A group of four Republican senators who do not support marijuana legalization has admitted that the policy change disrupts illegal sales by cartels. The acknowledgement comes in a letter urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider plans to ban menthol cigarettes and set nicotine content limits, arguing that the prohibition and strict regulations could benefit illicit trafficking operations.
Writing to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Monday, Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Budd (R-NC) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) unwittingly made the case for the legalization and regulation of controlled substances.
The main point of the letter is to express concern FDA’s proposed menthol cigarette ban, which the senators said could “empower” transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) to “exploit black market opportunities that such policies could create.”
The senators aren’t in favor of cannabis legalization, but they did also—apparently inadvertently—make the case for that reform.
“While the primary threat from Mexican TCOs come from trafficking in illicit drugs, these organizations have diversified their activities in response to changing conditions,” they said. “As it has become easier to sell marijuana products in the U.S., Mexican TCOs have prioritized trafficking fentanyl and other synthetic drugs that are cheaper to manufacture, easier to transport, and generate more profit.”
In other words, the GOP senators are acknowledging that as Americans in more states have the opportunity to buy legal cannabis from licensed retailers, the market share for unregulated marijuana trafficked by cartels is shrinking—and as a result they are having to scramble to sell other substances to make up their losses.
That’s also the conclusion of a federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which released a report on the trafficking trend last year.
The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents also acknowledged in 2020 that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.
In light of what’s been observed with marijuana, the senators are cautioning against opening up a new illicit market for menthol cigarettes by enacting a federal ban, tacitly acknowledging the failures and consequences of prohibition.
“We are concerned that potential FDA actions to prohibit the sale of popular tobacco products may expand black market opportunities for TCOs, from Mexico or otherwise, to sell illegal tobacco products in the U.S.,” they wrote. “FDA must examine the potential effect of such actions to empower Mexican TCOs and other criminal elements to exploit black markets for tobacco products.”
“There is significant risk that in the absence of a regulated market, Mexican TCOs will combine their existing tobacco operations with their extensive distribution networks to traffic into the United States the very products that FDA could deem illegal,” they continued. “We encourage FDA to address concerns with its current enforcement approach, including in conjunction with issuing any future rules, and to work closely with other federal agencies who have a thorough understanding of TCOs when enacting and implementing policies related to tobacco products.”
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Meanwhile, at a congressional committee hearing scheduled for Thursday, FDA is also expected to face sharp criticism over its decision earlier this year not to enact regulations allowing for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.
Separately, the agency has received some bipartisan praise for releasing first-ever guidance on developing psychedelic medicines. At the same time, it is actively working to review the federal scheduling of marijuana under a directive from President Joe Biden last year.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.