The legalization of marijuana in Mexico will not affect the businesses of the drug cartels


The new law for the legalization and consumption of marijuana may generate new circuits of illegality and corruption in Mexico, and it will not diminish the brutal violence of drug trafficking cartels.

The federal law to legalize in Mexico the production, storage, transportation, commercialization, and consumption of marijuana (cannabis) for “entertainment” purposes, approved on March 10 by the Chamber of Deputies, will not generate any significant economic damage to the cartels. of the drug, nor will it have an impact on the illegality and violence that surrounds these criminal organizations. On the contrary, the new regulations, in a country like Mexico could create new illegal circuits of production and sale of said drug under the guise of legality, and expand the spheres of corruption with serious social and public health repercussions.

Although one of the arguments for the proposal and approval of the law is “to reduce the incidence of crime related to drug trafficking,” strictly speaking, it will not. According to the conversations and interviews that I have conducted in the last 16 years with various drug traffickers, their families, and lawyers, and to official statistical information, for at least a decade, the production and trafficking of marijuana have ceased to be one of the main businesses of the Mexican drug cartels.

This is due to the many hectares required for large-scale production, the costs of storing the bulky product and transporting it. For the cartels, the cost-benefit of marijuana has decreased, because the value of this drug in the market has been decreasing a lot in the consumer market of the United States and the national, in comparison with other illegal substances.

DW Kolumne Anabel Hernández
Anabel Hernandez

While the Mexican cartels have decreased the production, trafficking, and sale of marijuana, they have practically doubled the national production of methamphetamine, simple heroin, heroin mixed with fentanyl, and have steadily increased the purchase and trafficking of cocaine produced in Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia. For a simple reason: these drugs are a more profitable business when comparing the sale price with the costs of production, storage, and transport. And the drug cartels, like any other type of commercial business, seek higher profits.

The statistics leave no doubt about this trend. According to the international criteria of judges, prosecutors, and specialized investigation agencies, one way to measure the amount of production and actual trafficking of drugs is to take the quantities seized as a reference. According to experts consulted for this article, the quantities of drugs seized represent between 10 and 15 percent of total real production and trafficking.

Taking that reference into account, figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime show that, in the last ten years, the seizure of marijuana in Mexico has plummeted. In 2010, 2.3 million kilos of marijuana were seized in Mexico. In 2015 the figure fell practically by half, 1.2 million kilos. And in 2018, which is the last figure verified by the UN, the seizure was barely 230 thousand kilos.

In contrast, methamphetamine and heroin seizures have been on the rise, reflecting their increased production and trafficking. In 2010, 12 thousand kilos of methamphetamine were seized in Mexico; in 2018 the amount seized was more than double: 33 thousand kilos. While 374 kilos of heroin were seized in 2010, in contrast to 492 seized in 2018. Regarding cocaine, which is not produced in Mexico, but is mostly trafficked by Mexican cartels to the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania, in 2010 in Mexico 9,800 kilos were seized, and in 2018 16,400.

The price of a gram of marijuana to the final consumer in the United States – the main market of the Mexican cartels – is on average $ 7.82, while a gram of heroin can reach up to $ 300, which makes its production and sale more profitable: less production volume, less space for storage and transport, and higher profit per gram.

If it is clear that the legalization of the marijuana production chain in Mexico will not substantially affect the finances of the cartels and, therefore, will not affect the fierce competition between them, nor the violence that this generates, how does this new benefit law?

Debate on legalization of marijuana in the Mexican Senate.

Marijuana Republic

The Federal Law for the Regulation of Cannabis took up different legislative proposals made since 2016 by the political parties PRD, PRI, and the Labor Party. But, mainly, it is based on the proposal “General Law for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis” that was presented in November 2018 by senators Olga Sánchez Cordero and Ricardo Montreal, belonging to the President’s National Regeneration Movement party (MORENA). Mexican, Andrés Manuel López Obrador Currently, Sánchez Cordero is the Secretary of the Interior.

The law – approved by the Senate in November 2020 and ratified by the Chamber of Deputies with brief modifications, with 316 votes in favor, 129 against, and 23 abstentions – allows anyone over 18 years of age in Mexico to have their home address a maximum of six cannabis plants for your personal use. If there are more than two users at home, they may have up to eight plants of the drug. For self-consumption, a license will not be required, and it will be enough only to obtain a permit per address.

Approximately, a plant can produce from 200 grams to two kilos, depending on the plant and the growing conditions.

The creation of commercial companies for the production, distribution, and commercialization of marijuana on a small scale with two to 20 partners was also approved. These companies will be allowed to grow and market four plants per partner, with a maximum of 50 plants per company.

The Mexican government will issue six types of licenses that will regulate the marijuana production chain. Said licenses may cover the entire production chain for commercial purposes, from cultivation to sale to the end-user, or they may cover one or more phases of the production chain, for example only production, or only commercialization, or only the endpoint of sale to the final consumer.

The National Commission against Addictions (Conadic), which depends on the Ministry of Health, will be responsible for granting licenses and monitoring compliance with the law. This office, whose owner is Gady Zabicky Sirot, will be responsible for verifying compliance with the number of plants for personal consumption or for sale to the public and will be the one that imposes sanctions if the regulations are not complied with.

According to the law, the self-consumption and sale of marijuana to people under 18 years of age is prohibited, as well as their workforce both, in all or some phase of the production chain, and even their entry into establishments that sell the drug will be prohibited.


Problem of illegality and public health

At the end of last year, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs reclassified marijuana and removed it from the list of substances found in the international drug control treaties. Twenty-seven countries voted in favor, twenty-five against, and there was one abstention.

Among the countries that voted against were Chile and Japan. The first emphasized the following: “There is a direct relationship between the use of cannabis and the increased possibility of suffering from depression, cognitive deficits, anxiety, and psychotic symptoms.” The second stated that the non-medical use of the plant ” it could lead to negative health and social impacts, especially among young people ”.

It is difficult to predict compliance with a law like this in countries with a high culture of legality, but in Mexico, considered one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world, and where the average impunity is 96 percent, there are many risks that this legislation generates greater corruption, increases violent behavior and generates a public health problem, not only among the adult population but especially among minors.

The legislation was approved in the context of a serious addiction problem in the population between 12 and 17 years of age, despite the fact that there are already several laws that prohibit the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

According to the latest addiction survey in Mexico, published in 2018 by the Ministry of Health, 27.6 percent of the population between 12 and 17 years of age, of both sexes, consume alcohol. 48 percent of tobacco smokers in Mexico began using this product between the ages of 12 and 17. And regarding the consumption of drugs such as marijuana, tranquilizers, and inhalants, 8.5 percent of the population between 12 and 34 years old has used one or more drugs.

This means that, until now, in Mexico legislation to prevent minors from consuming alcohol, tobacco, and drugs has failed in various proportions. What makes it foresee that the prohibition that minors have access to marijuana more easily will also fail. If we take into account the current percentage of alcohol and tobacco consumption in minors, the forecasts for cannabis use are alarming, and this is not speculation.

Those who will take advantage of the increase in this consumer population will not only be the legal producers for self-consumption and sale but, of course, also the illegal ones. And while marijuana is no longer attractive to Mexican drug cartels, if the consumer market increases production and trafficking, that may be attractive again.

As I mentioned earlier, the drug cartels are pragmatic and put economic interest first. They will have the opportunity to play in two modes: on the one hand, they will continue to produce illegal marijuana, because due to its volume the final price of sale to the consumer will always be lower than that of the small producers authorized by law.

And furthermore, the same cartels could be interested in investing dirty money, coming from their illicit businesses, to the new legal market.

To this scenario must be added the new areas of opportunity for corruption that can be generated in the granting of permits and licenses, and in the verification processes that these comply with the law.

Hopefully, my prognosis is pessimistic. Unfortunately, the only way to know will be through the years, to measure the real consequences at the level of new addictions, addicts, and corruption.


Mexico Daily Post