For the younger generation and those responsible for the growing number of hipster businesses propelling Tijuana into the future, legal cannabis presents exciting cultural and monetary opportunities into the city.
“Legal weed here is going to happen, but probably not for another year,” said Pedro Gastelum, the 20-something co-founder of Tijuana High Club, the city’s first head shop aimed at savvy cannabis users. Gastelum is young, articulate, and possesses an entrepreneurial spirit that falls somewhere between the hip Los Angeles streetwear aesthetic and Tijuana’s street smarts. “It’s going to start in Mexico City, and then it’s coming to all of Baja California, not just Tijuana,” he said. We’re just trying to stay one step ahead.”
Baby Steps to Legal Weed
The Mexican government has been inching toward legalizing recreational cannabis since the Supreme Court made its first ruling on the matter in 2015 when it allowed a group of people to grow cannabis for personal use. Marijuana legalization took another step forward in October 2018, when the Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a ban on recreational marijuana was unconstitutional.
Marijuana eradication by the Mexican government is also at an all time low. According to a 2018 study,only 1,160 hectares (2,866 acres) were seized by June 2018, and 4,220 hectares (10,428 acres) in 2017, compared with more than 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres) in 2016. The study goes on to point out that seizures in Mexico have all but collapsed, and seizures on the U.S. border have declined by two-thirds.
Reuters reported in October 2018, before President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office, that officials in the incoming government of President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador “indicated they could take steps to legalize marijuana quickly as part of a broader strategy to fight poverty and crime.” In March 2019, Mexican lawmakers met to begin the process of decriminalizing marijuana use.
“In the last 10 years in Mexico, there’s a record of more than 240,000 dead and more than 40,000 missing,” said Gilberto Herrera Solorzano, a Federal Delegate of the Méxican Government in Tijuana. “The narco war and prohibitionist politics have proven to be a complete failure. Consumption did not decrease, but crime and violence increased.”
With the arrival of López Obrador comes a novel approach to drug policy: if it’s natural, legalize it.
“From the Senate of the Republic the now Secretary of the Interior, Ms. Olga Sánchez Cordero presented the initiative to regularize marijuana for recreational, medical and commercial purposes,” Solorzano said. “Now, what follows is to follow up on the parliamentary agenda to put it into discussion and the congress make a quick decision.”
While it’s only a matter of time until weed becomes legal, many of Tijuana’s residents are already smoking it. Medical marijuana use has been legal in Mexico since 2017, a legal breakthrough which was preceded by a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Graciela Elizalde, Mexico’s first legal cannabis patient. Permits for using cannabis medicinally are difficult to obtain, and are overall quite uncommon.
“Almost all our customers buy their weed in San Diego,” said Gastelum, showing me around the Tijuana High Club (THC for short, get it?) showroom. “I’ve lived in a lot of cities in Mexico, and it’s Tijuana where I always find the sickest weed. In two hours you can get Jungle Boyz, Cookies, any of the big brands straight from the dispensary. People just bring it over the border. I’m always smoking American weed.”
A recent article quoted a consultant at Southwest Patient Group, the closest dispensary to the San Diego-Tijuana border, who claimed that the 200 or so customers per day Southwest Patient Group sees, roughly 15 to 20 of them are from Mexico.
In terms of where Mexico’s citizens fall on the issue, there’s little data available aside from a March 2019 Twitter poll by the nation’s secretary of Security and Citizen Protection, who is responsible for overseeing the federal police, all intelligence agencies, and Mexico’s prison system.
While the poll is imperfect, as citizens with active Twitter accounts would most likely comprise the younger, more progressive leaning section of the Mexico population, the results were overwhelmingly in favor of legalization; 81% of respondents said cannabis should be legal, with only 19% believing that it should remain illegal.
Federal Delegate Solorzano explained, “I think that in these times, and specifically the circumstances Tijuana finds itself in, there is more openness to the discussion of these issues. The criminalization of consumers has been gradually demystified, and while there are still very conservative sectors in Mexican society, education is key. With good educational policies and the correct communication strategies we can combat misinformation by showing the benefits of legalization.”