While recreational pot markets brace for a potential crackdown stemming from orders by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former law enforcement officials say another group is celebrating: Mexican drug cartels. “They are, right now, mapping out a plan to fill this hole,” Arthur Rizer, a former Justice Department narcotics prosecutor, tells McClatchy Newspapers. “There are meetings going on. They are watching the same TV panels we’re watching and taking notes on what other Republicans are saying.” Marijuana sales made up at least half the cartels’ drug revenue a few years ago. The amount sold into the U.S. has decreased since states started legalizing marijuana. A crackdown north of the border would likely put more money in the hands of the cartels, which would bring more instability to Mexico. “Violence costs money,” said Terry Blevins, who formerly worked with a Department of Defense anti-terrorism task force. “You have to pay off government officials, you have to hire people to kill off those who don’t follow orders, and you have to pay off law enforcement to ignore it.”
Sessions is rescinding an Obama-era policy that allowed states to legalize marijuana despite a federal ban; instead, enforcement of the prohibition will be up to the discretion of individual U.S. Attorneys. A leadership vacuum and power struggle created by the arrest and extradition of former drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has led to bloody years in Mexico. Through November, the Mexican government recorded 26,573 homicides in 2017, the most in a year since tracking began in 1997. Since 2011, the amount of marijuana seized crossing into the U.S. from Mexico has decreased by 66 percent, from 2.53 million pounds in 2011 to about 861,000 pounds in 2017. Cartels have shifted to producing more heroin and methamphetamines.