In the April 2 edition of the Enquirer, the growing power of the Mexican Drug Cartels was outlined in the story “Mexican Drug Cartels slip agents deep inside US.” The story documents the movement of the cartels into the mid-west including drug trafficking in Chicago, Columbus, and Louisville.  Chicago authorities have even designated cartel kingpin “El Chapo” Guzman as Public Enemy Number One.  While Guzman has not, to anyone’s knowledge, ever stepped foot in Chicago, his Sinola Cartel provides most of the dope fueling Chicago’s street violence. Guzman is the second individual in the city’s history to be labeled Public Enemy Number One, the first being the infamous Chicago Mobster Al Capone.

The cartels represent a clear threat, what one law enforcement source quoted in the article called “the most serious threat the United States has faced from organized crime.”  There is little disagreement on the seriousness of the problem, but after 40 years of the War on Drugs, it is time to look at new tactics.

The first lesson we might draw from history involves Chicago’s original Public Enemy Number One, Al Capone.  Capone’s cartel was not brought down by G-men with Tommy Guns, or even the jailing of Capone on Tax Evasion charges.  It was the end of alcohol prohibition and the subsequent loss of the illegal alcohol money that spelled the end of the Capone Cartel.  A historian, writing on Prohibition, noted the imposition of alcohol prohibition transferred billions of dollars from the hands of farmers, brewers, truck drivers, and retail outlets into the hands of “murderers” and “crooks.”  Ending Prohibition reversed that flow and took billions of dollars from Capone and others of his ilk and moved them back to the legal economy. 


How can we take revenue away from the modern day Capones?  First, we recognize that for the cartels, marijuana is their number one product, their cash cow.  Marijuana proceeds account for 60% of cartel revenue. Legalizing marijuana and moving those billions of dollars out the hands of the cartels and into the legal economy would be a major blow to the traffickers. Nobody should pretend that marijuana use is problem free. But to criminalize the millions of Americans, including Presidents, Senators and Supreme Court Justices, who’ve used marijuana, is imposing a prohibition that is no more sensible than the Alcohol Prohibition of the 1920’s.

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