The Sinaloa Cartel is losing its marijuana business, and El Chapo’s sons are going after the ‘premium weed’ market to make up for it

  • Over the past decade, a growing number of US states have legalized marijuana.
  • The domestic production and sales that enables has eroded Mexican cartels’ share of the US market.
  • Mexico is also headed toward legalizing marijuana, and the Sinaloa Cartel sees an opportunity in it.

Culiacán, SINALOA — The Sinaloa Cartel wants to take back a business that had long belonged to it but has been lost to producers in US over the past decade.

As more and more US states legalize marijuana for recreational use, Mexico’s biggest drug cartel is trying to corner the legal weed market in Mexico, even if the drug itself is not yet legal in Mexico.

In late 2015 when several US states began legalizing weed for medical and recreational use, the Sinaloa Cartel — known for building a criminal empire on smuggling weed into the US — began to feel the financial impact.

In 2012, prior to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state, the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness calculated that the cartel stood to lose nearly $2.8 billion if the drug was legalized in those states.

In the years since, “Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana” in US markets, according to the DEA’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment.

Mexican soldiers incinerate marijuana plantation
Mexican soldiers incinerate a marijuana plantation in Baja California in March 2018.GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images

In 2013, US authorities seized roughly 1.3 million kilograms of weed at the border with Mexico, according to the DEA report. By 2019, however, pot seizures at the border had fallen to nearly 249,000 kilograms.

Although the criminal organization formerly led by infamous drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has made up for the lost revenue by entering other illegal and pseudo-legal businesses — like illegal logging, extortion, and monopolizing water in several regions of Mexico — they still want the weed business back.

“This is a business that belongs here, to Sinaloa,” a Sinaloa Cartel operative who works as a regional manager for marijuana operations in Culiacán told Insider. “We lost a share of the business, but in no time we will take it back by producing the best weed in the world.”

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