Cartels are abandoning pot and opium fields for synthetic drugs, says Mexican defense secretary

As the wholesale price per pound of legal cannabis plummets in some states bordering Mexico, the country’s cartels are turning to more lucrative drugs: fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week that fentanyl is now the leading cause of death among Americans aged 18 to 45, thanks in part to criminal involvement in several countries.

Texas is the only state bordering Mexico without adult-use cannabis, and it shows in the prices. Mexican cartels once relied on organic poppy and cannabis farms to produce drugs, but times have changed. Illicit cannabis eradication in Mexico has been halved in recent years, consistent with the timeline of cannabis legalization in the north.

Mexican Secretary of Defense General Luis Cresencio Sandoval said that for the cartels, cannabis and other organic drugs like opium-rich poppies are out, and fentanyl is in.

the Associated Press reports that according to Sandoval, fentanyl seizures soared 525% in the first three years of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s reign, who took office on December 1, 2018, compared to the previous three years.

During this period, law enforcement officers seized 1,232 pounds (559 kilograms) of fentanyl in 2016-2018 and 7,710 pounds (3,497 kilograms) in 2019-2021.

The reason for this change is that the bottom line improves when cartel operations switch from organic opiates to synthetic opioids, which are cheaper to produce. “There’s been a shift in consumption, there’s been a shift in drug markets because of the ease of producing synthetic drugs,” Sandoval said. Cartels no longer have to pay labor to grow poppies and slowly scrape the opium that oozes from poppy bulbs. The same could be said about the cannabis growing/pruning/curing process.

But synthetic drugs don’t come from Mexico. Mexican cartels can order fentanyl online from Asia at wholesale prices and then cut it into doses ready to be sold on the street. Labs also produce drugs like methamphetamine, which is also more profitable than organic cannabis or opium. “The labs that were discovered or seized in this jurisdiction have greater capabilities, which allowed us to seize a greater amount of methamphetamine products,” Sandoval said.

Methamphetamine seizures have increased from 120,100 pounds (54,521 kilograms) in 2016-2018 to nearly 275,000 pounds (124,735 kilograms) over the past three years, a 128% increase. On Nov. 18, a record amount of methamphetamine and fentanyl was discovered being delivered by a trucker to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego, according to a report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. . Border agents found 17,584 pounds of methamphetamine and 388.93 pounds of fentanyl in the truck.

Mexico’s data matches recent documents updated on October 14 and compiled by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which operates within the Library of Congress, working directly for members of Congress. “Despite initial supply chain disruptions, the illicit drug supply to the United States appears to have returned to pre-pandemic levels; illicit flows of fentanyl in particular appear to be thriving,” CRS reported. Just a year earlier, the CRS had admitted that legal cannabis in particular harms cartels in another document. “Authorities anticipate a continued decline in U.S. demand for Mexican marijuana because ‘non-marijuana’ drugs are likely to predominate,” CRS wrote. “This is also the case due to the legalization of cannabis or medical cannabis in several US states and Canada, which reduces its value as part of the portfolio of Mexican trafficking organizations.”

Meanwhile, the Mexican Senate is on track to approve recreational cannabis.

Still, some cartel operations plan to sell cannabis, legal or not. the daily beast reports that the Sinaloa Cartel is already working to infiltrate the legal pot market in Mexico, according to “cartel agents”. It’s unclear how the cartel plans to move forward, such as forging its way into licensing.

Alvin J. Chase