Cannabis Is The New Blood Diamond? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 24 2012 @ 8:23am

A reader writes:

I'm sure you've gotten flooded by people taking issue with Greg Campbell's comparison. I'm amazed and confused that he chose weed, and not coke, to compare to blood diamonds. Granted, I skimmed his article because I found it so silly to argue that the Mexican "cartels are in a murderous frenzy to provide it". The cartels are at war to control what Campbell notes in the same sentence: the smuggling lanes into the US.

I grew up in Northern California and at the age of 30 moved to New York. During college, to help with books and tuition, and to buy a new car I either grew, sold, wholesaled or delivered pot at one time or another. I have many friends who have never done anything other than work in the weed biz. I'm sure you have plenty of readers who are experts – well I'm one of them and I'd like to point out some mistakes in Campbell's article.

1. Marijuana is not controlled by violent gangs. The vast majority of pot in the US is grown in the US. I encourage your readers to look up the top states where its grown and compare those numbers with what the DEA estimates is imported from Mexico each year. Then compare that number with the numbers the DEA estimates is imported from Canada.

2. Mexico's pot is crap. Wanna know how I know? It has its own name, "mexi". No one buys Mexi, even in high school we didn't. The biggest producer of pot in the US is from California, mainly Mendocino/Eureka/Sonoma/San Rafael and other parts north. If Campbell thinks there's blood on that pot, then he's mistaken. It's the red hairs from the latest strain of bubble gum kush everyone's talking about.

3. Campbell cites 1500 metric tons being seized at the border in 2010 as evidence that Mexico and the cartels are flooding our streets with blood-soaked pot, yet a simple Google search reveals that in northern California in 2011 one single farm bust yielded over 1900 lbs and 632,058 plants. One plant typically yields a 1/4 lb, so you have a combined bust of 159,000 lbs in a day. Go here and you read about pot busts going back for years. Nothing about Mexico.

I'm unclear what Campbell's motive behind saying that when you "toke up" you're smoking blood-stained herb, but I know where mine comes from and it's not south of the border. It's northern California, a place where people raise families, send kids to schools, and earn their living growing, manicuring, and selling marijuana. The question I'd ask Campbell is, when writing this article, why not draw the easy connection between cocaine and blood diamonds? Cocaine is the single most profitable, easiest to smuggle and largest ROI product the cartels deal in.

Another writes:

The other similarity that Campbell declines to mention (although he tiptoes right up to the line of identifying) is that neither marijuana nor diamonds are sold on the open market in a truly free market. Obviously pot is illegal and most transactions occur on the black market. But the reason for the persistence of blood diamonds is also because the diamond market is closed, controlled by the deBeers cartel. They ruthlessly control the supply of diamonds, which drives up their price, and punish dealers who purchase diamonds elsewhere (either through competitors or second hand) by locking them out of the deBeers supply chain.

The Africans who traffic in blood diamonds do it to fund their civil wars, it's true, but there would be no market for those stones without the artificial price floors deBeers has engineered for themselves. Diamonds are actually as plentiful as other precious stones, but deBeers has created the impression that diamonds are superior, through price and supply controls and their marketing efforts. (There was a great Atlantic article many many years ago that touched on this.)

The point of all this is that, again, when you ban something that people want, or artificially restrict their access to it, for no compelling or persuasive reason, people will continue to seek out that product and people will seek to provide it. The ban (or restricted market) only serves to lock out good actors who would follow good business practices in favor of less risk-averse or ruthless ones who don't have the same reservations on ethical behavior. And if demand is big enough, atrocities happen (see Prohibition, the drug war, blood diamonds).

Update from a reader:

I swear, pot legalization advocates are their own worst enemy.  The web of rationalization and various bullshit they've constructed is ridiculous.  (For the record, I do believe it should be legal.  There is insufficient reason for it to be illegal.  Full stop.  No further explanation.)

First, a significant amount of the pot grown in NoCal is cartel pot.  It isn't all grown in Mexico.  A lot of pot that is grown in the US is grown on public land and is intricately booby trapped.  By its nature, any illegal venture of this size is going to be protected with violence.

And there is a problem with trying to cordon off the "bloody" marijuana as an argument.  People who live – as I did for a time – near violent gangs who deal in marijuana (among other things) don't shrug off the semi-regular shootouts with a, "must be Mexican pot".  And it's foolishness to suggest that these gangs, who pop up in places all over the country, are being supplied in a completely disconnected way from how the more "upstanding" college dealers and such are.  

If one grows it himself for his own use, he knows where it comes from.  If he buys it directly from someone who grew it, he knows where it comes from.  From there it becomes tricky.  Legitimate businesses under the eye of government and private, domestic and international organizations cannot verify that their coffee or cocoa or coltan supply is untainted with slavery, rape, or blood.  That a black market is somehow easier to track is absurd.  Each additional step in the supply chain, the grapevine effect magnifies with regard to any kind of certainty on where one's pot is coming from.

Bootleggers used violence to protect their business during prohibition.  Moonshiners still do today.  People are killed over linens and concrete.  That pot, or "my pot", escapes this after one has gone two or three steps down the supply chain is special pleading.