Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, March 21, 2014

Black market violence is not limited to the cartels

When it comes to marijuana-related violence, most of the focus today is on  "the drug cartels"--specifically, it seems, Mexican drug trafficking organizations.  Though the attention is well deserved, I sometimes feel like black market violence right here at home is often overlooked.  I think this may be because of a belief that most illegal marijuana dealers are just peace loving stoners.  There's probably some truth to that.  

But it is important to remember that, even so, violence is still a part of the domestic marijuana market.  The facts from this Texas appeals court decision from earlier this week provides a sad reminder of the sort of black market violence that legalization could help to reduce:

In 1993, Fortino Delangel was working at a used car dealership from which appellant had purchased two vehicles. After the second purchase, appellant asked Delangel if he knew anyone who sold marijuana. Delangel contacted his brother-in-law, Jose Guerrero, and asked if he knew anyone who sold marijuana. In turn, Guerrero contacted Salvador Vargas. With Delangel and Guerrero acting as middlemen, appellant and Vargas agreed that appellant would purchase approximately thirty pounds of marijuana from Vargas. Delangel understood that appellant would compensate him for his participation, although the precise amount of that compensation was not clear.

Delangel, Guerrero, appellant, and an unidentified companion of appellant, drove in two cars to Room 28 at the Lafronda Motel in South Houston to meet with Vargas. Delangel and appellant rode in separate cars. Delangel testified that he had never met Vargas before that evening.

Vargas initially stated that only one individual could come into the room; he relented when appellant insisted that all four men be allowed to enter. Appellant's unidentified companion stood near the door inside the room and Delangel stood off to the side of the room with Guerrero while Vargas and appellant conducted the drug transaction.

Appellant asked Vargas about the marijuana, and Vargas replied, "[W]here is the money[?]" Appellant "opened his jacket" and said "[h]ere's the money." Delangel did not see what was in appellant's jacket, but assumed it was payment for the marijuana.

Vargas removed a "suitcase" from under the bed and handed appellant a package of marijuana from the bag.

Appellant tore each package open with his teeth, smelled the marijuana, and told Vargas, "[T]his is the money." However, rather than give Vargas the money, appellant pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest. Vargas fell forward onto the floor of the room and died shortly thereafter. 

Sadly, cases like this one aren't all that unusual.  But I think they are worth trying to call more attention to.  

Of course, if someone is intent on committing a robbery changing the marijuana laws won't stop them.  But forcing the marijuana trade underground is a recipe for (and certainly increases) this type of violence.  Illegal dealers are sitting targets for robberies like this because they have a valuable product and sell it behind closed doors, without video cameras to record customers.   As a result, there is a steady stream of robbery/murder cases that center around marijuana deals gone bad.  This is one of the more compelling reasons to support legalization, in my view, though it is often overshadowed today by the more pressing black market concern of the drug cartels.   

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2014/03/black-market-violence-is-not-limited-to-the-cartels.html

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