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“Mexican soldiers pile blocks of marijuana before incinerating them at an army camp in Tijuana, Nov. 27, 2015” (Source)

The spread of new marijuana laws in the US is bringing cannabis out from the black market and into legal outlets and shops, where it rightfully belongs. This movement is hurting weed farmers in Mexico, and the cartels that rely on cannabis for profit. According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, some smugglers are losing up to 70 percent in profits.

Forecasts from the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness and the RAND Corporation also arrived at similar conclusions. In the last three years, cannabis sales made up as much as 30 percent of the cartels’ revenues. This figure is steadily on the decline, based on low production rates from Mexican farmers. Simply put, cartels recognize the curb and they’re pulling out of the market before it wipes them out.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized about 1,085 tons of marijuana at the border in 2014. In the previous four years, that figure hovered around 1,500 tons. Seizures are thought to represent a tiny fraction of the amount that gets successfully imported,” wrote Deborah Bonello of the Los Angeles Times.

Quality Matters

The legalization of marijuana has allowed US-based cannabis researchers to create more powerful strains. Even though specialty buds are more expensive, the majority of smokers are willing to invest in quality products that deliver transcending highs. In the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, the group confirmed that Mexican farmers are working around the clock to develop potent marijuana strains. So far, they have not been successful in releasing a strain that could be sold next to US-produced cannabis.

Moreover, there is currently a mindset in the US that weed from Mexico is mediocre, compared to buds from Colorado, Oregon and California. This trend is further reinforced by the steady increase of the average THC content of seized marijuana in the past decade. Based on statistics from the DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment report, the average potency of leafy cannabis products that were seized at the border was roughly four percent in 1995. In 2013, that figure rose to 12.05 percent. For marijuana concentrated seizures, such as hashish, hash oil and pollen, the numbers increased exponentially from 13.23 percent in 1995 to 52.32 percent in 2013. This suggests that consumers were looking for higher quality cannabis during that period, and the cartels were attempting to address the demand.

In some cases, the presence of potent cannabis from the US is having an inverse effect on smuggling. The DEA is slowly seeing high-grade marijuana making its way from the US into Mexico. There is a small (but steadily growing) market in Mexico, due to the rare status of specialty buds in the area. Farmers in Sinaloa are feeling the pinch, and have turned to other crops to supplement their income. Some have converted their land into vegetable fields, while others, like 55-year-old Efrain, are turning to day-labor for consistent earnings. “People don’t want to abandon their illicit crops, but more and more they are realizing that it is no longer good business,” said Juan Guerra, the state’s agriculture secretary. Efrain admitted that middlemen who used to purchase cannabis in bulk on a regular basis rarely stop by the village for orders.

Offering Specialty Buds

A display case at a California dispensary showcases a wide variety of strains (Source)

Technically, anyone can grow high quality cannabis, with adequate funding and proper knowledge in cultivation. Most equipment, including seeds, artificial lights and fertilizers, can be ordered online from reputable sellers. However, the concept of cultivating potent weed and selling it at premium prices is not a strategy that Mexican cartels are interested in. This is because the notorious group is known for catering to mass consumer markets in order to maximize profits. Since not everyone can afford specialty buds, the organization has avoided diving into the niche by pumping more subpar marijuana products into the country.

But now, with cannabis legalization in the US gaining momentum, quality strains are increasing in availability, and prices have remained competitively affordable. To stay relevant in the US marijuana market, the group has to be able to deliver cannabis products with the same potency, availability and pricing as their competition (US medical dispensaries, unregistered growers and third-party dealers). It is likely that the cartels will not revamp their marijuana production and distribution strategy to cater to the shift in consumer preferences. As a solution, the organization that previously pushed monumental amounts of cannabis on the streets have reportedly turned to other illegal drugs for profit.

Legalization and Drug-Related Arrests

Member of a Mexican drug cartel being arrested by Mexican law enforcement (Source)

Another reason why some individuals are avoiding marijuana deals with drug trafficking cartel groups is due to safety. In the past, people were forced to purchase weed on the street from shady dealers working for the Mexican cartel. “In recent years the DTO’s [drug trafficking organizations] have changed their tactics and become bolder,” explained Lt. Gerry Adcock of Oregon’s Marion County Sheriff’s Office during an interview with Fox News Latino. “The men and women involved in today’s [drug trafficking] kill or make other drug traffickers disappear without fear of consequence.

In places like Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia (just to name a few), where the Mexican organization extends its presence, the risk of violence associated with underground marijuana purchases is relatively high. Now that individuals have a choice to buy cannabis from registered dispensaries, exposing one’s self to such risks is no longer needed. In selected cities, some legal cannabis businesses are offering timely deliveries for their clients. This further adds to the convenience of purchasing weed from a dispensary, as opposed to going out of one’s way to meet with a third-party dealer.

Perhaps the most impressive impact that marijuana legalization in the US is having on local communities is the rapid decline of drug-related arrests. According to the DEA, arrests linked to foreign-grown weed dipped from 4,519 in 2010 to 2,367 in 2015. The group highlighted that arrests made against domestic growers did not drop, and remains steady at 1,536 reports per year.

Many individuals did not anticipate the impact that cannabis legalization is currently having on Mexican cartels. With more and more states showing support for medical marijuana, illegal cannabis trade from the Mexico-US border may finally be eradicated in the near future.

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