MEXICO CITY (CN) — Pyramids of THC-infused popcorn, lollipops, candied apples, little clay jars of spicy tamarind paste, and other psychoactive snacks greeted attendees of Expoweed 2021 in Mexico City over the weekend. Many booths boasted at least one attractive female attendant, many with tops haltered to reveal tattooed skin. With so much sex, drugs and EDM on parade, one almost forgets the plant being celebrated has also been prohibited for a century — a prohibition that has caused countless deaths, disappearances and prison sentences that global prevailing winds now largely deem unjust.
Expoweed aims to “break stigmas” of medicinal, recreational, and industrial marijuana use and “create new paradigms as a society,” according to Zvezda Lauric, chief communications officer of Juicy Fields, the German company sponsoring the event.
But marijuana remains in legal limbo in Mexico. This past January, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador finally signed off (in Spanish) on a medicinal marijuana bill that was approved by Congress in July 2017. Then in June of this year, the Supreme Court reiterated its ruling (in Spanish) that the prohibition of recreational use is unconstitutional.
The court first did so in October 2018, but the path to legalization has proven to be circuitous and difficult to navigate. Congress failed to meet three of the judiciary’s deadlines to pass regulatory legislation, forcing it to reissue a 3-year-old ruling.
Despite this lumbering approach, Lauric said “Mexico is making giant steps toward legalization.”
Excitement for the future is indeed in the air at Expoweed 2021. So much so, in fact, that few seem to be considering the elephant in the exhibition hall: this industry plans on making moves into an economic space that has been plagued by extreme violence for generations. Many confess outright to wearing blinders with respect to the issue.
“The thing about drug trafficking — I’d rather not discuss the issue using terms like that,” said Mariana Ugarte of the Latin American Cannabis Alliance (Alcann), a Mexican nonprofit promoting a regulated cannabis market.
Alcann hails — possibly overstates — the cannabis industry’s ability to tackle society’s biggest issues, such as violence and poverty. According to Ugarte, however, it understates the role of organized crime in the country’s problem with public security. "The benefits of this industry are much greater than the issue of drug violence, because the violence stems from poverty,” she said.
Mexico’s National Search Commission estimates that 100,000 people have gone missing or forcibly disappeared in the country since it began keeping records in 1964. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) reports that the vast majority of those were disappeared in the 15 years since Mexico declared war on the cartels. A quarter of them went missing between 2018 and 2021.
"Drug violence is nothing new in Mexico, but now the cannabis industry has come to solve an economic crisis that also generates a lot of violence,” said Ugarte. “Creating opportunities to earn income is going to resolve problems of violence, poverty, and health."
Expo attendees Brian Boyle and Kerry O’Neill have a similar view of the situation. Originally from Canada and California, respectively, they run a sustainability nonprofit in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato.
“We want to promote hemp as a savior crop for our region,” said Boyle, admitting to sounding like a preacher.
O’Neill also speaks in messianic terms. For her, the hemp plant is both a legal and moral right, as well as “the salvation of the planet Earth.” Still, they both would rather avoid the topic of drug violence.
“We’d like to help take the criminal value out of the equation,” said Boyle. “If that makes any sense.”