Packages of marijuana from Mexico seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Otay Mesa cargo facility in San Diego on Nov. 19, 2014. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Mexican pot production is declining as legalization in the U.S. flourishes

As the cannabis lobby and its supporters makes their legalization pitches the world over, from San Francisco to Montevideo, one of their most important talking points is the eradication of the black market.

Legalization supporters say that a regulated cannabis market can take that illegal, oftentimes-foreign-grown weed off the street and replace it with a state-supervised product that is taxed for the greater good. In America, much of the illegal marijuana comes from Mexico; In Uruguay, much of the illicit cannabis comes from Paraguay.

But two years into these legal recreational marijuana sales, does the system appear to be working that way? While it’s impossible to calculate the exact size of the black market, new data reported recently by the Los Angeles Times suggests that Mexican pot production is in decline — backing up previous anecdotes that Mexican cannabis farmers are steering away from marijuana crops as legalization efforts north of the border cut into their profit margins.

As Colorado pot shops saw the sale of nearly $1 billion of marijuana in state-licensed stores in 2015, some key metrics from the Mexican and American federal governments suggest that south-of-the-border marijuana cultivation is on the decline.

The first measure: Mexico’s government is destroying fewer acres of cannabis crops than in the years before Colorado, Washington and other states legalized the drug recreationally. As the L.A. Times reports from the Mexican state of Sinaloa:

“The Mexican government is on pace to eradicate about 12,000 acres this year, down from more than 44,000 in 2010, according to the Mexican attorney general’s office.”

One of the contraband fake carrots seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Pharr International Bridge cargo facility on the Texas-Mexico border. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

The second: The amount of marijuana seized at the U.S.-Mexico border dropped by nearly one-third in 2014:

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized about 1,085 tons of marijuana at the border in 2014. In the previous four years, that figure hovered around 1,500 tons. Seizures are thought to represent a tiny fraction of the amount that gets successfully imported.”

The third: The U.S.’s number of arrests surrounding foreign-grown pot dropped by almost half from 2010 to 2014, when two states began their legal retail cannabis sales:

“In addition, the number of U.S. arrests by federal agents involving foreign-grown marijuana dropped from 4,519 in 2010 to 2,367 in 2014, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The number involving domestically produced marijuana held relatively steady over that time with an average of 1,536 arrests per year.”

The L.A. Times piece quoted Mexican cannabis farmers saying this year’s pot crop would be their last or that the middlemen who used to buy their harvests “barely come around anymore.” The per-kilogram prices these farmers make on their crops have been slashed by more than two-thirds, from $100 to $30.

While the telling government statistics are new, the perspectives mirror those found in mid-2014 when 50-year-old Mexican marijuana farmer Rodrigo Silla told The Washington Post: “It’s not worth it anymore. I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”