According to United States law enforcement officials Mexican drug-trafficking cartels are expanding their operations and have started cultivating marijuana in North Texas and Oklahoma. The comments come after an aerial surveillance crew spotted "a buck-naked Mexican in red boots," swimming in a mountainous area in Oklahoma, when the crew went down to investigate they found 30,000 marijuana plants concealed throughout the area. Duane Steen, an assistant commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Narcotic Service in Austin, says it’s the size of these marijuana cultivations that makes him think that they are being run by the Mexican cartels “30,000 plants is a lot of marijuana”.
Other observers attribute the increase in large-scale marijuana cultivation in the United States as a side affect of President Felipe Calderon’s highly publicised crackdown on drug-trafficking that has been ongoing since 2006.
Bill Martin, a senior fellow for drug policy at the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University, said that an increase in security on the border was a significant factor in the cartels expanding cultivation operations on US territory.
“You’ve got walls, fences and more federal presence. They’ve upped the heat on the cartels.”
However marijuana cultivation in the US is not a new thing and a study conducted in 2006 stated that marijuana was the largest cash crop in the country with an estimated value of $US 35.8 bn. The study also showed that marijuana cultivation, which has increased ten-fold during the last twenty-five years, was prevalent not only in the border states but throughout the country. The domestic marijuana crop is larger than cotton in Alabama, larger than grapes, vegetables and hay combined in California and larger than tobacco in both South and North Carolina.
Investigators also say that another clue to Mexican Cartel involvement is that the marijuana fields are tended to by illegal Mexican immigrants. However for a long time Hispanic unskilled workers have worked in the US agriculture industry and many sectors of the economy are dependant on this immigration.
Interestingly Ed Shemelya, who leads the marijuana eradication programme in the Appalachia region, has highlighted the economic crisis as another factor to the increase of marijuana cultivation in the US. According to Shemelya "We are seeing a lot more individuals who wouldn't normally be growing marijuana. They are not your professionals."
Regardless of who is growing the marijuana, the US is still faced with a growing problem. After funding controversial crop spraying to eradicate illicit coca and marijuana crops in the Andean the White House is faced with illegal drug cultivation on its own doorstep. Perhaps other states will follow the example of California which is gradually developing an industry in medical marijuana.
Across California there are an estimated 2100 medical marijuana dispensaries, co-operatives, wellness clinics and taxi delivery services in the sector. That is more than all the Starbucks, McDonalds and 7-Eleven outlets in the state and creates large tax revenues which in the current economic are welcomed.
Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, has recently estimated that legalisation might bring state and federal governments about $US 7 billion annually in additional tax revenue, while saving them $US 13.5bn in law enforcement costs.