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California Legislature rolls out the Drug Cartel Profit Enhancement Act of 2023
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

The California Legislature gets a bad rap for not being business friendly.

It’s not true.

The legislature is business friendly, at least for those concerns that are illegal.

Exhibit A — Assembly Bill 935 — proves it.

It’s the bill introduced by Santa Rosa Assemblymember Damon Connolly that will require 67 year-olds and older to be carded in 2073 if they want to be able to legally buy cigarettes in California.

Everyone else will have to rely on the black market.

The expressed goal is to make it illegal to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in California to anyone born after Jan. 1, 2007.

It sounds so noble.

What possibly could go wrong?

Exhibit B — the legalization of marijuana sales.

Remember the bill of good proponents sold to get those sitting on the fence to approve the ballot measure?

It went something like this: The legal sale of marijuana will significantly reduce illegal marihuana sales and associated crime in California.

Funny, but that isn’t what happened.

Everyone — from law enforcement to the legal marijuana industry — now say illegal marijuana sales and cultivation along with the crime and the environmental havoc they bring are flourishing stronger than ever before in California.

The big benefactors are drug cartels and organized crime.

Exhibit C — Prohibition.

The manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol was illegal in  the United States from 1920 to 1933.

Did it stop alcohol consumption?

Did it improve public health?

Did it eliminate — or even reduce —alcohol related diseases and associated  suffering?

What it did do besides make millions upon millions of Americans criminals overnight, was create the Mother Lode of all Opportunities for organized crime to reach its poisonous tentacles  into virtually every city.

The approach Connolly et al embrace was adopted last year in New Zealand.

It comes on the heels of California in 2020 banning the sale of most flavored tobacco products in the state.  

“This is a logical next step of that,” Connolly said at a press conference last month. “The goal here is to lead, to actually change the conversation beyond our state’s borders and really try to move the needle forward in the direction that favors public health.”

What happens beyond California’s borders is the problem.

Connolly’s bill would not penalize people for using or possessing tobacco products. Instead, it would fine retailers for selling to them.

It doesn’t take a genius — although no one has ever accused the California Legislature of having an oversupply of them — to figure out what is likely to happen.

Based on Expatistan — a web-based cost of living index — a survey of 10 commercial outlets in Los Angeles last month put the consumer price of a pack of 20 Marlboro cigarettes at $11.
The wholesale cost of those cigarettes is $5.

Make cigarettes illegal to sell on a sliding age scale as each year goes by makes the black market even more appealing to the dominant forces of organized crime — drug cartels and gangs.

The black market already thrives to a degree thanks to California’s cigarette tax of $2.87 a pack.

You might ask if that’s enough of a lure for those trafficking in  illegal pot, fentanyl, meth and such to add run-of-the-mill cigarettes to their product lineup.

Consider this: California currently collets $1.5 billion a year in cigarette taxes.

What cartel or your friendly neighborhood gang could resist stepping up to get a piece of that pie?

The argument, of course, is by taking away retail access to cigarettes, young people won’t try them therefore won’t get hooked.

How has that worked for beer and marijuana or a host of other substances such as fentanyl?

To argue cigarettes would be difficult for anyone under the legal age that would rise with each passing year is to be completely ignorant about the dynamics that fuel America’s drug problem.

Gangs are on par with Amazon in their delivery network.

And they are so without investing in capital intensive distribution centers or fleets of spiffily marked vehicles.

Plus, there is already a built in expectation of pricing that end users will pay — $11 a pack or $6 more than what a retailer buys them at wholesale.

That translates into a $6 per pack transaction that’s up for grabs — the tax and mark-up portions.

That assumes gangs would obtain their goods in some shady deals with legit American tobacco companies or else step up hijacking of trucks and/or burglaries/robberies of stores that are allowed to still legally sell cigarettes.

The burglary/robbery to get goods to sell is a business model for start-up crime concerns such as gangs that tend to be local or regionally.

But it’s not the forte of the cartels.

There are countless foreign manufacturers of cigarettes.

Imagine, if you will, the fact cartels could buy smokes for pennies on the dollar compared to American grown and manufactured cigarettes plus avoid paying taxes.

They would them smuggle them into the United States for distribution.

Wishful thinking?

That is already happening with tons of fentanyl, meth, marijuana and such that make its way into this country every month undetected.

And, if by some chance, foreign countries make tobacco growing illegal at the insistence of the American government just like the United States tried to do with opium poppies in Afghanistan, we can help create a new funding source for terrorism.

It isn’t far-fetched for terrorist organizations to pay sub-standard wages in impoverished regions around the globe to raise tobacco and produce cigarettes for sale to cartels.

A two-day a pack habit in America represents the  potential for at least an $84 a week per customer windfall for gangs and cartels using the least nefarious method of procurement which is breaking into stores to still cigarettes.

Compare that to the price of a single dose of meth estimated at an average high of $20 by various law enforcement and drug addiction treatment centers.

They have roughly the equally profit potential for drug dealers that are part of a cartel or gang network.

But if they are selling off-shore cigarettes especially those produced in terrorist of cartel controlled farming operations, the net tax-free cash return from black market cigarette sales skyrockets.

This, we would be told, won’t happen because Assembly Bill 935 would slowly cut off legal access to cigarettes therefore reducing smoking with each passing generation.

Funny, but Prohibition didn’t produce a generation of young people that were teetotalers.

But it did produce a lot of people like Al Capone.