Cutting through the weed
An interesting footnote to the much hyped ruling by the Mexican Supreme Court that allowed a few individuals to grow and use marijuana if they so wished. They don’t want to, and don’t intend to do so.
I don’t think the position taken by those four people, whose rationale for the suit was an interest in public health and personal rights, is particularly out of the Mexican mainstream. As Pablo Giralt, one of the four, said:
… I have no desire to use cannabis. The point was to reaffirm the liberal state and to approach drugs from a health and not a criminal perspective.
Gerald and the others could have easily made the same argument for the (re)legalization of heroin — and maybe should have — rather than marijuana. In theory, heroin possession (up to 50 mg) and other drugs, including a very small amount of marijuana (40 grams) is not a criminal offense, and hasn’t been since 2009.
All of which makes it less than likely that the “National Debate on the Use of Marijuana” is going to be much more than an academic and political exercise of more interest to foreigners than to Mexicans themselves.
Jan-Albert Hootsen lays out the main arguments of those opposing further legalization in “Vice News“…. all based on the presumption that marijuana legalization will do nothing to lessen the problems of organized crime. What is troubling is that the court’s ruling had nothing to do with the effects on organized crime. While the effect of legalization on organized crime is an issue — the claims that legalization is meant to weaken the reach of criminals were ones more likely to be raised in consumer nations (above all in the United States) than in producer nations.
As I’ve pointed out before, marijuana usage in Mexico is extremely low. Despite the anecdotal “evidence” (usually by foreigners living in “expat” enclaves) to the contrary, the best estimate of cannabis consumption in Mexico is about 1.2 percent of the population (compared to 14.8 percent in the United States). While I suppose it is possible that personal consumption rates would rise with legality, it certainly would have little or no effect on the marijuana trade: there just aren’t enough consumers — and, given the court’s ruling, the consumers would be growers themselves — to mean anything at all. What is done in Netherlands (consumption rate estimate 7.0 percent) or Uruguay (8.3 percent, and — like the United States, next door to a major producer, Paraguay) is completely irrelevant to Mexico.
Even if one assumes that this “opens to door” to full legalization, I see more problems than solutions. Perhaps the so-called cartels would get out of the marijuana business (and into the human trafficking, opium and heroin production, meth lab, and extortion trade instead), but so what? Despite the best arguments from marijuana enthusiasts in the United States and Canada, that their “good weed” will drive “Mexican ditchweed” off the market, basic economics tells me that cheap (even inferior) products drive higher priced (although superior) sell better.
We’ve seen a few “mega-plantations” of marijuana — in water scarce areas like Durango and Baja California — even while the cultivation is illegal. One fears for our water tables if marijuana was to be a commercial product. And, while what returns to the rural community from the illegal trade is only a pittance, the gangsters have to win the “hearts and minds” of their suppliers if they are to do business at all. While the “cartels” might be terrible people, they are locals, and some sense of noblesse oblige — or at least a paternal attitude towards employees and their community. After all, they live there. What will be the effect on rural economies and on rural workers should the industry be controlled by foreign corporations?
I’m sure legalization will generate a lot of excitement in some quarters, but don’t expect it to give birth to … anything. Or, as Edgardo Buscaglia puts it, absent a decent regulatory system for business and industry, any talk about legalization is just “legal masturbation.”
Enciso, Froylan. When Drugs Were Legal in Mexico (Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society, 20 February, 2012)
The Four Mexicans who don’t smoke marijuana but wanted freedom of choice (El Universal English, 5 November 2015).
Hootsen, Jan-Albert. Opposition to Weed Legalization Unites Mexico’s President With One of His Harshest Critics (Vice News, 1 January, 2016)
Malkin, Elizabeth and Azam Ahmad. Ruling in Mexico Sets Into Motion Legal Marijuana (New York Times, 4 November 1015)
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. World Drug Report 2014
Usborne, David. Heroin and cocaine now legal in Mexico — in small doses (The Independent, 14 August 2009)