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Reverse Trafficking? US Weed Is Flowing into Mexico

US weed into Mexico
Written by Sarah Friedman

In a strange twist of fate, the country that is known as the biggest supplier of drugs to America, also seems to be receiving its fair share, from America. With legalized cannabis already a set up industry in many states, and with the US producing generally higher grade than its compatriots below the border, legal US weed has started flowing into Mexico. Even as its own market waits for regulations to be set in order to begin, Mexico is already embracing what such a market can produce.

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Mexican drug trafficking

Let’s be honest, the majority of drug trafficking between Mexico and the US has gone in one direction, north. From cannabis, to cocaine, to meth, to fentanyl. In fact, during the strictest parts of prohibition, when cannabis was 100% illegal in most places, Mexico was key in making sure that prospective smokers could find a product.

These days, Mexican cartels are known for buying raw materials from China for the manufacture of methamphetamine and fentanyl, among others, which are processed in Mexico, before being shipped up to America. And Mexico has been a main passing point for getting cocaine into the States for quite some time.

Though shows like Narcos glamorize the whole thing, its hard to get a grasp on just how much money is made by drug cartels, or just how many people have died. Had the US not felt the need to wage such ridiculous wars, a lot more on both sides would still be alive today. The exact death toll numbers don’t exist, however when looking at Colombia, and a claim in Narcos that each kilo of cocaine cost approximately six lives, it was reported as incorrect by former DEA head of intelligence in Colombia, Elizabeth Zili, who stated:

“I really couldn’t give you a number, but it was extremely high. We never totally trusted the statistics we were getting from the [Colombian] government. One never does, no matter where you are.” This isn’t different when dealing with Mexico. In terms of the money that comes in from drug smuggling, this will vary, however its thought that cartels make somewhere between $19-29 billion each year just from US drug sales.

Mexico and drugs

US weed flowing into Mexico

Having said all that, it becomes an interesting turn of events now that the drugs are flowing in the opposite direction. The standard cannabis of Mexico is of a generally lesser quality, and as of right now there is no organized market apart from the black one. There are, of course, options for better quality weed, but its not easy to find, and not smoked by the standard Mexican, who won’t buy at that price point. Since most won’t smoke higher quality because of the price, there just hasn’t been as big a market for it.

California has the single largest cannabis market in the world, and as a result, the legal weed being sold in California, has been making its way across the border into Mexico. While this might not be geared toward the average Mexican resident, it does provide for a boutique market, enjoyed by the upper echelon of Mexican society, as well as the travelers and expats within the country who are used to a higher level of product quality. In fact, it’s become standard for dealers, and the upper- level menus, to flaunt their ‘importado’ merchandise.

If you’re wondering how US weed is flowing into Mexico so easily, consider that most eyes simply aren’t watching that direction. So, if an American packs a suitcase full of flowers or gummies and walks or drives across the border to Tijuana, there isn’t as much chance of being caught. Since Mexico doesn’t have a market to produce products like gummies, or vapes, such items can sell well in the country with the right crowd, and in fact, the products can double or even triple in value below the border. Not too long ago, a car was stopped, which had 5,600 jars of THC-infused gummies going from the US to Mexico, but this is nearly an isolated incident.

Some of this comes down to our culture of showing off and needing more. It’s seen as a status symbol to afford American products, and to have the better-quality product. Considering Mexico is the kind of country where a lot of drugs are cut, I imagine it’s also a way of letting clients know that the product is real (or supposed to be), and for buyers to know that they’re getting what they expect to get.

According to Josh Bubeck, owner of Urban Leaf, a dispensary in San Ysidro, California, which is right next to the Mexican border, when Mexicans buy American products, “You’re showing ‘This is what I’m about. I’m a bad ass. I got this from America.'” He says about 55% of his customer base are Mexicans who cross the border, since the cannabis is generally better on the northern side. To give an idea just how much the California industry earns, it took in $4.4 billion in 2020, and that number is substantially lower than what had been hoped for and expected.

In a way, by legal cannabis being bought and brought down, it actually bolsters the US legal weed market. I do expect, however, that just as California still has a massive black market that the state can’t seem to divert to its legal one, that a lot of what’s crossing the border is likely illicit, since it would cost less. What does this also mean, though? Logically, we know the cartels aren’t going to give up the business to American producers, so if weed is being trafficked south across the border, it means that cartels are a part of it.

cartel drug trafficking

Mexico and cannabis

Mexico is a weird country when it come to cannabis, because it sits in a strange, and ongoing, legal limbo. At the end of 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court made a 5th consecutive ruling about the ability of adults to recreationally use cannabis. This 5th ruling triggered jurisprudencia, which is when a law is changed due to having five consecutive Supreme Court rulings on the matter. In this case, it was that the prohibition of cannabis is unconstitutional.

This ruling made it impossible for lower courts to go against the Supreme Court, which also means it made it impossible to convict anyone of a lesser cannabis crime (as the Supreme Court ruling in no way made trafficking, or illegal buying/selling okay). As a part of the ruling, the Supreme Court handed down the directive to Congress to get new legislation written so that the laws on the books were not in contrast to the Supreme Court ruling.

The Court gave the government an entire year to do this. But it didn’t. We could have a whole debate as to why, but more, and more, it’s seems like a direct refusal. And in a country practically run by cartels, where politicians are often targeted for making political decisions that go against them, it’s not hard to imagine that the government might literally be afraid to make any formal decisions.

Why do I say this? At the initial due date at the end of 2019, Congress asked for an extension for the legislation. The Supreme Court obliged, and gave the government until April 2020. When April came around, again, an extension was requested, this time with the blame on corona, and a new date in December was given. As the new due date in December 2020 loomed, yet another extension was asked for, and once again, the Supreme Court granted it. That brought us to April 2021, when the government not only didn’t provide the promised legislation, but it also didn’t ask for an extension from the Court.

By the government not fulfilling its duty, and by not requesting an extension, it put the onus back on the Supreme Court to do something. After all, how much power does a Supreme Court really have, if it can’t enforce its own rulings? And what would it mean for the principle of jurisprudencia, if the Court can’t get the other branches of government to follow through?

So, in order to move things along, the Supreme Court officially dropped prohibition laws on June 28th, 2021, making private use and cultivation of cannabis legal for adults (which went into effect July 15th 2021). In an example of why courts don’t usually set laws, the Supreme Court set some wonky requirements, like needing a license for personal cultivation, which likely won’t hold up when laws are finally written.

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To be clear, the Court didn’t go further than legalizing those two things. It didn’t set up requirements or regulations for a regulated market, nor did it work out all the kinks associated with what exactly is legal, what isn’t, and how it’ll all be overseen. It simply made Mexico the 4th legalized country, by dropping the prohibition laws. This in an effort to spur along the government to actually do its job, no doubt. As of this writing, at the end of August, 2021, no improvement has been made, nor date given of when something can be expected. Personally, I think lawmakers are waiting to see cartel moves, before making their own.


How will the US deal with legal US weed now flowing into Mexico via traffickers? Hopefully not with a new investment in a drug war, as that only caused more death, while depleting financial resources that could have helped feed and clothe the needy, sent tons of kids to college, and taken care of the medical issues of a large percentage of Americans.

All it really shows is that cartels still rule this roost, they’re not looking to give it up, and they’ll always be a step ahead. I expect that until Mexico gets its own industry running, this will be the new norm. And for those living in Mexico who want a better quality product, maybe this is a good thing.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.