Pubdate: Tue, 17 Mar 2015
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Peter Orsi, Associated Press


High-End Imports, Home Cultivation Increasing

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Once upon a time, Mexican marijuana was the gold 
standard for U.S. pot smokers. But in the new world of legal markets 
and gourmet weed, aficionados here are looking to the United States 
and Europe for the good stuff.

Instead of Acapulco Gold, Mexican smokers want strains like Liberty 
Haze and Moby Dick - either importing high-potency boutique pot from 
the United States, or growing it here in secret gardens that use 
techniques perfected abroad.

It's a small but growing market in a country where marijuana is 
largely illegal, unlike Colorado and Washington that have legalized 
recreational use, and others where medicinal pot is available.

A text message will bring a Mexico City dealer to the customer's 
doorstep with a menu of high-end buds for sale at the swipe of a 
credit card through a smartphone reader. Hydroponic shops have sprung 
up that supply equipment to those who want to cultivate potent 
strains in sophisticated home-grown operations. Some even are setting 
up pot cooperatives to share costs like high electrical bills and 
swap what they grow with each other.

"I know people who are architects, executives, lawyers ... who went 
to the United States or Europe," said Antoine Robbe, the 35-year-old, 
French-born proprietor of Hydrocultivos, one of the shops. They say, 
"'Man, why don't we have this in my country?"'

So far, reports of U.S.-grown marijuana making its way south have 
been only anecdotal but enough to raise concern, according to 
Alejandro Mohar, a Mexican physician and member of the U.N. 
International Narcotics Control Board.

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official told NPR in December 
that Mexican cartel operatives were smuggling in high-end U.S. 
marijuana to sell to wealthy customers, though there's no sign so far 
of a massive southward trade. The DEA declined to comment further in 
response to a request from the AP.

In Mexico City, several people said they have seen freezer-size bags 
of marijuana here labeled as being for medicinal use in Los Angeles.

Mexico allows people to carry up to 5 grams of pot for personal use 
but bans sale and growing. Historically, there has been little social 
tolerance for pot use, with "marijuanos" stigmatized as slackers or 
supporters of the deadly drug trade.

Mexico growers say their home-cultivation phenomenon is removed from 
the grisly narcowars that have wracked the country. In fact, growing 
and swapping among themselves, they contend, allows them to avoid 
supporting the cartels.

"I'm not a narco, dude. I just like to smoke," said Daniel, a 
32-year-old living in the bohemian Roma neighborhood. He spoke on 
condition that his last name not be used because, he said, his 
home-grow operation is "super-illegal" despite being for personal use only.

Mexican law provides for prison sentences of up to 25 years for 
people convicted of producing, trafficking or selling drugs.

Home growers say they are forming cooperatives to share the costs of 
the indoor-gardening gear and high electric bills and swap harvests 
with each other, many building their club model with skills first 
imported by foreigners.

Last year, Homero Fernandez, a 29-year-old event promoter, teamed up 
with about a dozen people to form a pot club, each paying about $200 
to buy a hydroponic grow kit now tended to by one of the members.

Today, the club has about 50 to 60 plants that produce enough sativa 
buds to satisfy the members, some of them heavy smokers, who are able 
to purchase an ounce of high-end pot for between $95 and $130, less 
than half of what they'd pay a dealer.

The end result is pot with around 15 to 20 percent THC, the 
high-generating component of marijuana, compared to 3 to 8 percent in 
the Mexican "brick weed" more commonly sold here and north of the 
border. Some people are also producing concentrates with 60 to 99.6 
percent THC, the strongest of which are too powerful to be smoked in 
a pipe or joint.

"It comes out much cheaper than paying for even regular pot ... and 
the quality is much higher," said Fernandez. "What gets produced is 
exclusively for us. Nothing more, and it doesn't get sold outside" the club.

The market for gourmet weed is still minuscule next to the 
multibilliondollar marijuana export trade dominated by the cartels. 
According to DEA statistics, seizures along the border last year 
accounted for more than 2.2 million pounds of pot.

The hydroponic shops don't sell seeds or pot and thus stay on the 
right side of the law. Like others, Daniel ordered seeds online from 
a company in Spain.

Just as seeds increasingly are crossing borders, Fernandez said, 
wider acceptance abroad is reshaping attitudes in Mexico.

"The United States, with this boom of regularization and this boom of 
legal marijuana, all that arrives here and has an impact on cannabis culture."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom