June 17th, 2009
08:27 PM ET

“Come on….It’s just pot”

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/americas/02/27/juarez.mexico.violence/art.police.jpg caption="In Juarez, Mexico, 1,600 people were killed in 2008, three times more than the most murderous city in the U.S."]

Rusty Fleming
Documentary Filmmaker and Author

It was a little after midnight when I crossed over the bridge from Laredo, Texas into the sister city of Nuevo Laredo Mexico. After having my car searched I was cleared through the Mexican Customs check point where the military was staged and drove towards my destination.

I had a source of mine, a local reporter, call me four hours earlier to tell me to meet him at a specific restaurant at 1am because he had some photographs and information for me. I was investigating a specific series of brutal murders that had taken place in the Laredo corridor. This meeting with a contact wasn’t all that unusual—most of the investigative journalists in Mexico work under intense circumstances as they often fall upon information relating to the drug cartels that they either can not, or will not, report on because it would be a death sentence for them.Therefore, they give the information to someone like me who will get it aired or published in a way that does not connect them.

I arrived early to the restaurant and since the weather was pleasant, I decided to take a seat on the patio and have a glass of tea. I sat for a few minutes when my source arrived and sat down, ordered a drink and handed me a large white envelope. He told me this was everything I had been asking his editor about the day before and that I should be careful how I use it. I thanked him, (by paying him), and we talked for about 20 minutes after which he asked if I could give him a ride home.

He got into my rental car and told me to drive towards his house on the outskirts of town. We drove past the airport and headed towards Monterrey, and just as I was about to make the turn off the highway to drop him near his home, we saw three sets of headlights about two hundred yards off the main road in a desolate section of land.

I stopped the car and told him I wanted to see what was going on. Without objection from my friend, I drove within a few yards of what appeared to be about a half dozen local cops attempting to seal off a crime scene. We exited our vehicle and walked towards the area where the police cars were shining their lights. As I looked down, I found myself standing over three bodies that appeared to be young boys who were obviously dead. I stepped over to the side a few steps and there were three more lying in the bushes. As the police started talking to my reporter friend, I leaned over the first three bodies and even though I’m no forensic expert, I could clearly see they had all been shot execution-style in the back of the head. My friend confirmed the other three had the same type wounds.

Within a few hours we were able to piece together some of the basic common threads between these young corpses. They were all teenage boys—the oldest was 17, the youngest 13. They had all been working for one of the cartels as couriers and crossing about a hundred pounds of marijuana (worth about $2000) into the United States and had pocketed the money. They had been caught by their handlers (the men in charge of supervising the young gang members) and since the cartel uses hundreds of kids like these all over Mexico and the U.S, someone made the decision to make examples of these kids. A message needed to be sent out so the rest of the young recruits would realize the severity of not following orders.

Six .40 caliber bullets to the heads of these boys was a very powerful message.

It was a gruesome sight and it made me realize for the first time that these kids probably never fully understood the “consequences” of getting involved with the cartel and dealing a little harmless weed.

For years, I’ve heard people from all over the country, including celebrities, politicians and business men, make the argument that pot is harmless and doesn’t carry the same “consequences” as cocaine and heroin.

Let me respond: To the men that manufacture, transport and sell these narcotics, these drugs are equal the same thing—Money. No matter what the substance, it is intended to be converted into money and that is entirely what this is all about for cartels. A 13-year-old can be killed over a load of pot just as fast as someone can be killed over a load of cocaine, heroin, or meth.

The discussion about the legalization or decriminalization of certain narcotics is starting to pick up traction in our country today. I embrace that discussion. That doesn’t mean I embrace the legalization, but I definitely think it’s time to have a detailed, mature discussion on the matter. But the discussion is meaningless unless we deal with the truth, and the truth is the illicit narcotics trade is not only more profitable than ever before in the history of smuggling but more deadly than before too.

The drug policy in America has become almost schizophrenic, especially as it relates to marijuana. No doubt we have to have some type of comprehensive reform as it relates to the way we are prosecuting the “war on drugs” (dare I even say war on drugs) because what we have been doing has not worked very well by any standard. Maybe legalization is part of that solution, but this problem is far more complex than any ONE solution. Just like the fence that was built to secure our border, and hasn’t. What the fence did succeed in doing is curbing one problem in a certain area, but creating more problems in other areas.

Neither will the legalization of narcotics fix everything wrong with the drug war. It will curb some things, but it will also create new problems in areas we are not prepared for today, causing a whole new set of consequences. Unlike those teenage boys lying in the desert—we should take the time to understand and fully comprehend those consequences before we endeavor to take that next step.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Adam Kowarsh

    These deaths are the exact reason why marijuana itself should be legal; These cartels are committing these heinous acts because they are trying to exert power, and this power comes from having a monopoly on marijuana. (yes, there is also a 'monopoly' on other more dangerous drugs, but the legalization of marijuana would considerably reduce the power these cartels hold, and make it much easier to deal with them, particularly because they would no longer be able to profit from the marijuana, and be left with whatever remains). What should happen is the total legalization of 'medical' marijuana on a federal level, along with a confederal taxation/legalization model for the states which vote for the complete legalization of marijuana.

    July 4, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  2. JDA

    Donna Wood, would you also like to see a system that limits the number of children a person and have, in order to stem over population?
    or we can make fatty foods illegal to address obesity?
    we could educate the public about the effects of having or consuming to much of anything..... "Knowledge is power" NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!!!!

    June 24, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  3. JDA

    @ Lincoln Marston II, There has been research done on cannabis. an 8 year study. The Dr who ran it (his name escapes me at the moment) was researching it for the Gov. He fully expected to see a decline in lung function in those who used the plant. To his surprise there was little if any reduction in lung function....... Remember this was the man hired to show us all that it is bad and not to do it,.... now he thinks maybe we should re-evaluate it's place as a Schedule I drug.

    Shame on ALL you "FEAR-MONGERS"!
    You really think it is possible for a plant to be "EVIL"? IT'S a PLANT!.
    just because some bad people might use it, does not make it bad too!

    June 24, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  4. Charles Larsen

    No one should ever die over a little pot.

    June 18, 2009 at 1:59 pm |
  5. Ray

    Ignorant people like Donna Wood lil Tennessee who compare the use of a nonlethal plan to murder is one of the reasons cannabis is still being persecuted! Does she not see that the outlawing of it has created the climate of murder and crime we are now witnessing?!? It is all about money because America has allowed the private sector to build and run prisons as if they were grocery stores. And what about the militarization of law enforcement, ever seen pics of swat teams busting into homes guns drawn and harry trigger fingers ready to blast 26 year old mothers to death and dismember 1yr old babies like in Ohio recently. So Donna murder has already been legalized as long as you are involved with cannabis in one way or another! I guess it is not enough for people like you that over 750,000 people are arressted each year and their families destroyed over a plant as if they were Osama Bin Laden! This is not a war on drugs this is a war against people and their personnal freedoms and rights that are suppossed to be protected by this thing called the Constitution of the "United" states of America....ever heard of it? Ever heard of L.E.A.P? Law enforcement against prohibition? If the very people who "uphold" the laws do not agree with them.......

    June 18, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  6. gavin

    At the end of this article the author says that the solution of legalizing marijuana is a "complex one" as to say that there are better, less complicated solutions. . .but fails to mention any of these miracle ideas. And how can you compare the failure of building a fence to the legalization of marijuana?

    How about comparing to alcohol prohibition instead. Were talking the same thing here. . what kind of complicated consequences happened then??

    And if a person is going to talk about 'whole new set of consequences' they should at least talk about these consiquences, Not just skip over it. . .i'd like to hear these consequences.

    June 18, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  7. Lincoln Marston II

    A plant should not be eradicated because, in some eyes, we abuse ONE of it's uses. Herbal Genocide?!? I'm not down with Human Genocide either so, when are we going to band together as a human race and create the human and plant equivalent of PETA?? Call it PETPP; People for the Ethical Treatment of Plants and People. I'm just saying.

    June 18, 2009 at 11:50 am |
  8. ironsword

    Anyone who supports Obama's doctrine and claims to be a Christian, Muslim or Jew is a heritic.

    June 18, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  9. Mr Anderson

    legalizing pot could generate massive amounts of revenue, regardless of the cons of personal use, people aren't ever going to stop doing it, as history has clearly shown. NOT taxing it, creates an illegal, yet self sustaining economy that costs us billions in taxypayer dollars by imprisoning thousands of people every year, let alone these kids that are getting killed over something ridiculous. so we've put 2.3 million people in jails throughout the country, and 20 percent of them are in there for nonviolent drug crimes... i'm tired of paying for it, that's for sure.

    June 18, 2009 at 11:12 am |
  10. FrankieB

    If pot was legal real farmers could grow it in the U.S. This would eliminate the guys with guns growing it in the middle of the woods. Nobody would get shot for pot.

    June 18, 2009 at 11:05 am |
  11. Patricia Hinchliff

    When will we the people of the USA stop putting people in prison for using a herb . A herb that has great value in medicine, food and energy.
    We have more people in prison than any country in the world, this is just wrong.We are making prisons in this country a major growth industry

    June 18, 2009 at 10:47 am |
  12. Lincoln Marston II

    I could go on and on with this subject, citing the many pros and few cons that marijuana legalization would pose. One I want to address here would be the health risks associated with long-term marijuana use. Are there any? I've never heard of any, if they exist, not to say there are none. This is certainly something that Dr. Gupta would really enjoy researching, if he has not already. My concern would be the long-term effects of smoking it. If research finds that smoking it certainly is detrimental to our lung health, then I would argue that the same effect, if not a better one, can be generated from eating it. Also, if we can't see fit to legalize marijuana for use by the masses, then we should seriously consider legalizing the growth and research of the plant for advanced medical and industrial uses. I've heard that marijuana is one of the most versatile naturally grown substances on the planet, though I have no documented hard research to substantiate my beliefs. I want answers and for the best in the business to be able to give me those answers. If it came to a vote, I would certainly vote yes on the legalization of marijuana. Then, I'd join my friends for a joint, or two. 😉

    June 18, 2009 at 10:39 am |
  13. Isaaq

    @Donna legalization of murder? Really? The only reason that Marijuana gets clumped into Meth and Heroin is because it is illegal and that is just like comparing apples and really great oranges! Yes it is about money just like the gangsters during prohabition of liquor. They became filthy rich because people wanted to get drunk. So we legalized it and what happened to those gangsters? They went onto other illegal drugs so the money ran out...The MONEY ran out and they had to find new things to sell. Take the power out of the Cartels hands give it to the individuals of America let us make own decisions.

    June 18, 2009 at 10:30 am |
  14. Dee Morris

    Prohibition did not work! Alcoholism has ruined countless numbers of lives and families. Tobacco is killing millions! Both are costing enormous amounts in healthcare. I don't condone tobacco use or excessive alcohol use; nor would I want any one to start smoking pot.
    BUT, the fact that it is illegal and criminal to use; is the ultimate HYPOCRISY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They could be smuggling diamonds, steal them and be murdered for that too. By the way, I personally know the impact of both alcoholism and cigarettes. I have too many to mention of alcoholics in my family and smoking killed my father, mother in law and will most likely be what kills my husband. All of this was done legally.
    WE are a nation of HYPOCRITES!!!!!!!!!!

    June 18, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  15. Micky

    I have to agree with Joel on that Hemp can be a very useful source for clothes, paper, FUEL, and medicine. If we could actually fuel our cars from hemp and make paper and clothes with it, wouldn't that help our environment? It has been shown to be very useful as a medicine as well and I would rather treat as naturally as possible before pumping my body with toxic drugs. Granted, it is not a cure-all treatment, but it has helped thousands of people with certain ailments.

    June 18, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  16. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    Thank you Mr. Fleming. That was a great report. But I still don't agree with legalization in the same sense that everyone else seems intent on. If you do that then you may as well legalize cocaine and the other hard drugs in the same manner. Did you not hear Rusty Fleming's comment? It's all about M-O-N-E-Y. Got it? It didn't matter that it was just marijuanna. Where are your brains? Think! They just don't care! And I really don't for a second believe that legalizeing pot is going to make a damn bit of difference! I really believe your just asking for even more trouble the minute it is done.It's not going to stop! It's just not going to stop! Haven't you ever heard of the phrase "Give an inch, ask for a mile? Gee, why don't we just legalize murder for that matter? Don't you think that's what's next? I do!

    Donna Wood
    Lil' Tennessee

    June 18, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  17. Dave

    So is it me? Didn't he make the best case for legalization. When people aren't scared/worried of losing everything they own for a few plants, transportation/distribution will not be a big issue.

    June 18, 2009 at 8:52 am |
  18. Philo

    It sure sounds like most people who are reading and commenting on this topic agree that decriminalization in America would drastically reduce the violence related to drug prohibition. It's really too bad that most of the government and media sources can't open their own eyes as well...

    June 18, 2009 at 8:39 am |
  19. Christian

    These boys died because of America's laws creating this situation, our laws cause way, way more harm than good, no matter which side of the fence you are on! This is all stupid, as the laws are stupid, and anyone that agrees it should be illegal is either stupid or brain washed.

    It all about money, plain and simple, it will remain illegal by the people profiting from it being that way. Show me someone of power that wants it to remain illegal, and I would almost bet they are receiving some type of funds from it being illegal, or the think that will keep them in office.

    I'm so glad to see that now being anti-pot is just as likely to get you voted out of office. This may not be the norm yet, but it is the future for American politicians.

    June 17, 2009 at 5:23 pm |
  20. Aaron

    Legalization would take drugs out of the hands of criminals and therefore help end a lot of the violence because criminals would no longer be in charge. However for the violenece to trully end the people involved in the drug trade(namely the growers and lower level people) would have to be given a viable option, other than drugs, to make a living off of. In other words Mexico's infrastructure would need to be improved.

    June 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm |
  21. Jock Horror

    I support Melissa's continued ignorance, as well as her tendency to post as Leah, Regina and Cindy to try and make a vapid point.

    Stay out of them smoky rooms now Melissa.

    June 17, 2009 at 5:17 pm |
  22. will g

    The netherlands are closeing 8 prisons do to lack of criminals to fill them. Prohibition has never worked and never will. If marijuana was legal people could use lawyers instead of guns to settle there disputes. There would also be laws against 13 yr olds helping to produce and ship those kinds of products.

    June 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm |
  23. anthony

    "Neither will the legalization of narcotics fix everything wrong with the drug war. It will curb some things, but it will also create new problems in areas we are not prepared for today, causing a whole new set of consequences."

    Well we can see what making it illegal does, why not see what making it legal will do, i bet it won't be nearly as bad a our current state.

    June 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm |
  24. Victoria

    I don't support the drug cartels like I don't support outsourcing. Don't buy it. Buy local. Enough said.

    June 17, 2009 at 3:38 pm |
  25. Zach

    This is where all the violence comes in. Not from using the plant, but transporting and distributing it. And no, legalizing it will not eliminate all problems of violence associated with marijauna, but I believe it will end most of it. 13 year old boys should not have to die just because there is not a method of legal distribution of this plant.

    And you're right. legalizing it will help with some issues, but will create other issues. But one of the main issues right now IS senseless violence and killing such as these 6 boys. We need to put an end to that.

    June 17, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
  26. Robert Priest

    Because it Illegal. If it was legal there wouldn't been need for cartels and they would either have to deal something else or no longer be in business. There would be less sneaking around and less people dead. I have a question, are there cartels and dealers in Amsterdam or is just local growers and local shops?

    June 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm |
  27. Sean McGee

    Basic economics dictates that when you restrict the supply of anything without limiting demand the price will go UP. It is this artificially inflated price that makes drug crime and violence profitable. The end of Prohibition was the answer to the gang violence of the 30's and it is the answer now. Our collective resources would be put to far better use by trying to build a less restrictive society that people want to live in instead of escape from. Besides, how can anyone realistically expect to control the supply of a weed that grows wild in all 50 states?

    June 17, 2009 at 3:16 pm |

    if you legalize it and people that care to use it grow it them selves problem solved. its a plant that grows from seeds. its natural.

    June 17, 2009 at 3:11 pm |
  29. Joel Payne

    This is why we need to allow our farmers to grow mary jane and let our gov. tax it.....and while we are on the subject, if we let our farmers grow hemp we could use it for fuel instead of corn based fuels.....Hemp has many uses, fuel, cloth, rope, look at history, hemp was going to be the one thing that was going to get us out of the Great Depression before it was outlawed in the 1930s.

    June 17, 2009 at 3:10 pm |
  30. Kathy

    The story is good – but the story writer missed his own point. He acknowledges that it is the "illicit" trade that caused their deaths. He fails to then realize that it is not the "pot" that caused the deaths, it is the fact that pot can only be sold illegally so only criminals engage in that practice. If joe schmo can grow it in his own yard like he does his carrots and peas, I doubt the neighborhood kids will be executed if found picking a bud or two. THAT should be the enlightenment in this country – not that bad people are doing bad things with pot involved – therefore pot is bad. That argument is a child's argument – it should not be a nation's.

    June 17, 2009 at 3:09 pm |
  31. Blake Coates

    I totally agree Anderson. It is obvious the "War on Drugs" was lost a long time ago!

    June 17, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  32. Angela Ness Vancouver Canada

    Thank-you for such a meaningful and compelling look at the drug trade going on everywhere right now . You are correct when you say that simply legalizing certain narcotics will bring unto itself a whole new set of problems . I do not believe it is so much how a certain narcotic may make some behave , but it all comes down to the same thing , someone ultimately pays more than money for the drugs .( Prostitution , theft , murder etc . ) I also think it is very sad that there are so many people from aso many walks of life , who participate in the purchasing of illegal narcotics . These are the same people , who ignore the obvious fact that there were probably countless numbers of illegalities that transpired so they could have that high . What you witnessed in the desert must have been horrific , I can not imagine or even pretend to . As difficult as your work is , thank-you for getting it out there , and thank-you for risking yourself for the truth .

    June 17, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  33. HAF

    You are assuming that everyone buys pot that originates from killer cartels. I and my friends NEVER have. We buy from local sources ONLY. This is as flimsy an excuse against legalizing marijuana as "OMG IF YOU SMOKE A JOINT YOU FUNDED 9/11!"

    It's ridiculous. Pot isn't the problem - the cartels are the problem. And you know damn well the majority of their money does NOT come from marijuana.

    June 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  34. Melissa

    Legalizing it won't solve anything. It will just make things easier to ignore.

    June 17, 2009 at 2:55 pm |
  35. Tony

    Im just wondering how the author of this article can make statements as if he can tell the future,,im refering to his last comment that QUOTE!!!

    Neither will the legalization of narcotics fix everything wrong with the drug war. It will curb some things, but it will also create new problems in areas we are not prepared for today, causing a whole new set of consequences.

    How does he know it will cause new problems that we are not prepared for today....in the Netherlands were it is practically legal teen drug use is down and crime is down I think that is a good model to look at!

    June 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  36. Matt Linden california

    Dont legalize all drugs.
    just marijuana the least harmfull of all.

    June 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  37. Aaron

    Did it ever occur to you that if drugs were legal, there would be no money in sneaking them across the border? These kids could have been spared if only drugs were legal. Not to mention, all of that money is going to organized crime. Way to use a gripping story to bolster a weak point.

    June 17, 2009 at 2:44 pm |
  38. Jim

    change the view of 20 million people, or tax a regulate it witch to you think is more likely to work?

    June 17, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  39. kevin whipps

    I live in Laredo, Texas. Anderson Cooper is very ill informed. Those children definitely had more to do with cartel than the supposed marijuana incident. I, myself have many friends within the Nuevo Laredo area, and the problem is not as bad as Mr. Cooper puts it out to be. Hypocrite, Liar.

    June 17, 2009 at 2:03 pm |
  40. Paul Rosen

    I am so tired of hearing people like you who say it's time for debate but not for legalization of cannabis.........what exactly do you mean?...let's have a debate but we will never legalize it?.......what's the point?.....it sounds like you want a one sided debate........and once again in your last sentence you lump cannabis with heroin and cocaine......please stop doing that.....also please read the original source material showing the positive effects of legalization and/or decriminalization in Portugal and Holland.

    June 17, 2009 at 1:57 pm |
  41. Brad Rothman

    You said the young boys that dies were trafficking 100 lbs of MJ is worth $2000? Let me know where I can find some that cheap! 100 lbs has a street value of closer to half a million dollars.

    June 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  42. David

    Some minor logistical problems in the future are nothing compared to violence that exists in Mexico today. I'd take those problems over the knowledge that people are dying.

    But it would be a blow to the Mexican cartels as it is a large source of money. But also take into consideration that people are using Cocaine and Meth to recreate with, when Cannabis is safer, only to beat drug screening.

    Fight crime, fight the cartels, fight the gangs. Legalize Cannabis.

    June 17, 2009 at 1:39 pm |

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.