Residents and elected officials of El Paso, Texas are calling on their government to hurry up and join the other enlightened US states in decriminalizing marijuana. The city of 700,000 is across the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico—noted for being the murder capital of the world—and is a major conduit for violent cartels bringing in illicit marijuana.

The typical Texas answer is to saturate border towns with law enforcement and Border Patrol, putting everyone in town under constant surveillance and disrupting lives with bogus actions like arresting teenagers for smoking joints.

Despite the militarized border and harassment of the citizenry, cartels are more powerful than ever, says El Paso attorney Justin Underwood:

“The cartels are bigger and stronger than they’ve ever been and what have we really done that’s thwarted their efforts? Nothing. I am of the opinion that human beings are going to do drugs, period. Human beings are going to drink alcohol. I accept these things as facts and as long as you have a demand you will always have a supply, no matter what.”

This simple logic should cause a change in course for marijuana policy. Not to mention the fact that cannabis derivatives have proven medical benefits which are recognized by most other states in the US. Neighboring New Mexico legalized medical marijuana in 2007.

Several El Paso representatives are trying to convince the “conservative” Texas legislature to drop the 100 year crusade against a plant, in terms they should understand. Lawmakers there continually tout fiscal responsibility and personal freedom, so here is there chance to save millions of dollars and let people engage in a harmless activity, while removing a key source of revenue for Mexican cartels.

El Paso state representative Joe Moody introduced a bill in the Texas legislature to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, while fellow representative Marisa Marquez introduced a medical marijuana bill. Neither passed, although it did become legal to treat epilepsy with cannabis extracts.

The price tag of combating marijuana through draconian enforcement is not worth the emotional and cultural costs to citizens, and it obviously does not stop the cartels’ smuggling. But perhaps there are less obvious reasons why the senseless, primitive idea of prohibition remains. Law enforcement and prisons are very profitable to certain people aligned with authority, and it allows the surveillance state to flourish.

The other side of the prohibition coin is plastered with dirty politicians. US Congressman Beta O’Rourke from El Paso notes the sleazy relationship between crime, big money and politicians that props up the current situation.

Today, Mexican cartels enjoy billions of dollars in profits from US drug sales, profits that go to hire young men and women, to buy politicians, police and judges, and allow some to commit crime with impunity.

Wasteful spending, big government and stifling freedom should be antithetical to the supposed conservatism of Texas lawmakers. Yet they have seem to have no problem wasting $770 million dollars a year on low-level marijuana offenses and locking up 70,000 people for possessing a plant.

O’Rourke is hopeful that Texas can overcome primitive mentalities and institutionalized corruption, and channel that Texas independence into decriminalization.

Texas is making progress, but as with most of the south, it is behind on this issue. My hope is that a significant southern state will show the way and the rest will follow. It’s possible that Texas could be that state: there is a deep distrust of the federal government in Texas and that distrust could potentially extend to our heavy-handed drug laws.

Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo.