MEXICO CITY — In certain parts of Mexico City, especially the chic, wealthier neighborhoods, phone numbers are quietly passed around for unnamed weed clubs. Once you’re on the radar of one such group, a text message arrives every few weeks with the new menu.
In a mix of Spanish and English, the menu contains a list of various strains along with their THC, sativa, and indica percentages, followed by the effects, from creative and energizing, to relaxing and inducing sleep. Depending on the month, they also sell stuff like hash, extracts, vape pens, and cartridges.
After placing an order, a hip twenty-something usually on a road bike shows up and drops off the contraband, anonymous among the other cool kids that roam neighborhoods like Roma, Condesa, or Polanco in central Mexico City.
But while the weed clubs are a far cry from typical Mexican drug dealing and vicious cartels, it's members are still working outside the law—for now.
Mexico cleared a major hurdle towards legal cannabis in November when the Senate passed a proposed bill ahead of a December 15 deadline mandated by the country's supreme court. While the lower house of Congress must also vote on the bill prior to the upcoming deadline, the country of roughly 130 million inhabitants has never been closer to becoming the world's largest legal weed market.
But many cannabis connoisseurs across Mexico, interested in both buying and selling the highest quality bud, are unsure how they will fit into the new legal industry.
"I don't feel like it’s going to really take down the black market unless they create incentives for people to invest in large scale cultivation," a prominent grower in one of these clandestine clubs told VICE World News. The grower specifically worried that the law’s requirement for paid permits to become commercial growers would most likely be inaccessible price-wise for smaller operations focused on quality over quantity like theirs.
The grower explained that most of these underground clubs currently work in a co-op model, where they share resources and cultivation, to be able to provide a diverse menu to their growing client base who expect a certain quality product. And while the current law does include a cannabis club option with up to 20 members who designate their right to grow four plants to a communal grow operation, the product can only be bought by the members. The grower doubted the club fees or marijuana prices within the group would be sufficient to sustain themselves as a business, shutting them out of the legal industry.
The "government doesn't care" about the quality of the marijuana, and under the current form of the law, it would only benefit wealthy producers who can pay for permits and finance large-scale grow-ops who don't care about quality either, according to the grower.
"We have the knowledge and skill to make the highest quality, to know the percentage of indica, sativa," said the grower. "What helps you for a headache, what's going to help you sleep, to wake up."
They compared the club’s product to the artisanal beer industry, and said that if cannabis enthusiasts aren't given the resources and opportunity to be involved in the industry, it will turn out like Mexico's national cervezas: "Trash, they're not even beer."
Lawmakers have proposed the creation of the Mexican Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (Imerecca for its Spanish acronym), however, it reportedly will not open until 2022, causing further concern about how exactly a legal cannabis industry will unroll in Mexico. And who stands to gain.
"I think there are a lot of people that are currently existing in the illegal market who are very much looking forward to the possibility of being able to transition to a legal market," said Zara Snapp, a legalization activist and co-founder of the Mexican research and advocacy organization Instituto RIA.
However, Snapp explained that the legalization bill has been continually altered by politicians as it’s passed through the Mexican legal system, and the most recent version removed much of the affirmative action possibilities for communities that have been affected by prohibition that she and other activists have lobbied for. Now, the same opportunities are available for big businesses as they are for small entrepreneurs.
In the meantime, Snapp said, a lot of U.S. and Canadian marijuana companies are interested in moving into the massive new market that could be open by mid-December, and that "Mexico is going to have a huge rush."
But not all Mexicans think that's necessarily a bad thing in terms of allowing for high-quality marijuana to be accessible to the masses.
In the border city of Tijuana, a young marijuana aficionado named Pedro Gastelum co-founded the Tijuana High Club, or THC for short—an upscale smoke shop that's now expanded to three locations across the city since 2018. Although THC doesn't sell weed, it imports hard-to-get and curated U.S. smoke paraphernalia, sells stylish THC branded gear and aims to give off a more of a classy dispensary vibe in order to "be ahead of the curve with the legalization."
He and his associates have aimed to make connections with foreign cannabis companies, mostly in the U.S., with the hope that they'll be able to import the highest quality bud into Mexico, because in his opinion, even the best herb produced in the country isn't that great compared to the California weed that is smuggled into the city and widely available.
"We shouldn't be closed to (importing), because here in Tijuana, we already smoke American (weed).”
Gastelum said he'd traveled across Mexico smoking weed with whoever had the best stuff in several different states, as well as visiting clandestine weed clubs in Mexico City, but "when I saw the prices, it's more expensive than the dispensaries in the United States. And it's not the best quality."
It's still unclear if, when, and how Mexico would allow the legal importation of weed, essentially uncharted territory in the global marijuana market, but Gastelum doesn't believe that Mexico should limit itself. He suggested creating a marketplace where you could buy local Mexican products, along with imports like other industries.
What exactly the world’s largest legal weed market will look like if it comes into existence in the coming weeks remains vague. Many of the country’s cannabis connoisseurs who want to invest in this promising new industry will have to wait for clarity as factors such as structure and regulations are laid out in the months after legalization. For them, making sure customers can still find that good shit is crucial. Only now, it will be legal.