Higher Quality American Weed Flows South of the Border as Demand Grows

By Victoria Kim 07/01/15

Mexican drug cartels are rapidly losing their grip on the marijuana business.

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As more U.S. states legalize marijuana in some form, the popularity of high quality, medical-grade strains have made their way down to Mexico and it’s changing the drug war landscape.

“There’s more novelty, more variety” in American weed, a dealer in Ciudad Juárez told a Bloomberg Business reporter. The dealer traveled to the states to purchase potent strains like Purple Haze from American dispensaries and brought them back for customers in Mexico.

Though the market for gourmet weed in Mexico is relatively small compared to the multi-billion dollar cartel-dominated business of exporting the drug, its role as a once major lucrative crop is assuredly shifting in the country.

Cartels are shifting the focus of their business to harder drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, and fewer farmers are growing pot, which the mayor of Badiraguato, Mario Valenzuela, attributes to rising U.S. production as more states legalize it.

As the demand for low-grade pot is replaced by a growing demand for more potent, more exotic, and more expensive American strains, a low-key community of grow shops and pot clubs have emerged to cater to weed-loving locals. Current law in Mexico allows people to carry up to five grams of marijuana for personal use, but selling and growing is still banned. People convicted of producing, trafficking, or selling drugs could get up to 25 years in prison.

Grow shops stay within the confines of the law by not selling seeds, but sell almost everything else that’s necessary to run a sophisticated homegrown operation, like equipment and nutrients.

Pot clubs, where members pitch in for a hydroponic setup and are able to reap the rewards of quality, homegrown cannabis at wholesale prices, allow pot enthusiasts to avoid supporting the cartels by growing and swapping with each other

“It comes out much cheaper than paying for even regular pot … and the quality is much higher,” Homero Fernandez, who belongs to a pot club, told AP. “What gets produced is exclusively for us. Nothing more, and it doesn’t get sold outside (the club).”

The need for regular Mexican-grown weed will likely diminish as marijuana becomes more accessible in the U.S. as more states approve it for medical or recreational use. But so far, trafficking “brick weed” is still a massive business. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reported that more than 2.2 million pounds of marijuana were seized along the border last year.

If California legalizes for recreational use in 2016, when it will likely appear on the ballot, it will be difficult to “politically sustain prohibition in Mexico,” predicts Jorge Javier Romero, president of a drug policy organization in Mexico City known as CUPIHD.

Last year, Mexican lawmakers introduced bills that would allow marijuana dispensaries in the Capital and increase the amount that people are allowed to carry for personal use. If California legalizes, these bills will gain the momentum they have been lacking, Romero said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr