By **Suzanne Menghraj**
It was widely reported last month that a mass grave discovered near Acapulco, Mexico on November 3 contained the bodies of eighteen of twenty men from the state of Michoacán who’d been missing since September 30. Near the grave were the bodies of two additional men and a note indicating that the two had killed—by mistake—the eighteen buried nearby. The same two men had appeared in a video posted to YouTube that showed them admitting to unseen interrogators that they’d kidnapped and killed the twenty men, two of whom are still missing.
None of the twenty appear to have been the affiliates of the Michoacán cartel their kidnappers and murderers had understood them to be. They were mostly owners and employees of a car repair shop in Morelia, the capital city of Michoacán. None of them had criminal records. Just a bunch of guys who’d gone to Acapulco together.
We’ve all read about vacations gone horribly awry: something awful happens to a lone traveler, one person in a group of friends, perhaps a couple. But twenty men corralled, kidnapped, and murdered? The newspaper La Reforma reported the day after the bodies were found that between January 1, 2010 and November 1, 2010 at least 10,035 people were killed in Mexico in drug-related violence. That number did not include the men killed in the Acapulco mass murder.
With the New York Times reporting in 2009 that ninety percent of the drugs moving through Mexico are destined for the U.S., we Americans need to take a hard look at our jonesing selves.
When I think of drug trafficking, I think of cocaine à la Hollywood: tumid bags slit open by the pocketknives of DEA agents or distrustful distributors, pinkies poised for taste testing. I don’t see the drug in real life so much anymore, but when I used to spot it at parties and clubs in the nineties, I often thought about what it took to get it from the equator to the bloodstreams of well-to-do Americans. Cocaine has always struck me as an especially ugly drug. While its travel history is secret (What dealer is going to reveal—or even know—how his product reaches his hands?), its source is a secret only to the willfully ignorant. Most of the cocaine that makes its way to the United States originates in Colombia—and while the coca plant, like hemp but with genuine cultural import, has its merits, cocaine hasn’t served most Colombians too well. There’s the issue, too, of cocaine offering a fun time to the casual user, or so it seems, but maybe not so much to the addict—not to mention the non-user who ducks as the wigged out bounce off walls. (A friend recently put it something like this: Only a person in search of his inner a**hole does blow.) Without labels or regulation, all one can do is imagine all the people who live and die to move an all-around awful product.
The paired news—that twenty men had been kidnapped and murdered by mistake and that this year’s death toll in the Mexcian drug war had surpassed ten thousand —got me wondering not just who is directly to blame for such violence, but also who is implicated. Naturally, I look to the drug lords who order the murders and to the cartel soldiers who commit them (and often mutilate their victims before murdering them). But who else is involved? The growers and producers, the movers, the distributors, the street dealers, and all the other go-betweens I don’t have the lingo to name. And of course, at the end of the line, the users. No matter how you cut it, users are complicit. With the New York Times reporting in 2009 that ninety percent of the drugs moving through Mexico are destined for the U.S., we Americans need to take a hard look at our jonesing selves.
It would be easy to point the finger: Hey, Eightballer: coke’s not just a nasty drug for you and for anyone who happens to be around you when you’re on it. You’re actually participating in one of the most gruesome, deadly, stealth wars out there. If you drink only fair trade coffee and thought it was morally reprehensible to buy Nikes in the ’nineties, well
Yes, we could easily point the finger, but we’d likely be pointing it in the wrong direction. The thing is, while Mexican drug cartels certainly do move cocaine, the big money in the drug war is not actually in cocaine. And it’s not in heroin. Or methamphetamines. Nope. According to that same 2009 New York Times report, the Drug Enforcement Administration says that the profit margins for marijuana are three times what they are for cocaine. This past September, the White House National Office of Drug Control Policy appeared to redact an earlier estimate that sixty percent of cartels’ profits come from the sale of marijuana to the United States. An October 2010 report from the conservative RAND Corporation arguing that legalizing marijuana in California wouldn’t make much of a dent in Mexican drug trafficking revenues suggests that fifteen to twenty-six percent is a more credible figure. As if that’s not also a lot.
Picture James Franco’s character in Pineapple Express: that loveable stoner Saul Silver just being his sweet self and selling some weed. Who couldn’t think of that guy as anything but the gentle, funny, open man a whole lot of smoking has made him? And that Pineapple Express he’s selling, it’s probably from Humboldt County, right? That what’s suggested when he says it’s the winds blowing in from Canada and Hawaii that make the Pineapple so good. Isn’t Humboldt County where Americans who smoke like to imagine their stuff originates? Some hidden grove of lovingly cultivated plots picked over by the chillest people on earth? Or maybe a hydroponic nursery in a walk-in closet in a room in a cottage in Upstate New York? That’s what I imagine. (The DEA reported earlier this year that indoor growing appears to be on the rise in the States, but indoor growing is small change for the time being.) If Saul Silver has Humboldt County dreams of his Pineapple Express, he’d better wake up. That bag of bud Kal Penn’s Kumar fantasizes about marrying in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle? A fair chance it’s from Mexico.
Mexico is a major source of marijuana consumed in the States and marijuana provides an important revenue stream for Mexican drug trafficking organizations responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.
A lot of the money that drives the Mexican drug trafficking that has led to the deaths of over twenty-eight thousand people since 2006 is in marijuana. Most of the marijuana grown in Mexico winds up in the United States. The syllogism I’m constructing here might be precarious—but it’s not that precarious. Given the way things are right now, if even 25 percent of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. came from Mexico, that would be a lot. No doubt enough to understatedly acknowledge that possible complicity in drug trafficking deaths is, in stoner parlance, a serious—very, very serious—bummer.
I should note that nothing I’ve read is talking twenty-five percent of marijuana in the United States originating elsewhere. Nobody knows exactly how much of the marijuana consumed in the States comes from outside the country’s borders (the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and its parent agency the Department of Justice and every other agency that tracks the relevant information can know for sure only what is seized or eradicated). The National Drug Intelligence Center won’t put a number on it; it goes only this far in the executive summary of the “Domestic Cannabis Cultivation Assessment 2009” report: “Despite continuing increases in the amount of cannabis produced domestically, much of the marijuana available within the United States is foreign-produced.” But I’ve read in several places that domestic production might be as high as fifty percent…which to my reading means that fifty percent is the highball guestimate for domestic production. Unless people who move marijuana across the U.S.-Canada border are that good at their job, very little marijuana comes from Canada: between January 1, 2009 and December 1, 2009, a little less than four U.S. tons of marijuana were seized along the U.S.-Canada border; 1,642 U.S. tons were seized along the U.S.-Mexico border during that same period. This much can be said with certainty: Mexico is a major source of marijuana consumed in the States and marijuana provides an important revenue stream for Mexican drug trafficking organizations responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.
Wherever it comes from, there will never be a successful campaign to eradicate marijuana in the United States. Ever. You’d have to be high to disagree. Mexico itself has decreased its crop eradication, more and more marijuana is grown domestically in the States, and if the amount seized marches along in time with the amount successfully imported, more and stronger marijuana is imported into the States from Mexico every year. The one hundred and fifty U.S. tons—fifteen thousand bales—of marijuana burned in Tijuana in October (some of the bales labeled with the face of Homer Simpson and other branding presumably intended for U.S. distributors) isn’t much considering that two hundred and sixty more tons of marijuana were seized along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2009 than were seized along that same border in 2008. One hundred fifty tons isn’t much at all.
So this war—let’s add it to the list—does indeed belong to the States no less than it belongs to Mexico. What do we do about that? Examine our pleasures and indulgences and habits and addictions, sure. But since none of these are going away, what we really need is to look at everything—from puritanism to laws—that makes it impossible to track where the $10.5 billion per year (the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2000 estimate) we spend on marijuana goes. And since our culture will take considerable time to shift and our laws will take a long time to become sensible and since it is highly unlikely that those of us who enjoy a joint however often we enjoy one are going to stop for any reason, including, it is beyond shameful to say, the possibility of complicity in the murder of thousands of people, what we really, really need right now is to have a heart-to-heart with Saul Silver.
A plea to the those of the over twenty-five million Americans eighteen and over who smoked pot in 2009 and toke on in 2010: The next time your Saul stops by, if you haven’t done so already, sit him down, serve him a nice, legal drug—a beer or glass of wine will do—and conduct a friendly inquiry. If he doesn’t know where the product he sells comes from, tell him it’s important that he finds out and tells you. Tell him about the twenty men from Michoacán. Read him the numbers: this year’s death toll and the toll since 2006. Tell him you don’t want your money ending up in the hands of murderous drug kingpins who will use it to buy American guns. Tell him you’re a patriot: insist on buying American. Or Canadian. Nah, tell him you want to buy American: hydroponic will surely do. Or Humboldt, if he can swing it.
Copyright 2010 Suzanne Menghraj
Suzanne Menghraj is a contributing writer for Guernica. She teaches in New York University’s Liberal Studies Program. Her most recent feature, “With Their Heads in Their Hands,” appeared in Guernica in May 2010.