Growers fret as Mexico moves to legalize marijuana

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A farmer works in a marijuana field in the mountains surrounding Badiraguato, Sinaloa state, Mexico, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. In Mexico, the marijuana legalization effort is generating uncertainty among families that have cultivated the crop for generations, with many fearing that prices they are paid will continue to drop and what capos will do when faced with a new legal business. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

BADIRAGUATO – For the first time that María can remember, half of her marijuana harvest is still in storage on her ranch in Mexico’s Sinaloa state months after it should have been sold.

Sitting in her wooden house tucked into the same mountains that produced some of the world’s most notorious drug traffickers, including Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the 44-year-old mother of four thinks she knows why: expectations Mexico will soon legalize marijuana.

“It has never happened to us where we harvest and have it (stored) in sacks,” said María, who asked that her full name not be used and her exact location not be revealed because in the mountains surrounding Badiraguato, where organized crime controls everything, misspeaking can be dangerous.

Mexican legislation awaiting final Senate approval, which now may not come before September, would legalize pot production and sale for recreational use while creating a private market regulated by the government. Medicinal use is already legal.

The effort has generated uncertainty among families who have cultivated the crop for generations and throughout the trade. Growers expect the price of marijuana to drop further and think their trade will become economically unfeasible. They say in the past five years, the price they get has been halved. Everyone is waiting to see how the drug capos will respond to a new legal business. Meanwhile, half of María's crop sits unsold.

Marijuana has become less lucrative each day compared to the cartels’ revenue from synthetic drugs like fentanyl. Demand and the price for pot fell when several states in the U.S. legalized it, though Mexico is still the top foreign supplier to U.S. consumers, according to a recent report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Here in Sinaloa’s mountains, some farmers have stopped growing marijuana. Others are focusing on higher-quality strains that fetch a higher price or they continue to grow it, but along with opium poppies, hoping at least one of them will keep them afloat.

María has been working between the tall leafy plants since she was 16 and says she even fell in love among them. At her house, surrounded by fruit trees and chickens, the family doesn’t lack food, but the income from marijuana pays for everything else over the course of the year, from clothing to cellphones to her children’s schooling. Her eldest just got his degree in computer science.