Much has been written about America's heroin problem, but a new piece in Esquire offers what might be the most provocative explanation yet: "Okay, I'm going to say it," writes Don Winslow. "The heroin epidemic was caused by the legalization of marijuana." When states began making pot legal a few years ago, it was disastrous for the Mexican cartels, which were unable to compete with much better and easier-to-transport American product. The dominant Sinaloa Cartel, for example, suffered a 40% drop in marijuana sales, which translates into billions of dollars, writes Winslow, the author of three novels about the Mexican drug world. That's when leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his cohorts took note of America's growing addiction to prescription painkillers.
Winslow describes their line of thinking thusly: "We have some of the best poppy fields in the world. Opium, morphine, Oxy, heroin—they're basically the same drug so ..." Poppy fields replaced pot fields, and the result is written in the tales of addicts around the US. He warns that we can expect things to get much worse with the rise of fentanyl, a hugely profitable and potent synthetic opioid, combined with the recapture of El Chapo, who is no longer around to keep the relative peace among cartels. In fact, Winslow draws a parallel to him and Saddam Hussein keeping Iraq's various factions in check, albeit brutally. He even asserts that Mexican authorities let Guzman escape in the first place for just that reason. As for that infamous tunnel in his cell: "Gentle reader, the man is worth $1 billion," writes Winslow. "He went out the front door." Click for the full, fascinating story. (Read more Longform stories.)