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Biggest blow to Mexico drug cartels? It could be on your state ballot.

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The ballot initiatives, which polls show have a chance of passing in Washington and Colorado but are less likely to pass in Oregon, go well beyond medicinal marijuana usage. (So far, 17 states allow that, with another three voting on it during this election cycle.) But Washington, Colorado, and Oregon are voting on state-regulated markets that would allow residents to smoke pot recreationally, not just to relieve pain.

If that wish is granted, the impact depends on the US response.

“There is a significant caveat,” says the report’s author Alejandro Hope, “which is that all of the displacement effects that we describe are contingent on the federal government not clamping down on whichever states decide to legalize.”

In other words, if no “illegal” drug market emerges in Colorado – say, to supply Ohio, where pot would still be illegal –  then Mexicans will still have the upper hand as they'll have illegal markets to supply in other states.

This was a similar caveat presented before a 2010 initiative in California, which voters ultimately rejected. RAND looked at what Proposition 19's impact would be on drug-trafficking organizations, or DTOs, in Mexico. “If legalization only affects revenues from supplying marijuana to California, DTO drug export revenue losses would be very small, perhaps 2 to 4 percent,” the report concludes.

“The only way legalizing marijuana in California would significantly influence DTO revenues and the related violence is if California-produced marijuana is smuggled to other states at prices that outcompete current Mexican supplies. The extent of such smuggling will depend on a number of factors, including the response of the US federal government,” the report notes.

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