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Indoor Cannabis Crop Producers Offer Alternative To Narco Monopoly

Independent cannabis producers in Mexico face harassment from organized crime and hope new, stronger laws will protect them. 

MEXICO CITY — Independent cannabis producers are looking to the Mexican government for help.

The LXV Legislature — the current session of Mexico’s Congress — is debating the legalization of cannabis consumption, sale and production.

Independent consumers and producers are operating under their own rules. They have a silent agreement to trade and buy from each other without knocking on narco (drug dealers) store doors. Independent producers grow cannabis crops inside their houses with UV lights, hidden from the authorities.

“So far, independent cannabis producers and traders have no place in the alleged legalization, since [what they grow] is only meant for recreational purposes and not for sale,” said Orlando Pacheco, an activist for cannabis users’ rights for six years. “I am not sure if any authority has approached them so far.”

Pacheco was a member of the first public cannabis club in Mexico, the Xochipilli Cannabis Club. Pacheco has a diploma in endocannabinoid medicine and has been an active collaborator in “Plantón 420,” a group of activists who support the use of cannabis in Mexico City.

Independent producers’ risks

Besides dealing with possible legislation that might affect them, independent producers also risk skimming land once occupied by organized crime.

“You might think that [independent producers] are treading exclusive territory of organized crime. But with or without independent producers, it will continue to operate. However, I do know that organized crime has wanted to force some independent producers to sell their product,” he said.

The debate on cannabis consumption, sale and production is among the main socio-political issues on Mexico’s legislative agenda. (Andrés Vargas Reynoso/Zenger)

Considering the risks to which clandestine cannabis producers are exposed, Rep. Fernando Belaunzarán promoted the decriminalization of marijuana during the LXII Legislature in 2016.

“We still do not have a production regulation for the market. One of the issues the [new] legislation should address is incorporating all those who currently plant [cannabis] into the legal industry. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be a priority in the projects that were about to be approved,” Belaunzarán said.

But if legislators do not address their concerns, independent producers will continue to face serious risks, such as going to jail or becoming victims of cartel disputes.

Activist Zara Snapp, a political scientist from the University of Colorado in Denver, and co-founder of the RIA Institute in Mexico, says organized crime harassment of independent cannabis producers is not common.

However, she agrees that legislators must address the needs of independent producers. She calls for “an end to the stigma that people who plant or are somehow linked to the market face.”

“The market in Mexico is so diverse that it changes substantially in different areas. But it is a vibrant and flexible market, with many players and diversity of price and quality. We seek legislation that protects the legal market, so that people participate fully, without fear, profit from their work, pay taxes, and have established businesses,” said Snapp. “We are seeking [to develop] a sense of social justice.”

The situation remains fluid and occasionally murky.

Although he does not know of a specific case, Pacheco says some factions of organized crime “have approached independent producers seeking to learn from their knowledge. Yes, some independent producers have ties to criminal organizations.”

Planting cannabis

The appointment is north of Mexico City, almost on the outskirts, at noon, when we arrive with our contact, dubbed “Mario,” to protect his identity. The Data Protection Law and Article 6 of the Mexican Constitution protect victims of trafficking or organized crime, as well as people at risk.

We were walking through the streets of a neighborhood heading to a clandestine cannabis plantation when Mario said: “Let’s get off the sidewalk. There is a narco store by the end of the street, and if the police see you passing by, they will stop you, thinking you just bought pot.”

After a 15-minute walk, we arrive at the gate of a house, and Mario said to turn off the GPS on our phones. From the outside, it seems like an ordinary house. We climbed two levels on an outside staircase to get to the rooftop. We found ourselves in a very different world: a completely green landscape, with marijuana bushes over 5 feet tall growing from wooden drawers and individual pots.

Independent cannabis producers can grow their crops almost anywhere. (Andrés Vargas Reynoso/Zenger)

Mario moves the leaves around and discovers some male plants, which he plucks up by the roots so that they do not pollinate the females. The latter gives the buds that consumers buy once they are dried.

The plantation is only for self-consumption, not for sale, he said.

Mario occasionally extracts cannabis oil, a popular medicinal remedy. And he is trying to grow hydroponic cannabis, taking advantage of aquarium fish feces.

After a few minutes, we headed back to the meeting point.

Mario says it is essential to share information about independent producers’ practices “so people realize those who consume or plant [cannabis] on their own are not criminals.”

Regulation and social justice

When asked if indoor crops and independent production could affect organized crime, Belaunzarán said: “It all depends on how legislation is carried out. If it is well done, many people will migrate from the illegal market to a legal one. Otherwise, the black market will continue to predominate, with all the risks and inconveniences that it entails.”

Snapp says it is more complex than the two poles: organized crime and independent producers.

“It is important to acknowledge that we are moving toward something. It depends on the legislative branch whether there is legality or if [the cannabis industry] remains in hiding,” She said. “There is an opportunity to move to a legal market with a social perspective.”

Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos; edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel