Drugs

Could Legal Weed in California Help End Mexico's Drug War?

One expert estimated the Mexican drug trade could lose up to two-thirds of its market in the US now that pot is an over-the-counter drug in the Golden State.

by Ollin Velasco
Jan 10 2018, 8:00pm

Image by Isaac Esquivel via cuartoscuro.com

This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico. Leer en Español.

On New Year's Day, California became the sixth US state and the first on the border to legalize the cultivation, sale, and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes. This immediately raised questions about the repercussions for Mexico.

Could the sea-change create pressure for legalization of weed for recreational purposes in Mexico? Will it have an impact on the cost of pot on either or both sides of the border? Will it help decrease violence related to drug trafficking? Experts consulted by VICE News En Español offered a few insights.



First, it’s important to keep in mind that California is the largest US market for marijuana. It was also the first state to decriminalize marijuana use for medical reasons, which happened back in 1996.

As Alejandro Hope, a Mexican political analyst and national security expert, explained, California’s cannabis market is now simply poised to grow bigger than ever. The state already has about five million residents who buy weed, and it’s estimated that the expanding market in the state may soon be worth $6 billion or more.

Hope suggested that will have two primary impacts in its neighbor country, and that neither was particularly likely to decrease narco-related violence. One is political—the acceleration of the internal regulation of recreational marijuana use in Mexico. The second involves a direct impact on the Mexican economy. According to Hope, as the volume of legal marijuana in the US increases, American producers may reduce their prices. Given this, the Mexican drug trade faces the possibility of losing about two-thirds of its market in the United States.

For her part, Lisa Sánchez, coordinator of the Latin American Program for Drug Reform Policy in the organization México Unido contra la Delincuencia (MUCD, or Mexico United against Delinquency, in English), said she’s convinced California’s move amounts to one of the best pieces of news Mexico has received in a long time.

“We’re very pleased that this has moved forward in the United States because it will be like a turbine that will also stir the waters in our country, where only medical use is permitted. We’re going to have to take action, because we don’t want to be left behind on this issue,” she said.

According to Sanchez, the measure recently enacted in California is going to put the brakes on illegal sales from Mexico—Americans, she said, will prefer to buy marijuana legally (and at a lower price) in their own country.

That being said, Sánchez cautioned that in both places, changes in habits and the volume of use won’t be particularly rapid: “I wouldn’t be so optimistic about that. I don’t believe that we’re going to see something surprising between January and April of this year, at least. It doesn’t look like [any] of the candidates for the Mexican presidency will touch the subject, so that they can avoid linking themselves to a polemicized cause before the July 2018 elections.”

Both experts agreed there’s good reason to follow closely what happens in California, as it will be a sort of mirror in which Mexico has to see itself reflected.

“California is like an experimental laboratory that can show what might or might not function here, if we pursue the same initiative. What happens there is going to serve us a lot, to the extent that we can realize what we’ve done badly and what remains to be done with respect to legislation. Which is a lot,” Sanchez said.

The big question, she continued, is: “How much longer will we continue dedicating money and lives to failed anti-drug policies, when on the other side of the border—where the principal consumers of Mexican marijuana live—this matter is practically a thing of the past?”

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