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Marijuana in Mexico: What it’s like to be a cannabis consumer now

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MEXICO CITY – “I got the best job in the world,” says Alejandra* as they beat each other up at a cannabis dispensary in Mexico City. Plumes of smoke filled the air. A constant flow of customers comes and goes. Some buy their pre-rolls, but most buy large quantities of about a dozen different strains of flowers.

This is how weed is now sold in Mexico, with the country’s marijuana laws floating in a strange legal limbo. Cannabis isn’t fully legal yet, but it’s not completely illegal either.

Inside a Mexico City dispensary, you might (mistakenly) think that cannabis is actually legal.

The Alejandra dispensary is kept out of sight. No advertisements outside the shop Some stock is kept inside the bags in case of a raid. But from the interior scene, you might think that cannabis is legal in Mexico, as many people – even locals – do wrongly.

Mexican lawmakers keep thinking about legalizing and opening one of the world’s largest cannabis industries, but the impressive gray market is already developing — and fast.

“People are demanding cannabis products, so we want to make sure we do things right, with or without government approval,” Lorena Beltran, of the Latin American Cannabis Alliance, told Leafly recently.

Establishment of real estate companies ready for certification

Last month, the Latin American Cannabis Alliance hosted an international cannabis investment summit in Cancun, one of the few that has already been held in Mexico. “We have more than 14 cannabis non-profit organizations and nearly 60 private companies under one umbrella. The industry is expanding and it is not going anywhere.” Beltran.

While the order is placed locally To some extentMany cannabis products are smuggled out of the United States for medical and recreational purposes. “The Mexican Food and Drug Administration is not doing anything about it,” Beltran says. “The government needs to Try and keeping up with the growing unregulated industry.”

Photo of legalization advocates in Mexico City in 2021
Young people gather outside the Senate of the Republic to smoke marijuana during a “Fumaton 420” demonstration calling for the legalization of marijuana, outside the Senate of the Republic in Mexico City, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

A growing movement of consumers is smoking weed in public, while others are increasingly growing it at home

Encouraged by rulings from Mexico’s Supreme Court – which has overturned the cannabis ban several times since 2015 – many marijuana companies are already expanding. They are preparing for a fully legal market that could open as early as the fall of 2022.

Herbs are available in clinics, cafes, restaurants and spas

To be clear, cannabis sales are not yet officially legal. But this did not stop the rapid growth of gray market transactions across the country.

Business owners often have lawyers on call, willing to fight back if they get into trouble selling cannabis.

Today you will find cannabis available in a number of underground dispensaries, cafes and restaurants; And even daily spas and massage studios. These business owners often have lawyers on call, ready to fight back if they encounter the wrath of law enforcement.

The movement has been growing for some time. Mexico’s first Cannabis Cup was held in Guadalajara three years ago, followed by the Northern Cannabis Cup near Monterrey in 2019. In the past few years, cannabis festivals have been named Canavest And EXPOID It took place in the two largest cities in Mexico.

Home growers are thriving

“The market is being democratized,” says Jorge Hernandez Tinajero, president of the Mexican Association of Cannabis Studies, a growing shopkeeper and longtime advocate of legalization. “More and more people are starting to grow realizing that having ten plants produces a lot of weed – so they start selling a little bit. There is less risk of big fish eating other fish with more farmers in the market, so criminal structures become less influential” .

It is difficult to obtain accurate estimates of the number of people who consume and grow cannabis in Mexico (one Puts Number of consumers 500,000) but a legal industry can It is worth over $2 billion annually. companies already calls for The government to allow legal access to banking services, which has been a particularly difficult problem for cannabis companies in the United States.

Good country for farmers

Government officials estimate that approximately 114,000 hectares (282,000 acres) of land is illegally cultivated for cannabis in Mexico. These crops are grown mostly in the northern states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Sonora, with an additional harvest coming from Oaxaca in the south.

Data from the United Nations and the US Drug Enforcement Administration indicate that Mexico may be the second largest producer of cannabis in the world – growing up to 27,000 tons annually. One report found that 80% of the country’s land would be suitable for cannabis cultivation.

Possession limits remain tight

Currently, the risk of criminal penalties remains for possession of more than 5 grams of cannabis. Selling any amount of cannabis is against the law. Police are still arresting people for those crimes, despite Supreme Court rulings.

Those judgments that began in 2015, declared the ban on personal cannabis unconstitutional. The court ruled that the state must grant permits to adults seeking to grow up and smoke. Lawmakers since then Failed to pass the ratification bill That would codify the court’s ruling. There is still a gap between the court’s wishes and domestic reality after all the early acquisitions and consumption applications rejected.

Policemen target the young and the poor

Police still arrest people for cannabis use, and anecdotal evidence suggests that young people and the poor are more likely to be targeted.

“In fact, no matter how much you have, you are in danger of being detained by the police.”

Frida Ibarra, Mexico United Anti-Crime

“In some of the most privileged socio-economic areas of the country, the police do not have a significant presence and do not seek to arrest people of a certain status and race,” says Frida Ibarra, a lawyer with the non-governmental organization Mexico Against Crime. “If you have more than five grams of cannabis, you can be punished according to the law. But in reality, no matter how much you have, you are in danger of being detained by the police.”

In 2018, the last year there is general data11,000 people in Mexico have been charged with possession of less than 100 grams of cannabis. This number included 2,300 teenagers, with thousands more undoubtedly arrested by police and forced to pay bribes, even in possession of very small sums.

“There are hundreds, or even thousands, of innocent people in prison who shouldn’t be there, and I hope we can free them with this new regulation,” says Senator Alvarez Icaza, an independent senator who has campaigned vigorously on the issue. “We are in the 21st century and we need to seize the opportunity to quickly find a rights-based approach to cannabis use that is neither dominated by the market nor defined by inequality.”

Photo of a speaker at the 2016 Cannabis Fair in Mexico
A speaker speaks to the audience about the innovative use of hemp to produce fiber products, during the first day of the 2016 Marijuana ExpoWeed in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Icaza claimed that it was “very common” for police to grow extra cannabis on people until they exceeded the permissible limit. “Officers use cannabis against young people and the poor to get illicit money,” Ikaza said.

Police arrested Matias*, the 22-year-old student, in Queretaro this month and forced to pay a bribe even though he was in possession of well under 5 grams. “We didn’t even start smoking,” he recalls. “We were just sitting and enjoying the view.”

“The police came with their flashlights just to get money from people,” Matthias said. “They searched our pockets and found a small bag of herbs with enough for one joint. They said, ‘We’ll take you to the outpost’ and got down to their handcuffs.”

For 20 minutes they were threatening us very hard. But as we protested, one of the officers finally said, “Okay, tell me what to do? Because I don’t want to take you to the station. They pulled out my wallet and said, ‘That’s all I have, take it.’” They let us go and let us keep the herbs for 350 Mexican dollars.”

Medical patients trouble outside clinics

Elsewhere, in an affluent area of ​​Mexico City last year, 30-year-old Rodrigo* was arrested outside a cannabis club last year. The police searched him and found 70 grams of hashish that he was taking home to turn into medicinal oil.

“An aggressive policeman approached my window,” he said. “He asked me to get out of the car. I refused and asked him if he had a reason. He said disdainfully that I had the physical appearance of a criminal and made me get out of the car.”

Rodrigo told police that he used medicinal cannabis as an antiretroviral to treat HIV. As an activist, he’s part of a group that, he told Leafly, “is dedicated to defending the human rights of cannabis users.” The police sought to bring charges against him. “They took me to the prosecutor’s office and I waited there for hours in an office with a number of other people in the same situation,” he recalls.

Rodrido said the incident ended when the public prosecutor told police they were not prosecuting drug offenses. “They ordered them to drop the charges, because I’m a cannabis addict, and I’m not a kidnapper,” he says. “But unfortunately, the cops who violated my human rights got away with it and took my marijuana.”

* Names have been changed to protect the people involved from possible criminal prosecution.

Matha Busby

Matha Busby is a freelance writer based in Mexico. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Observer, The Representative, GQ, and other publications.

View articles by Matha Busby

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