2020 Undergraduate Research Showcase


The New Cartel Strategy: Hiding in Plain Sight

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Isaac Castellano


This research aims to show the possible financial connection between Mexican drug cartels and legal marijuana businesses in the United States. Marijuana has been legalized recreationally in 11 states while 22 states have legalized medicinal marijuana. This growth of legalization has meant that cartels have continued to lose money and market share, as the legal market has eclipsed the illicit market. With recent estimates putting the marijuana market at a multibillion dollar a year industry in the US, this research explores the role cartels have made in funding new cannabis business in legalized states. This research argues, that cartels flush with cash are well positioned to enter the legal market given their expertise, networks, and workforce. Because of the difficulty of collecting direct evidence of this connection, this paper utilizes a unique process to establish the link between cartels and legal cannabis business. Understanding the transition of illegal to legal businesses, offers interesting contributions to theory on informal economics and the has public policy implications for states considering legalizing marijuana.

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