The Sinaloa Cartel Wants in on Legal Weed, New Report Finds
But is cartel weed truly a bad thing, though?
Published on December 30, 2022

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Rumors are swirling again about the narcos in Mexico angling to get into the legal weed game. The latest report from Business Insider finds that the son of incarcerated Sinaloa Cartel honcho Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, whose name is Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, is leading the crime organization into a new era regarding cannabis. 

Guzmán Salazar’s crew of brothers — a.k.a. “Los Chatapitos” — have begun working with “independent” (though the word is used somewhat loosely here) cultivators on growing better weed. Apparently, they’re looking for people who have experience not only in advanced cultivation techniques but also living in places in the United States where cannabis is legal.

“Look at the gringos, they are selling this same product in their beautiful stores,” one cartel operative told Business Insider (the cartel sources in the piece are all anonymous for somewhat obvious reasons.) “That's what we want for the organization,” they continued.

The article witnesses the production of neatly packaged pre-rolls, some of them enclosed in The Simpsons-themed packaging featuring Krusty the Clown. Such items are sold through a network that Business Insider describes as some 20 stores in Culiacán — though similar products have made it to consumers as far as Mexico City.

Apparently, such activity is paving the way for the cartel’s participation in the Mexican legal weed industry. (Though, after many years of legalization delays, it’s looking doubtful that such an economy will be regulated during President AMLO’s administration, which will remain in power until 2025.)

"This is a business that belongs here, to Sinaloa," an unidentified Sinaloa Cartel operative previously told Business Insider. "We lost a share of the business, but in no time we will take it back by producing the best weed in the world."

It’s fairly well-accepted that the legalization of cannabis in the United States has cut into marijuana profits for Mexican cartels. Now that it’s easier to produce pot in the USA, it’s no longer cost-effective to smuggle the stuff into the States from south of the border. This methodology plays out in DEA reports. A 2021 DEA report said that Mexican weed in the States has “largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana,” and that seizures of the drug along the Mexican border have decreased by some 80% since 2013.

Of course, the storyline of cartels looking to go legit in the weed biz is not new. In 2021, The Daily Beast ran a similar article focusing on the Sinaloa Cartel’s efforts to set up legal businesses as “fronts” for their incursion into the regulated weed industry — and on improving the quality of the cannabis, they are producing to secure new market shares.

But as Mexican drug policy expert Zara Snapp told The Daily Beast in that same report, “If there are groups trying to transition, that’s great. That’s the whole point.”

Here’s something to keep in mind while reading media reports that could otherwise become arguments against cannabis legalization in Mexico: Aided and abetted by corrupt officials at every level of the government, the cartels currently play major roles in the country’s “legal” industries from nightlife and restaurants to avocados and limes. It’s no big surprise that organized crime would stay in the cannabis game when the drug is regulated — and it’s certainly no reason to keep recreational cannabis (but any drug, really) illegal for the majority of Mexicans.

Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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