The way that international media outlets have portrayed the development of Mexican drug reform is nothing short of an insult to the tragic lived experience of everyday Mexican people.
It is difficult for those foreign to life in Mexico to really wrap their minds around what it is like to live in a place where the government’s public stance on law is devoid of any real-world clout.
Today, the political posturing of Mexican officials has once again provided the foreign press with a convenient headline painting a picture of progress in the wake of corruption, blood and disaster.
Before we delve into why and how the outside world’s perspective of the reality on the ground in Mexico is being twisted by power interests, let’s take a step back so that we can figure out where this onslaught of misinformation began.
The recent history of Mexican drug reform
Let’s go back to 2009. This is the year when Mexico proudly announced that they had ‘decriminalized’ small personal quantities of marijuana. It was a great photo op for our president and all of the lawmakers who made this ‘historic’ moment come to fruition. But that was pretty much the end of it.
After the headlines waned, things went right back to normal. The police continue to incarcerate and extort cannabis users, as they always have, to this day. Overshadowed by more sensational narco-related stories and now sunny-skied headlines celebrating the economic prospects of this grand new industry, this story has fallen through the cracks.
In a place where most cases never get to see a judge or even an arrest warrant, you can be held in jail indefinitely unless you have the money to either pay someone off or defend yourself legally. The latter will seldom happen for fear of repercussions from police, perpetuating the cycle of corruption.
It is painful to watch foreign reporters try to shed a positive light on Mexican drug reform while completely ignoring what has been going on since that last set of cannabis laws were approved.
News reporting should be about discussing the facts. Any valid analysis of the proposed legal framework must be grounded in the understanding of Mexico’s track record for enforcing said laws in the past. We must honour the dead and those still suffering today by telling it like it is instead of focusing on the overhyped economic prospects of a Mexican industry focused on CBD production.
It should not surprise us to hear that Mexican cannabis users, farmers and vendors have in fact been observably sidelined and ignored by government officials in stakeholder meetings that do not include them, while their rights are being trampled.
The laws that have been put forth fall far short of reflecting the input of grassroots cannabis associations that have sprung up out of necessity. The widely perceived injustice of the proposed laws has caused a massive upswing in the creation of social justice-focused organizations, who believe that Mexico must “put rights before industry,” as stated by one of their most popular slogans.
Perhaps it’s because these groups and individuals speak and write almost exclusively in Spanish, and can be easily ignored as ‘nobodies.’ In a country where money talks, their voices have been easy for mainstream media to ignore.
Real reform, or empty political posturing?
When we look at the points that constitute the current set of proposed laws that are being kicked back and forth between legislative branches, the empty political posturing is plain to see for all those who have lived through years of blatant institutionalized lies and deception.
For example, a government that historically largely ignored and oppressed native groups, cannot then turn around and tell its people that it will build this new great industry to favour native groups and impoverished farmers. The proposed laws are not believable, nor economically or politically viable in a country like Mexico and any policy analyst with experience in this country would know that.
One has to wonder why this aspect of the proposed changes would be given such prominence in the public eye, while nobody mentions the elephant in the room: the obvious issue of laws that focus on protecting the CBD consumer and its commercial production in a historically THC-producing and consuming nation.
Think about that. The cultivars that are traditional to Mexico are THC-producing cultivars. When the Spaniards first arrived in Mexico, they tried to grow European hemp and they failed because the plant was not well suited to grow in these areas. This is why New Spain produced its hemp, a crucial material for their navy, in areas like Northern California or Chile.
“If the government was interested in protecting native people and impoverished farmers… they could have written inclusive legislation that invites small farmers to partake. This is not what happened.”Adolfo Gonzalez
The type of cannabis that did well in Mexico was drug-type THC-producing cannabis, not CBD-producing hemp. Yes, these types of genetics can be easily produced nowadays, but will poor farmers and natives possess the types of genetics that can do this? Who will have access to and control these types of new genetics, specifically designed to suit the new legislation?
News flash: Mexicans grow and smoke THC-producing plants. This is what grows naturally on their land and this is what they have been producing for hundreds of years.
If the government was interested in protecting native people and impoverished farmers, they could have first focused on creating a system to protect them and the traditional cultivars that they already own. They could have written inclusive legislation that invites small farmers to partake. This is not what happened.
If you read closely, the proposed laws indicate clearly that only government sanctioned CBD dominant products (with under one percent THC) would be allowed to be produced and consumed legally by people outside their homes. All industrialized products must be CBD products. If you choose to grow THC, you must grow it and consume it in your home. This is highly concerning for several reasons.
How many Mexicans do you think would trust the police and the government enough to grow THC plants at home—even if it is just a few—without fear of being extorted given their record of enforcement? Would you feel safe?
What type of legalization is it when Mexicans are not allowed to commercially grow and freely access and consume the medicine which is traditional to their culture?
In the eyes of this author, the Mexican government has thus far written these laws in the trademark Mexican style: they give the appearance of being forthright, while providing ample back doors that allow for enforcement at the whims of the most powerful. Let’s just hope future iterations of these laws can at least make sense on paper.
Even if we look away from the terrible track record of enforcement for Mexican drug reform, the business-focused analysis being purported by the media fails to accurately describe the economic reality that will be produced by such laws.
A race to the bottom
Not one reporter, Mexican or foreign, seems to have noticed that this new ‘promising national industry’ is based on a commodity that has hit rock bottom in terms of valuation, and what this means in terms of the development of this new Mexican economic sector.
To contextualize, 2019 saw the average price of a kilogram of pure CBD isolate go from $6,000 at the beginning of the year to under $2,000 by 2020. At these prices only large scale operations can afford to stay afloat. How would ‘natives and impoverished farmers’ be favoured by such an industry?
Outdoor CBD production is a race to the bottom, fit only for the biggest players and the policy advisors that helped stir Mexico in this direction know this. Furthermore, what these power interests have done is essentially defang the flying serpent that could have devoured all foreign challengers.
And who are these power interests? I, like many others, would argue that cartels don’t actually seek to have much influence on this front, as cannabis is no longer the bread and butter of their industry. In this case, the problem is more likely wealthy nationals tied into big pharmaceutical and in big agriculture companies that have used their influence to ensure that this game is rigged for those who already hold the cards, but in the midst of incompetence and corruption it’s always hard to tell exactly what’s happened.
The bottom line is that without any hopes of entering the THC market any time soon, Mexico will never truly disrupt the global cannabis marketplace the way that we all know it could.
Whether it was foreign interests, the cartels, or big agriculture (or perhaps all three) that were served in the making of these Mexican ‘drug reform’ laws, one thing remains clear in the eyes of the common citizen: these laws have thus far not been written to include or protect them.
Co-founder of CannaReps & ITJ Editorial Board Member
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