Mexican Farmers Are Growing Cartel-Free ‘Ethical’ Weed


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Sep 19, 2009
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Mariposa County CA
From Vice
Mexican Farmers Are Growing Cartel-Free ‘Ethical’ Weed

We spoke to Mexican farmers in Sinaloa growing "ethical" cannabis with no ties to the drug cartels.
by Deborah Bonello and Miguel Angel Vega
Cannabis production in Mexico is making a comeback, and this time it’s cartel-free. Independent farmers are now producing high-quality “ethical” weed—without the involvement of the country’s violent cartels.

As the country prepares to create a legal weed market, cannabis producers and dealers in Mexico told VICE that interest in finer types of homegrown weed, marketed with names such as Cronica (chronic), Blue Dreams or Purpura (purple), is growing among consumers in major cities.

The new ethical market does not come with the bloodbath connected to the cartels. Production and transportation is being arranged between producers and dealers, cutting out the violent middle men.

Alongside other producers from the violent state of Sinaloa, Lazaro, a farmer, told VICE he is now planting cannabis, or ramas (branches), as he calls it, inside homes and greenhouses. His indoor crop is closely packed into a room under an orange light, which reflects off the white walls to create an amber glow. The plants sway under the breeze of a bank of fans, facing into the room from their stations, mounted every two meters along the walls.

None of the farmers who spoke to VICE had to ask permission from the cartels to go it alone. “We’re independent and doing it for ourselves,” said Lazaro.

Similar to legal farmers in California and Colorado, growers in Mexico are sowing new seeds brought in from the United States and Europe to produce stronger, more refined products as well as oils and other derivatives. They’re investing in technology including lights, fertilizers and climate control for their plants.

“We have to innovate,” Ricardo, another farmer from Sinaloa, told VICE. “Innovation is what is generating business now. The seeds arrived a few years ago from Europe and the U.S., but at first people just grew it at home and didn’t want to share it. Now they have to, out of need.”

For the weed growers, there are pros and cons to the cartel-free business. Without the help of drug trafficking organizations, producers can’t rely on their infrastructure and have to create their own logistical networks, making contact with dealers and then getting their produce to them in cities around Mexico.

“I know a lot of dealers distributing cannabis in Mexico City and they’re making deals directly with producers,” said Zara Snapp, founder of the Instituto RIA, which carries out research and advocacy on drug policy. Producers and dealers said weed is being transported by car, motorbike and even messenger services around the country.

“You’re not benefiting from any cartel protection structures or mechanism,” said Jaime Lopez, a security analyst. The fact that the market is, as yet, small means that it’s easy to stay low-profile. “As long as you stay small and not too flashy you might avoid the vultures. But that’s a big if.”

And there are barriers to entry. Farmers like Ricardo and Lazaro are in the minority. Most humble farmers in the mountains of major drug producing states such as Sinaloa and Guerrero could not afford the investment required to create the kind of growing environments needed to produce refined weed.

“We plant [cronica] in houses with fertilizers and lights and temperature control so it’s more expensive to produce,” Lazaro said. If growers plant outside, the seeds are more expensive, and fertilizers add costs.

That said, producers now have more control over their business and don’t have to comply with the low prices set by violent cartel middlemen. They can also market their weed differently.

“I think cannabis that is marketed as 'blood free' or ethical sells better. People are more likely to ask where their weed is coming from and that is a big shift,” Snapp said.