MexicoMexico is set to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 2021. Although this is significant, there are concerns that large corporations will have an unfair advantage. In a trade that employs many small farm and business owners, fairness is imperative. Stimulating medical cannabis tourism in Mexico could benefit farmers and the government alike. Locals can contribute to the travel industry and the government can provide better opportunities at all levels.

History of Marijuana Legalization in Mexico

Activists have long pushed for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana. Many have argued that anti-discrimination laws grant marijuana use as a human dignity. Volunteers took interesting measures to protest during the COVID-19 pandemic by planting a garden of cannabis plants outside the Mexican Senate. Although recreational legalization was expected to pass as early as December, the government delayed the vote and instead established a set of regulations for medicinal use on January 12, 2021.

The most significant opposition stems from concerns over national security. Citizens are fearful that poorly implemented parameters could further aggravate the issue of organized crime activity. The new legislation, which regulates cultivation and sale, holds a number of legal complexities that farmers and sellers must adhere to. These requirements are likely to give large firms from Canada and the U.S. the upper hand. State protection has never been too generous for Mexicans in the trade. Prior to U.S. legalization, Mexico’s war on drugs and trafficking focused heavily on marijuana growers.

How Cannabis Tourism Could Address this Crisis

Medical cannabis tourism in Mexico offers an innovative solution to combat these economic insecurities. Cannabis tourism offers itself as a beneficial way for Mexicans to develop their businesses and to further boost tourism revenue. A variety of experiences have garnered interest from potential travelers, offering new spaces like “420-friendly hotels” and dispensary tours. Other nations have also utilized this industry to boost their economies. Thailand, after legalizing medical marijuana, improved itself as a tourist destination. The country encouraged its citizens to provide tours that would offer unique experiences and de-stigmatize the use of the drug. Thailand recognized the economic significance and legislators adapted to facilitate the growth of these new developments. Currently, cannabis tourism in Thailand is projected to develop millions of dollars in tourism revenue.

The new legislation in Mexico allows for tourists and citizens to freely carry medical cannabis products around the state. Though these leniencies are inspired by the precedent set by Thailand and are meant to open the market for cannabis tourism, locals must be pointed in the right direction with the information that will allow them to capitalize on the market to come. Mexico, the sixth most visited country in the world, has huge potential in medical cannabis tourism. Despite the lack of public protection for those who have been in the trade, this is also a significant opportunity to rebuild trust and, subsequently, national security through economic health. Medical cannabis tourism in Mexico offers a promising future, especially if Mexico adequately protects and facilitates small businesses. Additionally, medical cannabis tourism will be a vital source of economic stimulus in the coming years, with a likely surge in post-pandemic traveling.

Cannabis Advocacy in Mexico

Multiple organizations have repositioned their approach to supporting cannabis justice in Mexico as the new laws reinforce a divide between governance and working people. One NGO in particular, Instituto RIA, aims to empower potential vendors in the trade by providing classes on business practices and entrepreneurial literacy. In an interview with the Borgen Project, Instituto RIA co-founder Zara Snapp explained that “cannabis tourism will be immense in Mexico, if [one thinks] about the mezcal tourism, tequila tourism, vineyards.” She asserts that these changes are a “positive for the country and [a] means [for] creating greater economic opportunities across sectors and not about building the massive take-all corporate culture that [has been] seen in other industries.” Instituto RIA’s approach shows that by adapting to these new laws, NGO efforts can strategically position themselves to support an incoming robust trade of medical cannabis tourism in Mexico.

Along with grassroots empowerment work, Instituto RIA works to dismantle an unfortunate connection between national security and cannabis justice. Mexico has a complicated history with non-state actors and human rights violations, especially ones that concern cannabis cultivation and use.

As Snapp puts it, however, the state is an “actor [that activists] can seek to change as citizens of [the] country, whereas non-state actors like organized criminal groups [activists] have zero influence over; [they] cannot [be forced] for transparency, but [conditions can be created] so that some of them will choose to transition to a legal space and legal market. What [activists] hope to do is change the way that the state shows up in communities and with individuals that will rebuild trust, that will begin to build trust.”

Cannabis tourism in Mexico could be a profound solution in reviving socioeconomic and political safeties. Though the new laws are revolutionary in the overall movement for medical cannabis tourism, humanitarian organizations and NGOs are increasing their efforts to ensure the working-class’ struggles are heard.

– Danielle Han
Photo: Unsplash

Growing Cannabis Industry In recent years, the United States and countries around the globe have legalized medical marijuana. Several states in the U.S. have gone further and decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis. Growers and distributors of cannabis in the U.S. and Canada have been capitalizing on the growing cannabis industry. Doors have also been opening for companies based in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries like Jamaica, Colombia and Uruguay.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s population uses marijuana for medicinal remedies. People know Latin American and Caribbean countries for their expansive farms and high levels of agricultural exports. Cannabis companies can leverage these existing production and distribution channels to their benefit. Ideal climate conditions coupled with increasing investment flows have positioned South America and the Caribbean for explosive growth. Some estimate the industry to grow to $55.8 billion by 2025.

Jamaican Agribusiness Shifts Priorities

In 2015, Jamaica became one of the first countries to decriminalize marijuana. Jamaicans can possess up to two ounces of marijuana. A license to grow marijuana costs $300 and allows citizens to cultivate five cannabis plants. The government is taking proactive steps to capitalize on the growing number of countries legalizing the use of marijuana by supporting local companies and universities in their research and production.

In September 2019, Jamaica’s Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced it would be partnering with Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (HIPI). Through this partnership, HIPI will conduct research on the pharmacological benefits of cannabis. Jamaica aims to capitalize on this partnership and use it as an opportunity to grow and develop its national marijuana industry.

The Alternative Development Programme (ADP), a new government program in Jamaica, has the purpose of helping farmers benefit from the growing cannabis industry. The purpose of the program is to assist farmers in their transition from small-scale farming to large-scale farming to supply large international companies.

Uruguay’s Trailblazing Stance on Marijuana

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Combating gang violence was one of the Uruguayan government’s top motivators behind legalization. Despite it being well-known as one of Latin America’s safest countries, Uruguay’s crime rate has been steadily on the rise. By targeting drug cartels’ highest source of revenue, the government hopes to curb the growing violence stemming from the illicit drug trade.

Fotmer Life Sciences is a cannabis cultivator based in Uruguay. In September 2019, Fotmer became the first company to legally export medical cannabis from Latin America. Its first export partner was Australia, and Fotmer also trades with Germany and Canada. Diego Oliviera, the head Uruguay’s national drug agency, hopes to expand Uruguay’s place in the marijuana industry by expanding exports from solely marijuana plants to finished products, like oils. Although Uruguay is home to three other marijuana-based companies, Fotmer is the only company with a license to process and export the marijuana flower and products for direct consumption.

Marijuana as Colombia’s New Most Popular Export

Colombia, known for its petroleum and coal supply, can attribute 57 percent of its total export value to just that. Coffee and spices make up an additional 6 percent of exports due to Colombia’s ideal climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. It is looking to attract cannabis cultivators using the same ideal conditions as a selling point and viable alternative to growing in countries like Canada and the United States, where people have to spend significant amounts of money on greenhouses for colder seasons.

Desired Effect of Legalization on Crime

In Colombia, the laws regarding marijuana are not as progressive as those in Uruguay. People can possess small amounts of marijuana and medicinal use is legal, but recreational use remains a criminal act. Similar to Uruguay, the Colombian government hopes that legalizing cannabis use will decrease gang and drug-related violence.

Drug- and gang-related violence is second to cancer as a leading cause of death in Colombia. It is too soon to tell whether legalization has had an impact on crime, but the strategy is to crimp revenue streams of gangs by making the illicit marijuana market. Now that it is legal for marijuana to grow for medicinal purposes, cannabis industry workers hope to attract investors. The Colombian Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) has 29 member companies who have invested over $600 million in the construction of medical marijuana facilities.

It is becoming increasingly popular for Latin American and Caribbean countries to capitalize on the opportunities that arise from the growing cannabis industry. As more and more companies look to locate their farms to the Caribbean and South America, LAC countries are seeking to benefit by coupling foreign investment with academic and industrial research in the hopes of reaping socio-economic dividends for everyone.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr