(Washington Times) Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that he plans to target drug cartels and crack down on gun crimes to snuff out what could be the start of a national crime wave, evidenced by a recent uptick in homicides and other violence.
But left unsaid is whether Mr. Sessions also will direct the Justice Department to disrupt the legal marijuana industry — a move that critics say could undermine his goals and enable the cartels.
Speaking Tuesday to the National Association of Attorneys General, Mr. Sessions warned of the dangers posed by cartels that are able to smuggle drugs such as marijuana and heroin across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The less money they extract out of America, that is sent to their organizations, the less power and less danger they present to their governments and their people and the fewer people are addicted,” he said.
The attorney general has been steadfast in his opposition to marijuana legalization, saying drug use and crime go hand in hand.
“I do not believe that this pop in crime, this increase in crime is necessarily an aberration, a one-time blip. I’m afraid it represents the beginning of a trend, and I think what really concerns me in the bottom of all that is also the increase in drugs in America,” Mr. Sessions said. “They tend to follow one another. That’s what happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I think it could happen now.”
But researchers on the legal marijuana industry and drug cartel say the eight states that have legalized pot, if anything, have undercut the marijuana black markets dominated by Mexican cartels.
For the federal government to begin targeting the legal industry would drive control of the market back into the hands of the cartels, said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group.
“Going after states’ legal marijuana providers would be a huge gift to the drug cartels that would love to reassert their control over a considerable portion of the market,” Mr. Angell said. “It’s not like people are going to stop using marijuana if the Justice Department decides to crack down. It’s just that they are not going to buy it from tax-paying businesses. They will go back to buying it on the street.”
Since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales, law enforcers have seen a steep drop in the amount of marijuana seized at the southern U.S. border. Annual reports from the U.S. Border Patrol show that seizures of marijuana have declined steadily since fiscal 2013, when 2.4 million pounds of marijuana were seized at the border. In fiscal 2016, the Border Patrol reported seizing 1.2 million pounds of pot.
The declines could indicate a slowing illegal market or, as the Drug Enforcement Administration has noted, illegal operators could be increasingly choosing to hide in plain sight rather than transport marijuana across the border.