Corruption. Extradition. Border violence. Those were the standard talking-point topics by Texas lawmakers following Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s brazen escape last week from a maximum-security Mexican prison.
Now, some advocates hope to add “drug policy reform” to the list, arguing that Guzmán’s catapult back to power of the Sinaloa cartel should lead to new discussions on how much outlawing drugs empowers the world’s most ruthless drug lords.
Organizations like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition wasted little time in sounding the alarms about a possible increase in violence after Guzmán’s escape.
Rusty White, a former correctional officer, K9 handler and watchtower sniper, said Guzmán’s escape could escalate a war with rival cartels that sought to gain traction in disputed turf after Guzmán’s arrest in February 2014.
“Chapo’s been controlling the borders of the United States forever. Now that he’s back out, with whoever he put in place, there’s [likely] going to be more violence when the power struggle starts again,” he said.
He added of law enforcement officials: “Someday, these people are going to have to look in the mirror, like all of us did, and realize we were part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
Guzmán’s disappearance makes him the world’s most-wanted criminal once again. The Mexican government has offered a $3.8 million reward for his capture. And his escape through a mile-long channel has increased tensions between Mexico and the United States and permanently stained Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s legacy.
Guzmán is still wanted in the United States and remains on the most-wanted list for the Drug Enforcement Agency’s El Paso division.
Advocates pushing to decriminalize drugs concede they face an uphill battle in the United States, but they say Guzmán’s escape has prompted a conversation. While there is significant opposition to legalizing drugs like cocaine and heroin, support is growing for loosening marijuana laws.
A study by the Pew Research Center in April showed that 53 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal. That’s compared with 12 percent in 1969.
White said legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington has proved effective as a hit to the cartels’ pocketbooks.
“In the case of most drug dealers, regulated pot would take away about 60 percent of their profits right away,” said Ana Yáñez-Correa, the executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which lobbies for changes to drug policies and incarceration standards.
“It’s time that Texas takes a look and do it in a way that’s going to make sense,” she said.
Changing laws on marijuana would affect the lives of the 73,000 Texans arrested every year for pot crimes, Yáñez-Correa added, citing Department of Public Safety data.