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April 7, 2014

If it clearly cost thousands of innocent lives through heroin abuse, would most everyone oppose modern marijuana reforms?

I engendered an intriguing debate over research data, criminal drug reform and public safety concerns in my post here last week titled "If it clearly saved thousands of innocent lives on roadways, would most everyone support medical marijuana reforms?".  I am hoping to engender a similar debate with the question in the title of this new post, which is my sincere inquiry, directed particularly to those most supportive of modern marijuana reform movements, as a follow-up to this notable new Washington Post article headlined "Tracing the U.S. heroin surge back south of the border as Mexican cannabis output falls."  Here are excerpts:

The surge of cheap heroin spreading in $4 hits across rural America can be traced back to the remote valleys of the northern Sierra Madre. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling — driven in part by decriminalization in sections of the United States — Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies.

Mexican heroin is flooding north as U.S. authorities trying to contain an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse have tightened controls on synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. As the pills become more costly and difficult to obtain, Mexican trafficking organizations have found new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, Va., and Brattleboro, Vt., where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown.

Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25. “It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”

Growers from this area and as far afield as Central America are sowing their plots with opium poppies, and large-scale operations are turning up in places where authorities have never seen them....

The needle habit in the United States has made a strong comeback as heroin rushes into the country. Use of the drug in the United States increased 79 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to federal data, triggering a wave of overdose deaths and an “urgent and growing public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. warned last month.

Although prescription painkillers remain more widely abused and account for far more fatal overdoses, heroin has been “moving all over the country and popping up in areas you didn’t see before,” said Carl Pike, a senior official in the Special Operations Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

With its low price and easy portability, heroin has reached beyond New York, Chicago and other places where it has long been available. Rural areas of New England, Appalachia and the Midwest are being hit especially hard, with cities such as Portland, Maine; St. Louis; and Oklahoma City struggling to cope with a new generation of addicts. Pike and other DEA officials say the spread is the result of a shrewd marketing strategy developed by Mexican traffickers. They have targeted areas with the worst prescription pill abuse, sending heroin pushers to “set up right outside the methadone clinics,” one DEA agent said.

Some new heroin users begin by snorting the drug. But like addicts of synthetic painkillers who go from swallowing the pills to crushing and snorting them, they eventually turn to intravenous injection of heroin for a more powerful high. By then, experts say, they have crossed a psychological threshold — overcoming the stigma of needle use. At the same time, they face diminishing satisfaction from prescription pills that can cost $80 each on the street and whose effects wear off after four to six hours. Those addicts are especially susceptible to high-grade heroin offered for as little as $4 a dose but with a narcotic payload that can top anything from a pharmacy.

Unlike marijuana, which cartel peons usually carry across the border in backpacks, heroin (like cocaine) is typically smuggled inside fake vehicle panels or concealed in shipments of legitimate commercial goods and is more difficult to detect. By the time it reaches northern U.S. cities, a kilo may be worth $60,000 to $80,000, prior to being diluted or “cut” with fillers such as lactose and powdered milk. The increased demand for heroin in the United States appears to be keeping wholesale prices high, even with abundant supply.

The Mexican mountain folk in hamlets such as this one do not think of themselves as drug producers. They also plant corn, beans and other subsistence crops but say they could never earn a living from their small food plots. And, increasingly, they’re unable to compete with U.S. marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses — some licensed, others not.  Mexican trafficking groups have also set up vast outdoor plantations on public land, especially in California, contributing to the fall in marijuana prices.

“When you have a product losing value, you diversify, and that’s true of any farmer,” said David Shirk, a Mexico researcher at the University of California at San Diego. “The wave of opium poppies we’re seeing is at least partially driven by changes we’re making in marijuana drug policy.”

I find this article fascinating in part because it highlight one (or surely many dozen) serious unintended consequences of modern marijuana reforms in the United States. I also find it fascinating because, just as my prior post explored some possible public safety benefits of consumers switching from alcohol use to marijuana use, this article spotlights some possible public safety harms of producers switching from marijuana farming to opium farming.

Some recent related posts:

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

April 7, 2014 at 05:51 PM | Permalink


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! The Mexican mountain folk in hamlets such as this one do not think of themselves as drug producers.!

-- Exactly. They're wonderful people, with no inkling of
heroin overdoses and deaths from it, or laws against it.
Whatever would they do without heroin, now that marijuana can't fetch a decent price?
Are these not starving subsistence farmers,
who have never heard of a drug cartel or a related murder?

Truly, just as Sammy the Bull switched to the Extasy trade as more lucrative than selling women's bodies
and extorting money the old fashioned way,
aren't these humble campesinos merely surviving?

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 7, 2014 8:44:37 PM

"“It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”

Si, I tell my good friend Bill Otis exactly this would happen!! I am prophet.

Bill, not too late--we must join together to stop this legalization of marijuana

iz killing my business! Next thing you know they will legalize heroin. what happens then to my business?

Posted by: Pedro Escobar | Apr 7, 2014 9:33:30 PM

So: pharmaceutical companies developed cheap "legal" opiates of reliable quality and dosage for use as pain medication. Since opiates basically mimic natural pain-suppressing chemicals manufactured inside every human brain, people with addictive personalities find these drugs irresistible. But opiates create debilitating physical dependence and, worse, tolerance, meaning addicts need a steady supply of the drugs. Because the drugs are available by prescription only, users have to come up with creative ways to obtain them, including theft, doctor shopping, and who knows what else. In response, law enforcement and pharmaceutical suppliers clamp down on production and distribution. But the genie's out of the bottle, and now we have a new crop of opiate addicts. Fortuitously for them, pretty much any opiate will do the trick, so they find another source, one that's not regulated and has little to no quality control, but which is plentiful and cheap. Unfortunately, it is also highly dangerous (see: little to no quality control) and supplied by criminals. Now the addicts have gone from pill poppers to hard core members of the criminal underground. They are dying from overdoses and tainted drugs and getting into who knows what other trouble trying to maintain their habit.

What does any of this have to do with marijuana?

Posted by: C.E. | Apr 8, 2014 1:18:55 AM

Marijuana does not lead to harder drug use.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 8, 2014 3:35:49 AM

According to a DOJ study (2009),
4%... of youth ages 12-17 who did not use marijuana sold drugs, whereas
45%.. of youth ages 12-17 who did use marijuana sold drugs.

Marijuana use was a better predictor than alcohol use of ▼every single delinquency studied▼, i.e.:
1> school suspension,..2> vandalising property, 3> major theft,
4> attack / assault,.... 5> gang affiliation,
6> carrying handgun,.. 7> being arrested. ----------www.uscourts.gov/fedprob/June_2009/index.html

If not a “gateway,” then a stronger predictor of crime and delinquency than alcohol.
Would you prefer “most common variable positively associated with the above pathologies," or afflictions, crimes, or social failures?

Explain [it] away.

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 8, 2014 8:36:59 AM

Adamakis, that's as foolish as the "spanking makes kids naughty" conclusion from similar correlation studies.

Of course delinquents are going to smoke pot, just like they'll wear ratty clothes, listen to music grownups hate, skip school, and the like. It's silly to take that correlation as evidence that marijuana is causing the bad behavior. You might as well ban black fingernail polish to keep teenage girls from getting knocked up.

Posted by: Boffin | Apr 8, 2014 10:13:37 AM

Adamakis: I thought lead levels had the best correlations with criminality, long and short term. Did these marijuana stas control fo blood lead levels?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 8, 2014 3:06:52 PM

If I were to lead an expedition across the Sahara in July and would wish to prevent sunburn and skin cancer,
I would be foolish to promote redheads. Just because they have ginger hair, should neither translate into
UV skin sensitivity, nor into skin cancer, no?

Science can muster only that: “it seems that the phenotypic expression for lighter skin and red hair are interrelated.

As a result of this mere correlation, “non-tanning skin associated with red hair”, as with marijuana usage above,
there is an undeniable, increased cancer propensity over more melanin-rich peoples, such as Greeks!
What a great predictor it is!

If you have light colored eyes, hair and skin, you are at higher [cancer] risk.
If you were to lead an expedition of youth through the Journey into Adulthood, and would wish to prevent
crime and delinquency, you would be foolish to promote pot-smokers.
What a great predictor it is!

More details: "This combination is frequent among redheads. …Duke University said that the melanin in redheads is more vulnerable to damage from the sun's UV rays. Redheads, under exposure to the sun, developed a reaction of oxidative stress. … UVA can cause damage without burning.
Gingers “are associated with fair skin color, lighter eye colors (gray, blue, green, and hazel),freckles, and sensitivity to ultraviolet light.”

-- Stuart Simpson, @ /EzineArticles.com/66024, wikipedia

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 8, 2014 7:29:43 PM

Adamakis: As swarthy people, join me in being candid enough, we love really white girls (if young), in the sun, indoors, anywhere.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 8, 2014 10:30:03 PM

The problem with the premise underlying this post is that heroin prices have declined by a greater proportion than marijuana over the last five years. See: http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2014/04/ramped-up-enforcement-along-texas.html

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 9, 2014 9:24:32 AM


Does this mean that sympathy for,
"The Mexican mountain folk in hamlets such as this one,"
is mislaid?

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 9, 2014 4:51:28 PM

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