Marijuana is being legalized in the United States and globally far more quickly than almost any observer could have anticipated. Canada will legalize marijuana nationally in 2018. Given the horrific violence associated with the drug war in Mexico, such steps will reduce the power of organized crime. As early as 2014 the price for Mexican marijuana was falling sharply, and this trend will continue. Still, all change comes with a cost, and Oliver Milman’s recent Guardian article points out one. In his piece,“Not so green: how the weed industry is a glutton for fossil fuels,” Milman argues that marijuana production in greenhouses uses a shocking amount of electricity, which is often produced with fossil fuels. I don’t doubt that the global discussion about drug legalization, at least for marijuana, will continue. As it does, countries will have to wrestle with many complex policy issues, including the environmental impact of this crop, as large corporations produce it at scale.
Ben Grenrock also has a recent article, “Colombia’s New Drug Problem” in Slate, which talks about the growing movement towards drug tourism in Medellin, Colombia. On the one hand, drug violence has plummeted in the city. Colombia, which endured horrific violence in the early 1990s, has recently signed a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas. Medellin is a beautiful city, which has enjoyed spectacular growth. But tourists have also begun to come to Medellin in large numbers, partly because they view it as a place to experiment with cocaine consumption. Of course, cocaine has always been available in Colombia. But now the scale of drug tourism has increased substantially, which has strengthened the drug gangs that control its distribution in the city. According to Grenrock, many people in Medellin look with disdain on these tourists. In the case of Medellin, cocaine is illegal, but readily accessible because there is little effective enforcement. As both articles describe, a commodity chain links drug consumers to real environmental and social problems.
Shawn Smallman, 2017