the mark.

  • Kevin

    This would be roughly in line with the Mafia and Prohibition – Prohibition gave the Mafia (and organized crime more broadly) the resources to build a much more effective organization, but the end of Prohibition did not end the Mafia as the organization had already been created and could move into other lines of business.

    Still I don’t think this is fatal to a sophisticated argument for drug (or just marijuana) legalization. The naive argument that legalization would have no negative consequences was always silly. However, the more sophisticated one that criminalization imposes heavy costs on some communities and undermines civil liberties here as we employ ever more draconian measures to fight drugs, and that these costs exceed the benefits of reduced drug use among some of the population that criminalization brings.

    Unfortunately there is no win-win in drug policy, each policy option will exact heavy costs on society in some way, all we can do is choose the lesser evil.

    • JR

      I think that Canadian and Dutch methods of fighting heroin addiction, namely providing addicts with a safe, secure space and drugs to shoot themselves up, is a better approach that what we currently have. Yes, it slightly upsets me that some of my taxes will go to buy dope for some useless junkie, but since we, as a society, decided to not let these people die on the streets, it is the best possible outcome. Or lesser evil, if you prefer.

      • Pete

        ” …but since we, as a society, decided to not let these people die on the streets, it is the best possible outcome.”

        Why not lock ’em up in sanatoriums like we use to have? Put the Alkies there, too. .

    • Jim__L

      The biggest problem with legalization is its destruction of norms against self-destructive behavior.

      If something is illegal, a certain segment of the population won’t do it because it’s illegal — when they may well have if it’s legal. Once those norms start to erode, they’ll start to question whether other similar things — like heroin — are so bad either.

      You have to take a stand against these things at many levels. Failure at any level can cause failure at all levels. It’s worthless to argue that one level or other needs to be eliminated, because in and of itself it is not enough.

      This is why Conservatism is more worthwhile than Libertarianism, or any other political philosophy based on poorly-thought-out “innovations”.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Most of the bad things which happen to Countries, can be traced back to how “Marxist” a country is, and whether it’s becoming more or less “Marxist”. Communist and Socialist Countries suffer from high crime, abortion rates, falling populations, low or falling economic growth, High Unemployment, High Addiction rates, and all the other symptoms of a failing culture. This means that America is increasingly Socialist, with Obamacare the latest burden on the Country, and the increasing heroin addictions is only one of the symptoms America now suffers from.

  • Pait

    On economic considerations, this explanation doesn’t make much sense. It assumes that drug cartels have the power to force people to consume one drug over another, and a more expensive one to boot. That’s similar to the equally dubious left-wing claim that obesity is caused by companies forcing people to consume more profitable, high calorie foods.

    The argument is dubious, no matter who deploys it or for the purpose of blaming whom for what social ills.

  • FriendlyGoat

    If this is true, it calls into question whether the federal government might have avoided part of the problem by informing states that they may NOT legalize a substance which remains illegal at the federal level. We have tolerated a form of “nullification” of federal law by the “liberal” community in certain states (when “nullification” is normally considered a conservatives’ game)—–perhaps with disastrous results. Or——-perhaps Winslow is connecting the wrong dots.

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