Marijuana legalization may result in drug smuggling into Mexico

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Next month, Californians will vote on a raft of propositions, including one that would legalize recreational production and consumption of marijuana.

Proposition 64 would allow Californians over 21 to have up to an ounce of cannabis and permit people to grow up to six plants. It would put a 15% tax on retail sales and ban large-scale production for five years to stave off the arrival of large corporate growing operations.

The prospect of marijuana legalization brings a surprising potential side effect: Marijuana smuggling into Mexico.

Related: Marijuana edibles sold in Colorado and Oregon

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Marijuana edibles sold in Colorado and Oregon
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Marijuana edibles sold in Colorado and Oregon
In this Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, photograph, candy bars marked with Colorado's new required diamond-shaped stamp noting that the product contains marijuana are shown in the kitchen of BlueKudu candy in the historic Five Points District of Denver. State officials require the stamp to be put directly on edibles after complaints that the treats look too much like their non-intoxicating counterparts. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, photo, candy bars wrapped in new packaging to indicate that the products contain marijuana are shown in the kitchen of BlueKudu candy in the historic Five Points District of Denver. A new Colorado requirement, which goes into effect this Saturday, makes edible producers to label their goods with a diamond-shaped stamp and the letters T-H-C to distinguish the treats from their non-intoxicating counterparts. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, photo, Andrew Schrot, chief executive officer of BlueKudu, holds up some of the candy bars made in the kitchen of the marijuana-infused candy maker in the historic Five Points District of Denver. A new Colorado requirement, which takes effect Saturday, Oct. 1 demands that edible producers such as Schrot add a stamp to their treats to distinguish them from their non-intoxicating counterparts. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Thursday, June 2, 2016 photo, an employee displays a limeade-flavored cannabis-infused gummy candy at the Chalice Farms industrial kitchen in Portland, Ore. Thursday was the first day recreational marijuana users could legally purchase marijuana edibles and oils in Oregon. (AP Photos/Gillian Flaccus)
This Aug. 8, 2016, photo released by the San Francisco Department of Health shows gummy ring candies served at a Quincea'era party in San Francisco. City health officials suspect the candies that sickened 19 people at a birthday party on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, contained edible marijuana. Final lab results weren't available Monday, but officials say some of the hospitalized patients tested positive for THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. (San Francisco Department of Health via AP)
In this Thursday, June 2, 2016 photo, cannabis-infused lemon truffles await packaging at the Chalice Farms industrial kitchen in Portland, Ore. Thursday was the first day recreational marijuana users could legally purchase marijuana edibles and oils in Oregon. (AP Photos/Gillian Flaccus)
In this Thursday, June 2, 2016 photo, William Simpson, president of Chalice Farms, holds a display of his company's cannabis-infused truffles, chocolates and gummy candies at the company headquarters in Portland, Ore. Thursday was the first day recreational marijuana users could legally purchase marijuana edibles and oils in Oregon. (AP Photos/Gillian Flaccus)
In this Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, photo, trays of wrapped candy bars are shown in the kitchen of BlueKudu candy in the historic Five Points District of Denver. After fielding complaints about the similarity in appearance of edibles to their non-intoxicating counterparts, the state of Colorado is about to put into effect a new requirement that demands edible producers to mark their products to note that they contain marijuana. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
FILE - In this April 18, 2014, file photo a caregiver points out the strength of an edible marijuana candy bar at a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver. In its entirety the candy bar is as strong at 30 marijuana joints. Pot-infused lemon drops and other marijuana edibles that resemble fruits could be coming off Colorado shelves, the latest front in a battle by lawmakers to eradicate retail pot products that could appeal to kids. The bill up for its first hearing in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, also would ban infused edibles shaped like animals or people. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)
In this Thursday, June 2, 2016 photo, cannabis-infused hazelnut milk chocolates are wrapped in foil awaiting packaging.at the company headquarters in Portland, Ore. Thursday was the first day recreational marijuana users could legally purchase marijuana edibles and oils in Oregon. (AP Photos/Gillian Flaccus)
FILE - This April 18, 2014, file photo shows edible marijuana products on display at a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver. Colorado's marijuana experiment is under threat by the very popularity of eating it instead of smoking it, so the pot industry is joining health officials and state regulators in studying the problem of consumers eating too much too quickly. Pot-infused lemon drops and other marijuana edibles that resemble fruits could be coming off Colorado shelves, the latest front in a battle by lawmakers to eradicate retail pot products that could appeal to kids. The bill up for its first hearing in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, also would ban infused edibles shaped like animals or people. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2014, file photo, smaller-dose pot-infused brownies are divided and packaged at The Growing Kitchen in Boulder, Colo. Edible marijuana products in Colorado may soon come labeled with a red stop sign as the state is finalizing work on new rules for the appearance of edible marijuana. A draft of those rules released Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, would require each piece of edible marijuana to be marked in the shape of a stop sign with the letters THC in the middle. The letters stand for marijuana's psychoactive ingredient. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
FILE - In this June 19, 2014 file photo, freshly baked cannabis-infused cookies cool on a rack inside Sweet Grass Kitchen, an established Denver-based gourmet marijuana edibles bakery which sells its confections to retail outlets throughout the state. A bill up for its first vote in the state legislature on Wed., March 25, 2015 would repeal a 2014 Colorado law requiring pot foods to have a distinct look when out of its packaging. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
Edibles are displayed at Shango Cannabis shop on first day of legal recreational marijuana sales beginning at midnight in Portland, Oregon October 1, 2015. The sale of marijuana for recreational use began in Oregon on October 1, 2015 as it joined Washington state and Colorado in allowing the sale of a drug that remains illegal under U.S. federal law. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
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According to a report from local broadcaster KPBS, the increased availability of high-quality California marijuana coupled with the relative ease with which marijuana can be carried over the border from the north means that more of the drug could start to move south into Mexico.

"If you're in Mexico, and you want the best marijuana out there, there's only one place to get it," Matthew Shapiro, a lawyer specializing in marijuana in San Diego, told KPBS. "There's no such thing as high-quality Mexican weed."

US and Mexican experts told KPBS that legalizing recreational marijuana in California would make it easier for Mexican citizens with visas or dual citizenship to get the drug and carry it back to Mexico.

This already happens on small scale, and the differences between California marijuana and its Mexican counterpart have become apparent: California weed can have a concentration of THC, the plant's main psychoactive agent, above 30%, while Mexican weed available in Tijuana has about a 2% concentration, Raul Palacios, the director of a clinic in Tijuana, said to KPBS.

The result, as has been seen among Americans not used to the potency of California's marijuana, is that Mexican users can experience negative side effects, like hallucinations. "So its psychoactive capacity, or psychoactive effect, is more damaging," Palacios told KPBS, referring to California marijuana.

"The quality is much better over" in California, one clinic patient told KPBS. "It's more powerful, it gets you higher," said another.

'Paying close attention'

Some opponents of California's legalization push have cited the potential for children to be exposed to marijuana advertisements and use, though a similar criticism could probably be leveled against alcohol or tobacco. Others have noted concerns that small producers could be pushed out of the market by large interests.

Proponents have cited potential financial benefits, including the potential for an additional $1 billion in tax revenue — money that would be put toward drug education and prevention, environmental projects, and law enforcement. Some analysts have argued local jurisdictions would benefit from no longer having to pay to enforce marijuana prohibition.

California is not the only border state weighing a change to marijuana laws. Arizona is also poised to vote on full legalization, as are Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts.

Even if all those states legalize recreational use, southbound smuggling is likely to remain minuscule in comparison to the overall movement of drugs across the border into the US.

One reason for that is low marijuana use in Mexico. A 2008 survey by the Organization of American States found only 1.03% of Mexicans ages 12 to 65 reported marijuana use in the previous 12 months; that number dropped to 0.07% reporting use over the previous 30 days.

The UN's 2006 World Drug Report put prevalence of marijuana use at 1.3% for Mexicans ages 15 to 65 and at 12.6% for Americans ages 15 to 64.

Also, Mexico is relatively conservative in its attitude toward marijuana legalization. Less than one-third of Mexicans approve of legalization, while such a measure has garnered over 60% support in the US. In California, a September poll found 58% of voters in favor of legalization.

Current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto raised in April the possibility of loosening marijuana restrictions in his country, including legalizing marijuana-based medicine and upping the amount a person can carry to a gram.

The sudden stalling of those measures by Peña Nieto's own party in June raised doubts about his sincerity regarding legalization and decriminalization. In any case, he and other Mexican officials are reportedly "paying close attention" to California's legalization drive.

NOW WATCH: We went inside the grow facility that makes Colorado's number one marijuana strain

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