Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart, in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee April 2, went on the offensive against the cannabis legalization initiatives in Washington state and Colorado. "What was explained to the voters was how much money that they'd be raising," Leonhart said. "What was explained to the voters was that this was good for law enforcement, because then police could go after the real crimes. What was told to the voters is that this would collapse the Mexican drug cartels." Instead, Leonhart asserted, Mexican drug cartels are "setting up shop" in Washington and Colorado in anticipation of a cannabis boom. "Whatever the price will be set in Washington and Colorado, criminal organizations are ready to come in and sell cheaper," she said. She also claimed, without offering evidence, that many cannabis shops get their supplies from grow operations controlled by cartels.
The website InSight Crime in its commentary on Leonhart's claims, recalls a study (PDF) released in October 2012, when the legalization initiatives were pending, by the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO). The study found that Mexican drug cartels could see their revenue drop by as much as 30% across the board if the initiatives then on the ballot in three states were passed. Using a statistical model, IMCO estimated the legalized price of cannabis produced in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, based on local demand. They then assumed that some of the weed would be smuggled into other states, driving down the price nationally. As a result, IMCO found that Mexico's cartels would lose $1.425 billion if the initiative passed in Colorado, $1.372 billion if Washington voted to legalize, and $1.839 billion if Oregon approved its ballot measure. (The measures passed in Colorado and Washington but not Oregon.)
The report did not look at how legalization would affect individual cartels, but but one of its co-authors, Mexican crime analyst Alejandro Hope, said the powerful Sinaloa Cartel had the most to lose. In a press conference announcing the report's release, Hope told reporters that the cartel could see its profits fall by 50% if the measures were passed.
Of course, it is unknowable whether these predictions have proved accurate, as the cartels don't exactly keep open books. But at least they are based on something other than pure conjecture, unlike Leonhart's ruminations. Leonhart said that legalization measures should just make law enforcement "fight harder." Maybe those who fighting the hardest against the cartels are not the cops but the legalization proponents.
Leonhart, a holdover from the Bush administration, previously took issue with President Obama for saying cannabis is not more dangerous than alcohol. She also was upset about the White House staff playing a softball game against drug-law reformers, the One Hitters (and losing). More than 30,000 people have signed the Marijuana Policy Project's Change.org petition, "Fire Anti-Marijuana DEA Administrator."