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Is Marijuana a "Buy American" Program that Actually Works?

The cry of "Buy American" is being renewed as the nation tries to climb its way out of a recession. Often times those programs can fall short. But there's a surprising market where people are indeed increasing domestic purchases -- marijuana. And, in the process, it is hurting the bottom line for the murderous Mexican and Colombian drug cartels in a way that the official War on Drugs couldn't do.

There was a time when virtually all of the marijuana used in the United States came from Mexico or Colombia. Now, half of the pot being smoked is produced here, according to a report in The Washington Post.

This is a result of the increasing number of states that allow the growing and use of pot for medicinal purposes. So far, 13 states have some kind of law that allows medical marijuana, and more states are considering legalization. In fact, even in places where all pot is still illegal, it is often of low priority for police.

Marijuana is a huge profit-maker for the drug cartels. More than 60 percent of the cartels' revenue -- $8.6 billion out of $13.8 billion in 2006 -- came from U.S. marijuana sales, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. That's because cocaine and heroin has to be purchased and shipped from South America, which drives up the cost. The cartels can control the marijuana business from the pot fields in Mexico to the streets.

But now small-time U.S. growers are threatening the big cartels. The pot that these "mom and pop" operators produce is also of better quality, since it is grown in indoor greenhouses rather than grown in abandoned cornfields and stored for months in damp conditions. It also costs up to 10 times more.

Authorities found and destroyed about 8 million marijuana plants in the United States last year, compared with about 3 million plants in 2004. Asked to estimate how much of the overall marijuana crop was being caught in his area, Wayne Hanson, who heads the marijuana unit of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office in Northern California, said "I would truthfully say we're lucky if we're getting 1 percent."

But the cartels are not surrendering the marijuana business so easily. The more well-organized Mexican cartels are now growing marijuana on public lands in the U.S., according to the National Drug Intelligence Center and local authorities. This strategy gives the Mexicans direct access to U.S. markets, avoids the risk of seizure at the border and reduces transportation costs.

Ralph Reyes, chief of operations for Mexico and Central America for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said intelligence suggests that the major cartels are directly behind much of the marijuana growth that is taking place on public lands. "The casual consumer in the U.S. -- the kid or adult that smokes a joint -- will never in their mind associate smoking that joint with the severing of people's heads in Mexico," he said.


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