California has the most sought-after weed in the world. In fact, the most in-demand weed trafficked across the Mexican border is now the cannabis entering Mexico and not the stuff leaving it.
While cannabis is perfectly legal for 21+ recreational users in California, it’s still illegal in Mexico and is now dominating a boutique market where U.S. cannabis products are reserved for VIPs.
Cannabis is being purchased from legal 21+ California dispensaries, packed into suitcases, and either flown on planes to Mexico or walked across the pedestrian border into Tijuana. A few weeks ago, a car carrying about 5,600 jars of THC-infused gummies was caught, though this number doesn’t cover the sheer volume of US-grown cannabis products making their way into Mexico. Ultimately, very few southbound smugglers are caught, even though the contraband doubles or triples in value the second it crosses into Mexico.
“The demand here for American weed has exploded,” said one dealer in Mexico City, estimating that a whopping 60 percent of the marijuana he sells now comes from California. “It’s aspirational for many of my clients. They want to be seen smoking the best stuff, the stuff rappers brag about smoking.”
A dispensary owner a few hundred yards from the border into Mexico at Tijuana estimates that 55 percent of his customers are Mexican nationals. Josh Bubeck, the owner of Urbn Leaf, urges his employees to warn these customers that bringing marijuana back to Mexico is a violation of Mexican law.
“Nobody is going to grow cannabis better than California probably ever,” Bubeck said. The appeal is clear for younger smokers in Mexico. “You’re showing ‘This is what I’m about. I’m a badass. I got this from America.’”
In Mexico, legalization advocates have argued for years that legalizing cannabis could become a lucrative and profitable industry, considering the success of legalization in other countries as well as how well the cartels have done producing it illegally.
However, legalization has been moving faster in other parts of the world, giving places like California a considerable advantage. Some outdoor cannabis farms have even hired Mexican migrant workers to tend the fields, contributing to the states’ $4.4 billion in sales in 2020.
Over the last few months, Mexican customs agents have sporadically dropped information on American cannabis products seized at the border. Only three pounds of cannabis products were taken in one seizure, including ten vape cartridges and 14 vaporizers. However, they confiscated 619 cartridges of cannabis oil, worth approximately $30,000 in Mexico in another seizure.
Customs chief, Horacio Duarte Olivares, said that they’d seen an increase in these larger seizures, adding that these smugglers “are going to run into a wall, with a firm hand from customs.”
As legal cannabis becomes more accessible in the United States, Mexico’s production has dramatically decreased. Last week, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, stated that the decline would likely affect employment for the worse.
He asked at a news conference during a visit to Sinaloa, “What is going to happen to the regions where marijuana and poppies were planted? What are people going to live on?”
At the same time, California cannabis is an insanely valuable commodity in the U.S. Consumers in Mexico are familiar with U.S.-based brands, like Cookies, in the same way, they’re familiar with hard-to-find Nike shoes and Supreme hoodies. Any product made for U.S. consumers can be found in Mexico at a premium, including marijuana.
Ounces of high-end cannabis strains in Cali that’ll run you $250 for an ounce cost $500 or more in Mexico.
“All these years, we’ve had marijuana come from Mexico to the U.S., and now it’s the opposite,” said Raul Elizalde Garza, CEO of Monterrey, Mexico-based HempMeds. HempMeds is one of a handful of CBD companies in Mexico, but because of Mexican law, they can’t use Mexican hemp to manufacture their products.
“Companies like us that want to produce legally, who want to invest — we have to wait for complete regulation,” he said. “Marijuana from California has a huge advantage on us.”