David L. Carter is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice and Director of the Intelligence Program at Michigan State University. His expertise is in the areas of policing issues, violent crime control, law enforcement intelligence and counterterrorism. A former Kansas City, Missouri police officer, Dr. Carter was Chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas for 9 years prior to his appointment at Michigan State in 1985. He has served as a trainer, consultant, and advisor to many law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia on various law enforcement issues. In addition, he has presented training sessions at the FBI National Academy, the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar (LEEDS), the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, Hungary; the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute (UNAFEI) in Tokyo; special programs for the Royal Thai Police, Hong Kong Police, the British Police Staff College at Bramshill, several British Police Constabularies and police “command colleges” of several states. He also served at the FBI Academy’s Behavioral Sciences Unit the first academic faculty exchange with the Bureau. Dr. Carter is an Instructor in the Bureau of Justice Assistance SLATT program, author of the COPS-funded publication, Law Enforcement Intelligence: A Guide for State, Local and Tribal Law Enforcement; served as Project Director for three multi-million dollar national intelligence training programs funded by the Department of Homeland Security and co-Project Director of a National Institute of Justice grants to do a nationwide study on best practices and efficacy of law enforcement intelligence initiatives. Dr. Carter was also Team Leader of two Department of Justice assessments of the Homicide Units at the New Orleans Police Department and Puerto Rico Police Department. He is an Academic Fellow of the Foundation for Defending Democracies wherein he studied terrorism in Israel. He is the author or co-author of five books and numerous articles and monographs on policing issues and is a member of the Editorial Boards of various professional publications. Dr. Carter is also a member of the Justice Department’s Global Intelligence Working Group Training Committee and Privacy Committee
MSU Debate: Some argue that prohibition enforcement for marijuana is too much of a burden and legalization would benefit law enforcement (by freeing up resources) but others argue that legalization would have adverse effects on law enforcement. What is the impact on law enforcement if the federal government legalizes marijuana?
DLC: This question is more complex than it may seem – there is not single universal answer. It will have a different effect on federal law enforcement than state or local law enforcement.
In the “big picture” the current enforcement of marijuana laws does not cost most state and local law enforcement agencies much money — most of the state laws and local ordinances on possession of marijuana are used when an officer happens to encounter marijuana possession. Proactive drug investigations by state and local law enforcement virtually also go after sellers and distributors. Generally speaking it is rare that marijuana is singularly targeted — many drug distributors are supplying multiple types of controlled substances. If marijuana is legalized, then that is simply taken “off the list” but there are plenty more drugs that remain illegal. In the practical daily world of policing, the effect of legalization would have minimal effect and would not free up resources.
For federal law enforcement, legalization of marijuana is not a matter of ending an enforcement responsibility, but likely changing the focus. If there is federal legalization of use and possession of marijuana, there will be new regulations on packaging, quality control, and taxes. Federal law enforcement, such as DEA, will probably shift their focus from criminal law enforcement to compliance enforcement. Most likely, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would take on a new responsibility for tax enforcement much like they do for tobacco. Legalization also does not mean that marijuana can simply come into the country without controls. Just like their are regulatory, safety and tax controls on imported liquor, there will likely be the same for marijuana. Hence ICE and the Border Patrol will still seize marijuana that is smuggled into the U.S. that do not follow import regulations. “Bootleg” marijuana will no doubt still arrive in the U.S. and be sold at a price lower than commercialized marijuana. There will likely still be criminal law enforcement against bootleg marijuana distributors because they will no doubt be violating tax laws — just like bootleg cigarette sellers.
MSU Debate: Many have said that legalizing marijuana would reduce a stream of revenue for terrorist organizations and/or Mexican cartels. What would the impact of legalizing marijuana be on terrorist organizations and/or Mexican cartels?
DLC: Legalization would have no effect on terrorists’ organization. The only terrorist organization that has consistently and actively been involved in drug trafficking is the Taliban, and it trafficked in Afghan heroin. While some marijuana has been sporadically trafficked by terrorists groups, it’s a small part of their revenue stream — moreover, terrorists are driven by ideology, not profit, hence a disruption in financing from marijuana (which is minimal) has little effect on their goal.
The Mexican cartels are not terrorists organizations — although they often act like. The cartels are criminal enterprises and are driven by profit, not ideology. As criminal enterprises the cartels make money in trafficking in marijuana, heroin and cocaine. They also profit in various forms of human trafficking, kidnapping, theft of vehicles and heavy equipment, money laundering, extortion and any other crime they can profit from. No doubt, their biggest profits come from drug trafficking, but they learned from their Colombian peers to also diversify their criminal portfolio. In short, legalization of marijuana in the U.S. does not stop the global demand nor will it stop the U.S. black market demand. There will likely be some profit loss from the cartels but it will not knock them out of business.
MSU Debate: What other revenue streams do terrorist organizations and/or Mexican cartels have? Are those more directly causing violent activity than drug revenue?
DLC: There is little that can be generalized. Domestic terrorist — or criminal extremists — operate on very small budgets, usually from personal funds and in some cases crimes such as theft, robbery and burglary — there is a lot of variation here.
For international terrorists (essentially, Jihadists) the biggest revenue stream has historically been donations from wealthy supporters. As noted above we have also seen some drug trafficking. Most recently ISIS/ISIL has funded their operations by grand theft from banks, businesses and stealing equipment and materiel.
I described the Mexican cartels revenue streams above.
Remember, don’t lump together the drug cartels and terrorists groups. They are all dangerous, but the threats they pose, the methods of handling the threats, the way they are investigated and how they operate are entirely different.
MSU Debate: More generally, what is the connection between Mexican cartels and terrorist activity in the United States? How big of a threat is that possible connection?
DLC: Despite some anecdotes and investigations on a connection, there are no formal connections and they generally don’t trust each other. My sources are good on this. They do not pose a combined threat. The threat to the homeland by international terrorists is substantial, although most likely on a significantly smaller scale than 9/11. The threat to the homeland from Mexican cartel violence is minimal, particularly for people who have no connection to the illegal drug trade. The bigger picture of the threat from the illegal drugs impact on Americans and illicit profits is simply unknown.