Sicarios and Social Progress

By Bradley Tusk  |  September 25, 2015

Sicario means hitman in Spanish. It’s also the title of a (very good) new movie that reaches the same conclusion as movies like Traffic, books like The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, and TV shows like The Bridge and Narcos — namely, the war on drugs has never, and will never, succeed.

Nacros, Etc

That presents a clear question: Are we better off keeping drugs illegal and incurring all of the violence and loss that comes with the effort to combat the flow of narcotics or are we better off legalizing, taxing and regulating drugs, eliminating the problems and violence around their production and distribution but sanctioning products we know are harmful?

The status quo is awful and the risk of jumping into legalization is severe. And that’s why all of the startups in the cannabis space are so important. The only way to know if full legalization of narcotics is the better option is to fully build out the sector, see how it works, see what doesn’t work and use that experiment to make a rational decision about legalization in general.


Legalizing recreational or medical use of cannabis is an important step, but it’s just a step. The entire system — from production to distribution to sales, marketing, trading, banking and every other aspect — has to be both legal and commercially viable for the experiment to truly take hold. That means banking services. It means delivery. Interstate commerce. Listing of cannabis companies on public markets.

We know that the government-run solution — the war on drugs — is a failure. The same holds true for so many other critical issues from a broken public schools system to a lack of potable water. For an experiment like this to provide enough evidence, it requires continued progress by states (legalization of use and then legalization/ recognition of services surrounding it) and it will require new direction from the federal government. It will take a President and Congressional leadership with vision and courage to take the political risk that comes with recognizing the need to try a new approach. Whether any of the candidates from either party have that vision and courage remains to be seen.

The Wire - Pic

But if you ask the millions of people whose lives are destroyed by the violence (from the fields in Bolivia to the transfer points in Juarez to inner cities across the United States) created by the legal status of narcotics, they’ll tell you the status quo doesn’t work. And the actions of voters and states tell us that the risks surrounding cannabis legalization are relatively low. This may not lead to a decision to legalize other drugs. Or it may. Without having the laws, systems and evidence to see how it works with cannabis, we’ll never know. And that’s exactly how the sicarios want it.