Mexico Plagued By Cartel Wars On Cusp Of Legal Cannabis “Green Rush”
For Guillermo Nieto, a Mexican businessman who grew up smoking pot, the cannabis greenhouse on his family’s vast farmlands is part of a bigger dream. One that involves deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies.
Nieto and several Mexican businessmen have spent years positioning themselves for a time when the country opens up what could become the world’s biggest medicinal legal cannabis market, where the drug can be legally cultivated and sold.
Mexico finally outlined rules in July covering cannabis for medical use, and the sign-off is expected in the coming weeks.
A bigger prize may also be close for Nieto and foreign companies; Senate majority leader Ricardo Monreal told Reuters he expected a law to be passed before December for recreational use of the drug, allowing regulated private firms to sell it to the public.
Indeed the legal cannabis industry is already a multi-billion-dollar global trade, and some big players, including Canada’s Canopy Growth, The Green Organic Dutchman, and unit of California-based Medical Marijuana Inc, told Reuters they were eager to tap the new Mexican market.
Business aside, Nieto says the new regulations will have a profound social impact on the conservative nation of 120 million people, where drugs are a sensitive subject due to a long and painful history of violence perpetuated by feuding cartels.
While a growing cannabis industry promises to be a money-spinner, it faces resistance from campaigners who are worried that regulations for both medical and non-medical cannabis will heavily favour big, often foreign corporations.
The initial regulations covering medical use permit entrepreneurs to grow marijuana on behalf of pharmaceutical companies and allows foreign businesses to import medical cannabis products into the country.
However, Mexico’s Supreme Court, which has effectively legalised cannabis by ruling prohibition is unconstitutional, has given the government until Dec. 15 to draft new legislation for recreational use of cannabis.
Monreal, Senate leader of the ruling National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party, told Reuters that lawmakers were currently ironing out the finer details of the legislation.
He said his party, which has a majority in both houses of Congress with its allies, should have no problems passing the law, which he added would decriminalize possession of a “certain amount” of marijuana.
Monreal said the law would not allow Dutch-style cafes in the first stage of liberalization, but the public would be able to buy marijuana from privately run and strictly regulated “sales and distribution centres”.
However he added that the senate was divided over whether to allow industrial cultivation of hemp, a cousin of cannabis plants used in products ranging from food and clothes to building materials, citing opposition from industries that fear hemp will displace their goods.
Depending on what laws Mexico passes, Latin America’s second-largest economy could morph into a hot new frontier in the so-called “green rush” spreading across Canadian and American farmlands, spurred by growing global investment buzz around legal marijuana.
Globally the legal marijuana industry was valued at $17.7 billion last year by consultancy Grand View Research, and is expected to reach $73.6 billion by 2027.
Large cannabis companies, which have pharmaceutical facilities to test products, said they were eyeing both the medical and non-medical marijuana sectors.
Canopy Growth, the world’s biggest pot company, told Reuters it aimed to contribute to “the responsible development of this new market” and would review the upcoming regulations.
Not everyone is happy with how the new industry is shaping up, however.
The coalition that led the cannabis legalization drive through the courts, made up of pro-marijuana activists and parents of ill children seeking cannabis-based pain relief, say the new medical regulation helps big businesses rather than patients.
Lawmakers legalized the use of medicinal marijuana in 2017, while the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that recreational marijuana should be permitted. As it stands, the medical regulation would bar people like Margarita Garfias from growing cannabis for personal use to relieve pain. Farmers could only cultivate marijuana through partnerships with pharmaceutical companies that can conduct product trials, tie-ups which are out of reach for most.
Garfias, the mother of a wheelchair-bound teenage son with multiple disabilities, said families who live in fear and have faced getting criminal records for trying to help their children feel short-changed.
“The regulation doesn’t help with this, nor with social justice nor human rights for patients,” added Garfias, who said her home-grown cannabis-derived medicine had reduced her 16-year-old son’s epileptic fits and hospitalizations.
Activists say lobbying by corporations could shut small producers out from both the medical and non-medical markets, and thus fail to significantly dent the illicit narcotics trade.
Monreal, the MORENA senator, said no law was perfect but that legalization would transform Mexico, from emptying its jails of small-scale pot smokers to helping farmers shed the yoke of deadly cartels.
“The most important thing for Mexico and its legislators is that they dare to knock down this decades-old taboo”
More nations are awakening to the benefits of marijuana, presenting medicinal benefits that far outweigh unnatural analgesics and treatments by big pharma. From a recreational use perspective, the side effects from those under the influence are far less severe than over consumption of alcohol. Is it time for the world to wake up relax and go easy on weed consumers?