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Friday, February 21, 2014

Marijuana Legalization Raises Fears Of Drug Cartels

Sam Walsh sets up marijuana products at 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary on Jan. 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

Sam Walsh sets up marijuana products at 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary on Jan. 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

The legalization of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado may be a win for the state’s tax revenue, but it is also edging out the illegal marijuana markets, including the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.

According to a 2012 study by the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness, legalization in Colorado will cost cartels $1.425 billion annually.

While Washington state’s legal market is burgeoning, the study says it would cost cartels $1.372 billion. The legalization in these two states would push the cartels’ annual revenues down 20 to 30 percent, and cut revenue to the Sinaloa Cartel by 50 percent.

On Nov. 21, federal agents raided more than a dozen legal medical marijuana facilities and two private homes. The Denver Post reported these raids have possible ties to the Colombian drug cartel.

Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, believes legal marijuana shops are at risk of being targeted by Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. He joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to explain.

Interview Highlights: Tom Gorman

How foreign cartels could get involved with legal marijuana sales

“This is the perfect storm, because from the Mexican cartel standpoint, you have a quasi-legal business operating in the United States, which is illegal in other places, so there’s a real high demand for Colorado marijuana throughout the United States. One of the primary weapons of a cartel they use to make money is, one, selling drugs, and the other one is extortion. So it’s real easy for them to come in and look at these retail stores that are making hundreds of thousands of dollars and say, ‘We want a piece of the action.’ That’s one concern. The other one is using some of these organizations to take marijuana. Well, you don’t have to worry about crossing the border, but sending east, where most of our marijuana goes to — using these as a vehicle for doing that. So that’s our big concern.”

How foreign cartels might intimidate legal U.S. pot sellers

“They’re treacherous, and there’s no way when they show me a picture of my little girl walking to school that I am going to go to law enforcement, worrying about my family or my safety or blowing up my shop or whatever it is. I mean, they’re just treacherous. They have no morals. They do what they need to do to make money, so how do I combat that? I’m not gonna go to the cops. There’s no way I’m gonna go to the cops.”

On the amount of marijuana that previously passed through Colorado

“In 2012, we tracked interdictions that are reported, and that’s voluntary reporting, and we were able to identify about three and a half tons of marijuana that was going out of Colorado to other states, particularly east states. So that has to be some of what they’re counting for, and you have to assume, of the three and a half tons, how much did we miss? The estimates are we probably missed about 80 percent, whatever, because stops are random.”

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Guest

  • Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, part of the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Well, the huge amount of revenue coming in to Colorado is no surprise to Mexican officials. According to a 2012 study by the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness, legalization in Colorado will cost cartels $1.4 billion annually. Washington state's legal market is also burgeoning. The study says it would cost cartels $1.3 billion

The Mexican study shows legalization in these two states would push all the cartels' annual revenues down 20 to 30 percent and cut revenue to the Sinaloa cartel by 50 percent. And officials, including our next guest, are concerned cartels, who already work with street gangs in Colorado, will not stand by and let that happen.

Tom Gorman is director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, that's a state and federal drug trafficking organization. Tom, welcome.

TOM GORMAN: Thank you.

YOUNG: As to that question, because we immediately thought of history after Prohibition. Gangs fought over the now legal sale of alcohol. What, if anything, are you seeing happening in Colorado?

GORMAN: Our biggest concern, Robin, is this, that this is the perfect storm because from the Mexican cartel standpoint, there is a real high demand for Colorado marijuana throughout the United States. One of the primary weapons of a cartel they use to make money is, one, selling drugs, and the other one is extortion.

So it's real easy for them to come in and look at these retail stores that are making hundreds of thousands of dollars and say we want a piece of the action. That's one concern. The other one is sending east, which most of our marijuana goes to. So that's our big concern.

YOUNG: Well, this is not Mexico; it's the U.S. It's hard to wrap your brain around that working. I mean, wouldn't somebody here just say you can't extort me, this is a legal business, I'm just going to go inform someone about you?

GORMAN: You know, Robin, you've heard (unintelligible) about the cartel. They're treacherous, and there's no way when they show me a picture of my little girl walking to school that I am going to go to law enforcement, worrying about my family or my safety or blowing up my shop or whatever it is.

I mean, they're just treacherous. They have no morals. They do what they need to do to make money. So how do I combat that? I'm not going to go to the cops. There's no way I'm going to go to the cops.

YOUNG: Well, what are officials there seeing? There were the raids on November 21, targeting some dispensaries, warehouses, homes, grow operations. We hear agents gathering evidence to prove that cartels are coming to the state, maybe not just strong-arming places to get a cut of the action but also using legal marijuana businesses as a front.

GORMAN: Yeah, I mean both those things are absolutely right. The investigation you're talking about and some of the other things, obviously I can't comment because they're ongoing, but there was some information that was - the press got a hold of tying it to a Colombian cartel.

YOUNG: Well, and this is a cash industry in Colorado right now. Banks have been afraid of doing business because they are still afraid of the federal law, which makes marijuana illegal. But there's been some movement on opening it up so that they can do business with these dispensaries. Meanwhile it's cash. Cash can be used to launder other cash.

GORMAN: Absolutely right, absolutely right.

YOUNG: How much of the legal marijuana in Colorado do you think is going to leave Colorado?

GORMAN: I can't tell you for sure. I can tell you I think in 2012, we tracked interdictions that are reported, and that's voluntary reporting, and we were able to identify about three and a half tons of marijuana that was going out of Colorado to other states, particularly east states.

So that has to be some of what they're accounting for, and you have to assume, of the three and a half tons, how much did we miss? You know, the estimates are we probably missed about 80 percent, 70 percent, whatever, because stops are random.

YOUNG: So, but Tom Gorman, you are also on the record as a staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana. What do you say to people who say these are scare tactics, that cartels are not coming here?

GORMAN: You know, Robin, I'm not going to use scare tactics. I didn't say it happened. I say it's a perfect storm, it's a good opportunity. But even if that never happened, I am still against legalization because of the negative, I believe, negative impact it'll have on our society, and particularly our teenagers.

And here's my message, Robin. You've got Colorado and Washington that have done this, they've legalized it. And you know what? It's a done deal. In two to four years, you'll be about to decide for your state do we want this same thing for our state, or do we not. These are two experimental labs. This will end the argument once and for all with data and facts and not rhetoric and supposition.

And so I'm sorry it happened in Colorado; they will pay a price for it, and in Washington. Everybody else, hold back, watch, and then make an informed decision.

YOUNG: Tom Gorman, director of Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Thanks so much.

GORMAN: OK, Robin, you take care.

YOUNG: OK, and of course we will continue to watch and follow this story. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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