The Allure of Discount Dope

By Dirk Hanson 04/14/11

Low-end Mexican weed will always have one irresistible advantage: It’s really, really cheap.

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A huge and reliable market for schwag.
Photo via blog.timesunion

Blame it on the recession. Despite its low-grade quality, the mainstay of the American pot market is, and always has been, a cheap box of seedy brown dragged across the Mexican border. But as much as users may complain about low-grade pot, they’re not taking their business elsewhere. Dan Freedman of Hearst’s Washington Bureau reported at that Mexican drug cartels, which typically pull down about 25% of their revenue from marijuana sales, have been relatively unaffected by the upsurge in domestic pot that is now distributed in the California medical marijuana market. Weaker Mexican weed may not be on sale at the estimated 1,700 medical marijuana dispensaries in California, but the author of a recent Rand report on drug policy concludes that a large majority of the marijuana smoked in the greater price-conscious U.S. is commercial grade, rather than the high-end boutique weed preferred by more affluent afficianados. Rand estimates that legalizing pot in California would reduce the income of Mexico’s chief drug thugs by a paltry 2 to 4%. Considering that total marijuana revenues on the Mexican side are variously estimated at between $1 and $2 billion a year, one of the chief arguments behind last November’s push for pot legalization in California—“let’s take money out of the hands of the drug cartels”—doesn’t hold up to scrutiny all that well. What keeps users coming back?  “People smoke it because it’s cheap,” said drug expert and Fix contributor Mark Kleiman of UCLA, “not because it’s any good.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]