Empirically Bier Bier, David J. “How Legalizing Marijuana Is Securing the Border: The Border Wall, Drug Smuggling, and Lessons for Immigration Policy.” The Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 860, 19 Dec. 2018, https://www.cato.org/policy-analysis/how-legalizing-marijuana-securing-border-border-wall-drug-smuggling-lessons.
This competition appears to be affecting Mexican marijuana prices. Mexican growers have reported that marijuana prices in Mexico [fell] have recently fallen between 50 and 70 percent after U.S. legalizations.20 According to the DEA, overall domestic American production has grown because of the new state‐approvedmarijuana markets.21 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) itself has hypothesized that one explanation for the decline could be that “legalization in the United States [h]as reduced demand” for Mexican marijuana.22 The fact that some cartels have taken to using drug tunnels to smuggle migrants — who are less profitable and more readily identifiable — is further evidence of the effects of legalization.23
Shifting the demand to the legal market is key to preserving the environment Rogers-17 [Kaleigh, "America's Opioid Epidemic Is Destroying the Rainforest," Vice, 4-26-17, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3d9d8y/americas-opioid-epidemic-is-destroying-the-rainforest, accessed 5-30-20]
Widespread addiction to opioid painkillers like OxyContin has expanded the US market for heroin, which is almost identical chemically to prescription opioids. Heroin is also usually cheaper than pills, can be more readily available, and is more potent. With more demand for heroin in the US, drug cartels in Central and South America have even more incentive to continue tearing down the rainforests, and statistics show that deforestation has continued to climb right along pace with our growing appetite for heroin. I first learned about this connection during a reporting trip to central Guatemala. Fascinated by the networks at play influencing the opioid epidemic in the US, I was curious if it had had any impact in Central America. So one afternoon, while driving to visit some indigenous midwives in the hilly, bucolic Tecpán region, I turned to my interpreter to ask if she knew whether the drug trade had changed at all in recent years. She nodded emphatically, telling me it's "gotten worse," and that drug cartels in the north of the country were "chopping down the rainforest." "Is it just cocaine?" I asked her. "Cocaine," she acknowledged. "But heroin, too." Between 1990 and 2005, 17 percent of Guatemala's total forest cover was torn down—a loss of roughly half a million hectares of trees—according to the European Space Agency, which tracks deforestation using satellite imagery. It's continued at a similar pace since then, particularly in the ecologically vulnerable rainforest areas, where an increase in drug trafficking coincided with as much as 10 percent forest loss between 2006 and 2010, according to study published in Science. And it's only getting worse. "It hasn't slowed down in the last four years," said Matthew Taylor, a professor of geography and the environment at the University of Denver, who has studied the impacts of drug trafficking on the environment. "From speaking with my sources and from evidence from being in the field, it's increasing." Though agriculture and logging account for a large portion of this deforestation in Central and South America, the narco-deforestation has played a significant role, too. The actual cultivation of drugs like cocaine and heroin has an impact: The Organization of American States estimates that 2.5 million hectares of Amazonian forest in Peru have been destroyed to grow coca, while more than 1 million hectares of forest in Colombia have been culled to grow illicit drugs, including opium poppies for heroin. But in Central America, the drug-related deforestation is caused instead by all of the activities surrounding the trafficking side of the supply chain, according to Kendra McSweeney, the study author and a professor of geography at Ohio State University. "[Traffickers] need a lot of land through which to move drugs," McSweeney told me. "In order to secure those routes, they like to buy up the land and cut forests for landing planes, landing boats, unloading, reloading, and driving out by car." Drug cartels also buy land and cut down forests to establish cattle ranches, which make handy businesses through which to launder money, McSweeney explained. It also gives them a diversification option: If the drug route gets cracked down, they still own the land, which they can sell off for major profits, since the original sale is usually made under duress (you can't really negotiate real estate prices with a drug cartel). These methods are causing increased deforestation, particularly in some of the most vulnerable ecological regions, McSweeney said. She and other researchers estimate that the drug trade is responsible for at least 30 percent of all deforestation in Central America, but as much as 50 percent in some regions—including Guatemala's northern rainforests, located in the Petén department.
This has driven up the demand for heroin, giving drug traffickers across Central and South America a bigger market to fill, and more means to continue their systematic destruction of some of the most unique and valuable ecosystems on the planet. "These are totally dynamics made in the USA, no question," McSweeney told me. The experts I spoke to all said there are ways we can curb this destruction. McSweeney believes that steering drug policy in the US away from prohibition toward recovery and abuse reduction would ease a lot of the impacts on biodiversity conservation. Hodgson advocated for working to help local communities reclaim land rights in ancestral lands—his research shows drug cartels tend to steer clear of forest that's already occupied.