MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – For Guillermo Nieto, a Mexican businessman who grew up smoking pot, the cannabis greenhouse on his family’s vast farmlands in Guanajuato state is part of a bigger dream. One that involves deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies.
Nieto and several Mexican businessmen have spent years positioning themselves for a time when the country opens up what would be the world’s biggest legal cannabis market in terms of population, where the drug can be lawfully cultivated and sold.
Mexico finally outlined rules in July covering cannabis for medical use, and the sign-off is expected in coming weeks.
A bigger prize may also be close for Nieto and foreign companies; Senate majority leader Ricardo Monreal told Reuters he expected a law to be passed before December for recreational use of the drug, allowing regulated private firms to sell it to the public.
“It’s going to generate a market,” said Nieto, wearing a smart blue shirt, blazer, and bright marijuana-leaf print yellow socks. “We are expecting to create jobs and revenue for the government. We think it could really help our economy.”
Indeed the legal cannabis industry is already a multi-billion-dollar global trade, and some big players, including Canada’s Canopy Growth and The Green Organic Dutchman, and a unit of California-based Medical Marijuana Inc, told Reuters they were eager to tap the new Mexican market.
Business aside, Nieto says the new regulations will have a profound social impact on the conservative nation of 126 million people, where drugs are a sensitive subject due to a long and painful history of violence perpetuated by feuding cartels.
“The first thing that will happen is that no Mexican will die or go to jail because of this plant,” Nieto said.
“With that, everyone wins.”
Dario Contreras Sanchez aims to set up a business making products like soaps and pain-relieving oils from cannabis that he would grow legally near his family’s hacienda in Durango state, where the powerful Sinaloa Cartel has held sway for decades.
He believes farmers near him who cultivate the plant for narcos would want to sell their produce lawfully – if the government permits them.
“Most of the people want to work legally,” said Contreras Sanchez, whose sister married into the family of former Mexican drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
However Mexicans are by no means unified on this issue.
While a growing cannabis industry promises to be a money-spinner, it faces resistance from campaigners who are worried that regulations for both medical and non-medical cannabis will heavily favor big, often foreign corporations.
They fear legislation will shut out small family producers and fail to offer a path to legalization for many farmers who make a living by feeding Mexico’s illegal narcotics trade.
The initial regulations covering medical use permit entrepreneurs such as Nieto to grow marijuana on behalf of pharmaceutical companies and allows foreign businesses to import medical cannabis products into the country.
However Mexico’s Supreme Court, which has effectively legalized cannabis by ruling prohibition is unconstitutional, has given the government