Mexican Farmers Are Growing Cartel-Free ‘Ethical’ Weed
Cannabis production in Mexico is making a comeback, and this time it’s cartel-free. Independent farmers are now producing high-quality “ethical” weed—without the involvement of the country’s violent cartels.
As the country prepares to create a legal weed market, cannabis producers and dealers in Mexico told VICE that interest in finer types of homegrown weed, marketed with names such as Cronica (chronic), Blue Dreams or Purpura (purple), is growing among consumers in major cities.
The new ethical market does not come with the bloodbath connected to the cartels. Production and transportation is being arranged between producers and dealers, cutting out the violent middle men.
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Alongside other producers from the violent state of Sinaloa, Lazaro, a farmer, told VICE he is now planting cannabis, or ramas (branches), as he calls it, inside homes and greenhouses. His indoor crop is closely packed into a room under an orange light, which reflects off the white walls to create an amber glow. The plants sway under the breeze of a bank of fans, facing into the room from their stations, mounted every two meters along the walls.
None of the farmers who spoke to VICE had to ask permission from the cartels to go it alone. “We’re independent and doing it for ourselves,” said Lazaro.
Similar to legal farmers in California and Colorado, growers in Mexico are sowing new seeds brought in from the United States and Europe to produce stronger, more refined products as well as oils and other derivatives. They’re investing in technology including lights, fertilizers and climate control for their plants.
“We have to innovate,” Ricardo, another farmer from Sinaloa, told VICE. “Innovation is what is generating business now. The seeds arrived a few years ago from Europe and the U.S., but at first people just grew it at home and didn’t want to share it. Now they have to, out of need.”
For the weed growers, there are pros and cons to the cartel-free business. Without the help of drug trafficking organizations, producers can’t rely on their infrastructure and have to create their own logistical networks, making contact with dealers and then getting their produce to them in cities around Mexico.
“I know a lot of dealers distributing cannabis in Mexico City and they’re making deals directly with producers,” said Zara Snapp, founder of the Instituto RIA, which carries out research and advocacy on drug policy. Producers and dealers said weed is being transported by car, motorbike and even messenger services around the country.
“You’re not benefiting from any cartel protection structures or mechanism,” said Jaime Lopez, a security analyst. The fact that the market is, as yet, small means that it’s easy to stay low-profile. “As long as you stay small and not too flashy you might avoid the vultures. But that’s a big if.”
And there are barriers to entry. Farmers like Ricardo and Lazaro are in the minority. Most humble farmers in the mountains of major drug producing states such as Sinaloa and Guerrero could not afford the investment required to create the kind of growing environments needed to produce refined weed.
“We plant [cronica] in houses with fertilizers and lights and temperature control so it’s more expensive to produce,” Lazaro said. If growers plant outside, the seeds are more expensive, and fertilizers add costs.
That said, producers now have more control over their business and don’t have to comply with the low prices set by violent cartel middlemen. They can also market their weed differently.
“I think cannabis that is marketed as ‘blood free’ or ethical sells better. People are more likely to ask where their weed is coming from and that is a big shift,” Snapp said.
And although investment may be higher, so are the profits, which the farmers no longer have to share with criminal gangs. The farmers are selling the finer weed for a lot more money than the run of the mill mountain-side stuff ever used to go for.
A dealer in Mexico City told VICE that he buys half a kilo of this new, quality cannabis from Sinaloa for between 30,000 to 40,000 pesos ($1,278 – $1,700). That’s a massive price difference compared to what Lazaro and Ricardo got for ordinary mountain weed, which moves for a maximum of just 600 pesos ($25) a kilo.
“I get a product called Blue Dreams from Sinaloa, and it is still the product most in demand,” said a dealer in Mexico City. Blue Dreams sells for 200 pesos ($8.50) a gram. He also buys high-end weed from other suppliers in different states in Mexico because they’re cheaper.
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Crime syndicates such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel have over the last decade realigned their drug portfolios around cocaine and heroin as well as synthetics like methamphetamine and fentanyl as the demand for Mexican weed for American dried up with legalization. Weed no longer makes big business sense to them.
On the steeply sloping mountains of Sinaloa where Lazaro lives, farmers cultivating swathes of waist-high cannabis plants is becoming a thing of the past. State-level cannabis legalization in the United States – the main destination for Mexican weed for decades – all but wiped out the market for regular marijuana from farmers such as Lazaro. As the cartels, which would buy it from him and transport it across the border to the U.S, have seen demand dry up, many farmers have stopped bothering to plant it.
Mexico’s drug plantation landscape has seen much change in the last decade. Heroin poppy replaced the profits generated by cannabis for farmers as the U.S. opioid crisis generated new demand for Mexican heroin. But subsequent oversupply combined with the arrival of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl in the drug portfolio of Mexico’s crime syndicates eventually battered the price of poppy paste, shrinking poppy growing profits.
That Mexico City vendors are seeing a growing demand for high-end weed is a new phenomenon. Yet after months of what the dealer described as “record sales,” growth in the market is limited right now due to the current coronavirus lockdown and a drop in income for many of his customers in the cities.
Will Mexico’s currently small-scale, ethical boutique weed trade last? The bigger the market, and growers, get, the more likely they are to attract the attention of predators. “If these guys become truly profitable they might find themselves on the wrong end of racketeering efforts by men with guns,” said Lopez.
And once legalization arrives in Mexico, which is expected to happen this year, the window for these small-scale farmers could close as big business enters the fray. There’s nothing to stop the cartels getting involved in the legal trade, should they think it’s worth their while, and legal companies are already circling.
“The question is how big a market is this and the capabilities that legal players would bring in after legalization. If they open the market we might see an influx of venture capital money as we have seen in the states,” said Lopez.
For now, these producers would do well to emphasize the cartel-free nature of their wares, said Lopez. “Based on my understanding of millennial and post-millennial spending habits, some sort of ethical labelling and branding would seem like a good road to go down. I know it would certainly make a difference to me.”
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We spoke to farmers in Sinaloa growing "blood-free" cannabis with no ties to the local drug cartels.
Largest marijuana farm ever discovered in Mexico
Mexico: The Mexican army says it has discovered a huge field with mature marijuana in the northern state of Baja California. Soldiers were patrolling the area, some 300km (190 miles) south of the US border, when they found the plantation. The field near the town of San Quintin, measuring 1.2sq km (300 acres), was surrounded by a hedge of cacti. It is the largest marijuana plantation ever found in Mexico, officials say.
They say it would have yielded a harvest worth about $160 million. A Mexican army spokesman told the BBC it was unclear who owned the territory. An estimated 60 people were working on the plantation, said the local army commander, Gen Alfonso Duarte. “When they saw the military personnel, they fled,” he told reporters.
Australia: Western Australia Toughens Marijuana Laws – The state government in Western Australia announced Sunday that it put into place more repressive marijuana laws as of August 1. Western Australia had effectively decriminalized the possession of up to 30 grams of pot under the previous Labor government, with violators ticketed and fined between $100 and $200. But Police Minister Rob Johnson said those “relaxed, soft drug laws” would be repealed and replaced by a tougher regime. “What it will mean is that those people caught with cannabis will not simply get a slap on the wrist,” he told reporters. Under the new law, the personal use amount will shrink to 10 grams, and people caught with those small amounts will not be ticketed, but referred to court and will receive a Cannabis Intervention Requirement to attend a mandatory counseling session. People possessing more than 10 grams will face up to two years in prison or a $2,000 fine. Persons possessing more than 100 grams (less than a quarter-pound) will be charged with the Australian equivalent of possession with intent to distribute and could face up to two years in prison or a $20,000 fine.
The Netherlands: Medicinal cannabis use – Four cannabis varieties are available in Dutch pharmacies. According to an analysis of the use of prescribed cannabis over the period 2003-2010 cannabis was dispensed more than 40,000 times to about 6,000 different patients. The number of patients steadily increased in recent years, growing from about 850 patients in 2006, to more than 1,300 in 2010. This increase coincided with the fact that some Dutch pharmacies had specialized in medicinal cannabis, resulting in lower prices and better information for the patient.
USA: Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Filed – Twin initiatives that would regulate marijuana sales and production and legalize the possession of pot by adults were filed with the state Secretary of State’s office Wednesday. The initiatives were filed by a new coalition called Show-Me Cannabis. One of the initiatives would amend the state constitution; the other would revise state statutes. The Secretary of State’s office has a month to approve their language. Once one or both are approved, signature gathering aimed at putting the initiative on the November 2012 ballot could get underway.
USA: Miami Beach Likely to Vote on Marijuana Decrim – Voters in Miami Beach could make it the first city in Florida to decriminalize marijuana possession after campaigners announced Tuesday they had turned in more than double the number of voter signatures needed for their initiative to make the ballot. They needed 4,300 signatures and turned in more than 9,000. The initiative is sponsored by the Campaign for Sensible Marijuana Policies in Florida. Under the initiative, people caught in possession of up to 20 grams of pot would face no more than a $100 fine. Under Florida state law, possession of up to 20 grams is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Science: Tolerance – According to research at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, USA, regular users of cannabis present with reduction (downregulation) of CB1 receptors in the cortex of the brain. After 4 weeks of abstinence numbers of receptors (receptor density) returned to normal levels.
Science: Arthritis – According to research at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, USA, blockade of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which degrades the endocannabinoid anandamide, reduces development of arthritis and associated increased pain sensitivity (hyperalgesia) in mice. The blockade results in an increased anandamide concentration.
Largest marijuana farm ever discovered in Mexico Mexico: The Mexican army says it has discovered a huge field with mature marijuana in the northern state of Baja California. Soldiers were