I’d bet few people, including our politicians, thought about the impact of loosening marijuana regulations and laws in the U.S. would have on these people. But you know when those in D.C. hear about their struggles, we’ll be sending more money south of the border.
He started growing marijuana as a teenager and for four decades earned a modest living from his tiny plot tucked at the base of these rugged mountains of western Mexico. He proudly shows off his illegal plants, waist-high and fragrant, strategically hidden from view by rows of corn and nearly ready to be harvested.
“I’ve always liked this business, producing marijuana,” the 50-year-old farmer said wistfully. He had decided that this season’s crop would be his last.
The reason: free-market economics.
The loosening of marijuana laws across much of the United States has increased competition from growers north of the border, apparently enough to drive down prices paid to Mexican farmers. Small-scale growers here in the state of Sinaloa, one of the country’s biggest production areas, said that over the last four years the amount they receive per kilogram has fallen from $100 to $30.
The price decline appears to have led to reduced marijuana production in Mexico and a drop in trafficking to the U.S., according to officials on both sides of the border and available data. “People don’t want to abandon their illicit crops, but more and more they are realizing that it is no longer good business,” said Juan Guerra, the state’s agriculture secretary.
For decades, the U.S. and Mexican governments looked for ways to reduce marijuana cultivation. They paid farmers to grow legal crops or periodically sent Mexican soldiers to seek out and eradicate drug fields. But those efforts failed, because marijuana was still more profitable than the alternatives.
As recently as 2008, Mexico was providing as much as two-thirds of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. each year, said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the Rand Corp. think tank. U.S. growers, however, have been spurred on by the increasing number of states that have lifted restrictions on the drug.