Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Drug Plantations in Baja California and the Players Who Control Them

"MX" for Borderland Beat
Mexican opium poppy plants in Baja California
Drug farmers in the state of Baja California cultivate crops for the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). They are turning the state into a drug-producing region by growing the following crops in its mountainous area: opium, cannabis, cannabis strain (purple haze) and hemp. Most of these plantations are only accessible by foot and are approximately two to three hours away from the nearest highway.

According to official reports, the Sinaloa Cartel has been running these farms since 2008 while the CJNG has been active since they made their incursion into Baja California in 2015. In this report originally published by the award-winning and Tijuana-based news magazine Zeta, Borderland Beat will provide a glimpse of the drug plantations in the state and how they operate.

Drug Plantations: Who Owns Them?
In addition to the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel, freelance drug farmers also own many of the farms in the state. These independent criminals sell the drugs to these two cartels in the area or simply pay piso (a cartel taxation fee) to move drugs in their turf.

Drug farmers working in these plantations are paid between 2K to 3K Mexican pesos a week. Each kilogram of marijuana has a market value of US$750 to $800 in Baja California.
Ranch previously owned by Vicente Zambada Niebla ("Vicentillo") in Baja California (credit: Zeta)
According to an investigator interviewed for this report, the drug farmers operate similarly to Baja California's huachicoleros (fuel thieves). The Niño Serrano crime family, which controls most of the fuel theft operations in the state, does not have a specific cartel alliance and pays piso to each major criminal group in the area (Sinaloa, CJNG, and the Tijuana Cartel) to move their merchandise.

The cartel representatives who work closely with drug farming businesses are:

– René and Alfonso Arzate García (Sinaloa Cartel)
– José Luis and Francisco Javier Mendoza Uriarte (Sinaloa Cartel)
– José Antonio Soto Gastélum (Sinaloa Cartel)
– Jesús Alfonso Trapero Ibarra (CJNG)

Above them are the following cartel factions that own rural land in Baja California:

El Chapo's family: In 2011, Mexican authorities discovered one of the largest drug plantations in Mexico. The farm was owned by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán and his family (Guzmán López and Guzmán Salazar). It was located in the rural community of El Mármol in Ensenada municipality, and was 120 hectares (297 acres) in size. Over 120 tons of marijuana was seized in this location.

Esparragoza family: Mexican investigators stated that Juan José Esparragoza Moreno ("El Azul") and his children Iván Esparragoza Gastélum and Juan José Esparragoza Monzón own land in Baja California that they have bought through real estate investments. They own a ranch, Tres Marías, located between Tecate and Mexicali. They also have additional rural properties in Tijuana, Rosarito and Tecate that date back to the 1980s. Lawyer and businessman Francisco Rubio Cárdenas is a strawperson for some of these properties.

El Mayo's  family: Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, his wife Rosario Niebla Cardoza, as well as his son Vicente and four daughters with the surname Zambada Niebla, have multiple rural properties in Mexicali and Tijuana since the 1980s. Many of them can be located by looking through the Mexican Public Registry of Properties.

El Mencho's family: Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes ("El Mencho") owns several rural properties purchased through relatives in Tijuana. Many of them have been seized by Mexico's Attorney General's Office (FGR) in the past three years.

Destroying drug plantations
Between 2017 and 2019, the Baja California State Police used drones to locate drug plantations across the state. In the past, state officials would often take as long as two months to determine if a certain rural property was operating as a drug farm. Drones have helped reduce this time frame.

According to reports from the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), the Mexican Army seized 212 marijuana drug farms in approximately 25 hectares (61 acres) area in 2017 alone. That is 2 hectares  (5 acres) every month. In addition, they seized 151 opium-producing farms in 18 hectares (44 acres) of land. That is an average of 12 drug farms and 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) per month.

In 2020, the Mexican Army has destroyed 7 drug plantations in a little over 1 hectare (2.4 acres) of land. Specialists stated that the numbers are low because the Mexican Armed Forces have been dispatched across Baja California to enforce safety measures during the COVID-19 outbreak. The reduction of military presence in rural Baja California will favor drug farmers because the months of March, July and September are peak times for harvest.

Mexican security forces burning a drug plantation in Ensenada
On February 9, soldiers burned 1,800 m² (19375 ft²) of marijuana in Tecate municipality. On February 14, the National Guard burned 1,900 marijuana plants in Ejido Rancho Viejo (Tecate municipality). The marijuana accounted for 86.4 kg (190 lbs). 24, the Mexican Army destroyed 65,000 marijuana plants in Valle de las Palmas (Tecate municipality). In all these events, no one was arrested at the drug farms. Mexico's Attorney General's Office (FGR) opened an investigation for these cases and pledged to arrest those responsible for managing the drug farms.

On 1 March, the Mexican Navy seized 6 marijuana plantations in Santa Mónica in Tecate municipality. The total surface area was 10,420 m² (112,160 ft²). On 5 March, the Mexican Army found a drug farm that cultivated opium near Rancho San Carlos in Ensenada municipality. The opium plant was 40 cm (15.7 in) tall and without the flower. The market value for this opium can be of approximately MXN$1 million. From 2013 to 2020, dozens of mini drug farms have been destroyed in Rancho San Carlos.

On 26 March, the Baja California State Police found a drug farm in the rural community of Cucapah in Mexicali municipality. Over 35,000 marijuana plants were seized in four different farm sectors. It is usual for authorities to find drug farms in Mexicali, the state capital. However, when they are detected, they are usually in the mountainous regions that border Tecate and San Felipe.

Few plantations in Tijuana; many in Ensenada and Tecate
According to official reports, authorities have not discovered drug plantations in Tijuana since May 2019, when they destroyed an opium farm in Natura borough. Over 2 million opium plants were destroyed in this incident.

A month earlier, authorities destroyed 6,000 marijuana plants in Mesa Redonda (Tijuana borough), specifically in an area known as Cuero de Venados. In this same location back in October 2017, the police discovered a farm that used technology that helped speed the growth of hybrid marijuana (cannabis sativaplants.

Ensenada is the largest municipality in Baja California and has a large supply of water via their canal system. This area is a popular location for drug plantations. Drug cultivation in this region dates back to the 1990s when investigators discovered that several associates of the Arellano Félix brothers were also cultivating their own drug crops.
Ranch previously owned by the Zambada family in Mexicali (credit: Zeta)
In the early 2000s, crime families like Los Ayala, Los Frias and relatives of Jorge Humberto Acosta ("El Güero Leches") ran multiple drug plantations in the region. But the way the Mexican government found out but their existence was through confessions. Hikers and migrants crossing through this area told the police that they saw many drug plantations along the way. Oftentimes, the drug farm guards were hostile to them.

Drug farmers who own plantations in Valle de la Trinidad, Santo Tomas, San Quitin and Ojos Negros are for the most part independent (freelance) workers who do not have an alliance to a specific drug cartel. Workers are often hired to work in the farms along with their entire families. Those not working in agriculture sometimes work as outlooks, guards and in packing. Payment ranges from MXN$2,000 to MXN$3,000 per week (with the possibility of receiving commission).

The CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel have opted to cultivate drugs in Baja California or purchase the drugs directly from freelance farmers based in the state to avoid working with farmers in the states of Michoacán, Guerrero, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco, Chiapas and Oaxaca. In addition, having drug plantations in Baja California reduces the cost and risk of losing their merchandise while transporting it from other parts of Mexico.

According to figures provided by local authorities, 1 kilogram of marijuana from Sinaloa that is sold in Tijuana has a market value of US$850. On the other hand, that exact same amount from a locally-produced farm is worth between US$750 and US$500, but the quality is considered better since it is fresher.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Chivis! Means a lot. I'm happy to be given the chance to contribute.

  2. With drones, high tech optics, lidar and the like, a drug plantation exists at the discretion of the government because of the bribe money paid for it to remain in operation.

  3. I wonder how many if any of those crops are located on the road to La Bocana, Santo Tomas, which is about 10 miles south of Maneadero.

  4. The prices are misleading. You can get a kilo of weed in sinaloa for about $150 usd!

  5. "to avoid working with farmers in the states of Michoacán, Guerrero, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco, Chiapas and Oaxaca" , why? because too many adversary groups operate there or I missed the point?

  6. California legal pot use 3%. 97% is blood soaked Mexican Mota. Nice going, assholes. I live in Mexico and have to put up with selfish stupidity.

  7. Rather than burn confiscated weed, I would hand it out in baggies for free. Maybe a few kiosks in the cities, and free ganja market places nearby. I would get doctors to write free weed prescriptions for people. Vending machines will give out free weed. All that weed would make a positivw difference in people's lives. We all should contribute to the free ganja party FGP for a better tomorrow, Vote for me in the next election and nobody will go without good weed. I will make this a priority target 100% of people with 100% good weed. Thank You and God Bless You.

    1. Put a dent in profits too

    2. And just like oil prices, the market would tank and the tax revenue to the state from sales would too.

    3. Do these owners even pay tax ?
      they steal fuel gold etc and they actually pay Tax to the Goverment ?? I would thought bribes paid was paying tax
      Now this would make a good story How does major drug cartels like these owning these farms pay property tax water tax etc
      Wonder what each states tax books look like
      revenues vs debts
      Cooking the books
      while your workers are cooking the drugs

  8. Mexico is a failed state!!

  9. Wow Sinaloa sure stamped out the Tijuana Cartels presence in Baja. If Benjamin Arellano Felix ever comes home he’s gonna have nothing left for him. Also, is El Azul still alive?

    1. Cds couldn't stop the cjng invasion and lost a big chunk of TIJUANA and baja califas
      so I wouldn't give them too much credit

    2. @3:59 Let me FTFY: USABC's and VFox/PAN stamped out CAF, cuál Sinaloa

    3. El cartel de Tijuana ya es raza vieja. Ya no quedo nada

  10. 238. Just like here in the usa

  11. these prices are wrong a key of mota pays out only about 1000 pesos to the farmers then the pusher adds another 1500 to 2000 depending on the quality, once it hits the streets in baja a quarter(ounce) is roughly about 100 pesos of fair quality sinsemilla

  12. Yea, Riding dirt bikes from tecate to san felipe you often pass thru shady places, lots of wide open spots in this rural area


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