|A multibillion-dollar legal cannabis market could be in Mexico's future. It depends on how |
serious the government is about legalization. Photo: Paco Servin
Well-off stoners are ushering in a new marijuana market in Mexico
by Luis Chaparro
El M is sitting on a bench in Parque España, a pleasant urban park that divides the two economically comfortable Mexico City neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma. A slim young man with dark skin, bulging eyes and a backpack over his shoulders, El M won't reveal his real name.
He’s a marijuana dealer, but not just any marijuana dealer. He sells Kush, Silver Haze, Gypsy Widow. The best weed. And only the best.
M’s clients will get WhatsApp messages from him, informing them of what merchandise is currently available. Then they’ll consult leafly.com, a site that describes and grades the various types of marijuana on the market — their potency, effects, aromas and flavors.
If they like what they see, they’ll pay up to 3,000 for an “ounce.” That comes to about $180 dollars for what in the marijuana world usually amounts to 25 grams, not 28.
Compare that to the 200 pesos that everyday pot buyers might pay for everyday Mexican pot in the same amount.
El M says he doesn’t know where his product comes from. But law enforcement agencies, as well as expert analysts, think they do. They’re placing the origin of this premium weed in the crops of U.S. legal-marijuana states, such as Colorado.
Reverse trafficking, from Denver to Mexico (reverse flow)
Last July, a Mexican customs agent at the Ciudad Juárez checkpoint found more than five kilos of marijuana in the luggage rack of a Honda Accord coming in from Texas.
The two U.S. citizens in the car — Jose Antonio Ruiz del Hoyo and Javier Antonio Quiñonez — were taken in for questioning, where it was learned that they were taking the pot from Denver, Col., where marijuana growing is legal,to Mexico City, where the demand for top quality marijuana has been growing rapidly.
Oscar Hagelsieb, director of the West Texas region of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, says his office has detected a growing trend in recent years in “counterflow” — that is, marijuana moving from north to south. But it’s a specific kind of counterflow.
“What we’ve been able to find thanks to our investigations is that it’s not a level of traffic that’s going to inundate Mexico,” Hagelsieb says. “This marijuana is not for everybody. It’s a status thing. It’s for rich kids.”
There aren’t any current statistics on how much marijuana has been decommissioned as it moved from the United States to Mexico. But Hagelsieb says the trend could increase over the new few years. He won’t estimate a figure, but he does say it will be significant enough that his agency will have to invest funds in tracking the phenomenon.
Anybody who’s aware of how porous the Mexico-U.S. border is for any kind of merchandise moving from north to south will understand that the moderate amounts of high-grade cannabis in question will make it into Mexico with almost no difficulty whatsoever.
Bryce Pardo, an independent researcher and consultant on drug policy in the Americas, who has written extensively on the topic, warns that organized crime — that is, Mexico’s narcos — will no doubt be looking to move in to the growing reverse flow marijuana market in the next few years.
“Changes in production techniques could become more and more common if the traffickers can adapt to the new market,” Pardo says. “Time will tell if this happens or not.”
But the north-to-south marijuana flow may only be a part of the explanation for this new phenomenon. Cannabis cultivation has been discovered in Mexico that uses clones or seeds from the United States and that yields product equal in quality and potency as that grown legally in greenhouses in several U.S. states.
Just last July, Mexican authorities found a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse in the state of Jalisco, teeming with marijuana plants. The plants were genetically modified, according to the National Security Commission, Mexico’s top federal law enforcement agency.
Pardo thinks there are two reasons for the noticeable improvement in the quality of marijuana in Mexico. One if the effort that the organized drug traffickers are making to compete with U.S. cannabis. The other is the change in habits on the part of Mexican consumers. They want more refined products.
Roma and Condesa fertile ground for a pot dealer
Mexico City’s Cuauhtémoc borough, in which Condesa and Roma are located, accounts for 8.7 percent of the capital’s 75,000 marijuana consumers, according to the National Anti-Addiction Commission. That’s 6,500 people.
So places like Roma and Condesa — with a relatively well-off population that tends toward the hip side — is rife with potential customers. Not only are there more possible customers, but they’re willing to spend more for the good stuff.
Dan Vinkovetsky, editor of High Times, the longtime U.S. cannabis magazine, explains why: “American cannabis can be 10 percent and even 20 percent THC, the active ingredient, while the pressed Mexican plant has barely 5 percent.”
So M sells the high-quality U.S. pot that came into the country at some point via reverse flow, while Arturo grows a few plants from seed on his little apartment balcony. Both are located in Roma/Condesa and both are working on the margins of what could become a legal market in coming years.