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4 Fascinating Things Marijuana Legalization Has Already Taught Us

Legalization in two states has sparked a groundbreaking discussion about domestic and international policy.

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A recent study by Mexican think tank Mexican Competitiveness Institute estimated that marijuana legalization in Washington, Colorado and Oregon would cut cartel profits by a stunning 30%. Oregon’s legalization initiative did not pass, but even with legal weed in CO and WA, the cartels could lose as much as 20% in profits. Assuming Mexican cartels earn more than $6 billion a year from drug smuggling to the US, the study estimated that legalization in Colorado would cost the cartels an estimated $1.425 billion, compared to $1.372 billion in Washington and $1.839 billion in Oregon. The prediction hinges, however, on the assumption that the feds will not shut it all down. Researchers assumed that marijuana would be cultivated and sold for a lower price than Mexican pot in states where weed is legal. The legally grown, cheaper weed would then be smuggled into other states, driving up the demand for lower-cost, local weed.  
On Friday, one Mexican legislator, Fernando Belaunzaran of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) went so far as to propose a marijuana legalization bill. "The prohibitionist paradigm is a complete failure," Belaunzaran told the Washington Post. "All this has done is spur more violence, the business continues. The country that has paid the highest costs is Mexico.” 
“I think more and more Mexicans will respond in a similar fashion, as we ask ourselves why are Mexican troops up in the mountains of Sinaloa and Guerrero and Durango looking for marijuana, and why are we searching for tunnels, patrolling the borders, when once this product reaches Colorado it becomes legal,” Jorge Castañe­da, a former foreign minister of Mexico told the Washington Post.  
4. The rest of the world is into legalization, too.
When Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, the United States paved the way for marijuana policy reform on an international level. Even Canada was looking to its neighbor for progressive advice. “This is an important first step and inspiration to activists in Canada who want to see Canada embrace a smart drug policy,” David Valentin, spokesperson for the Young Liberals of Canada, said in a statement.

More impacted by marijuana legalization in America, however, are our neighbors to the South. Latin America responded to marijuana legalization in WA and CO with new chutzpah to challenge the US-backed  international war on pot. Following the election, leaders from Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Belize pointed out the drug war’s disparate impact on Latin American countries and called for a review of international drug policy. 

While Mexico is opening up the drug policy debate, Uruguay has been moving toward full legalization for months now. On Wednesday, it moved one step closer, when a bill to create a state-licensed marijuana market was presented to Congress.  

As Latin America increasingly challenges US drug policy, legalization may help give the Obama administration the domestic political consensus necessary to back international calls for reform.

Kristen Gwynne is a freelance reporter based in New York. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Salon and