Tijuana is a border town on the Pacific Coast, just south of San Diego, California, dividing Baja California from the US.
Once a quaint city catering to tourists crossing over for shopping and nightlife, Tijuana today is a modernized city with more than 1.8 million. Its wider region hosts more than 2.1 million. A
As legend has it, the city was named after a madam nicknamed Tia Juana. Eerily similar to later slang, Mari-juana – said to be just as suggestive, feeding into the Reefer Madness of the 1950s.
The first weed this writer smoked in 1975 was undoubtedly smuggled up from Tijuana, making its way north to my hometown of Redondo Beach. Thanks to my limbic system, linking scent to memory, I can still taste that flavor from time to time when I partake of Mexico’s weed grown in the valleys of Baja California today.
As a personal anecdote, my favorite Aunt’s boyfriend was arrested and held in the Tijuana jail in the 1950s, with my Aunt and a friend making a concubine visit to bust him out. True story.By land and sea, cannabis was smuggled across the Tijuana border to the states for decades, meeting the supply and demand of the most illicit and beloved plant on the planet. Once the crossing became more complex, elaborate tunnels were dug out underground – discovered in the 1990s.
Emerging Industry, Lacking in Protocols
As in just about every country worldwide, the plant prevails, with Tijuana falling in line. With ordinances for growing, manufacturing, and distributing plant material and products still sorely lacking, the industry grows without uidelines.
Hemp high in cannabidiol, measuring in at less than one percent THC, better known as CBD, was legalized for import into Mexico from the US in 2016. Since then, CBD products with professional labeling are currently being made and distributed throughout the country.
There are said to be 50 permits already issued through a sort of backdoor process in Tijuana, allowing many to grow. Private clubs have been set up to regulate and host safe access locations.
One such cardholder explained it was acquired by applying, being turned down, then appealing using the 2018 Supreme Court decision that did away with the prohibition of the plant. It’s been three years as of this writing since the court gave legislators 90 days to put ordinances in writing for both medicinal and adult use. This past year, the court decriminalized adult use altogether, disappointed in the lack of effort to move forward.
But, without guidelines, the private clubs and events being held throughout the country exist in a gray area.
Doctors have also been allowed to be licensed to “prescribe,” which is unusual, considering in the US the word used is “recommend,” since doctors are not educated on cannabis or plant-based medicine. But, without proper guidelines on how cannabis is sourced for a patient, it’s unclear how this licensing will play out, as cannabis with THC is still not allowed to be brought up from the states; only licensed CBD products can legally cross the border.
Mexico is a socialized country, with its health department overseeing the medical use of cannabis. This will be a challenge for the myriad small independent pharmacies on every corner to get on board.
Rumor has it there will not be traditional cannabis dispensaries, but time will tell how and when safe access can happen through the system it has now.
Author’s note: Farmacias are already selling small bags of cannabis flower next to curio shops stocked with glass pipes in one tourist area. As I walked by one such seller, its barkers were yelling, Viagra, Oxycontin, and Vicodin! To which I replied half-jokingly, “Only mota for me!” Mota meaning “little bit,” was used as slang for cannabis, to which they responded, “Mota, si, aqui!” Letting me know they had it there – no problema.
Tijuana’s Underground Cannabis Culture
\We were accompanied by Farah Tariq, an attorney in the cannabis industry from the US. We were taken to many cannabis-friendly venues by one such license holder who dedicates much of their time encouraging others to do the same, assisting in filling out the often-complicated paperwork involved.In any state or country, I’ve traveled in, I’ve always been able to find the cannabis community with spaces offered up covertly or not.
In Tijuana, we were able to tour no less than ten locations copacetic to or cannabis-related.Smoking opportunities were everywhere in one high rent part of the city, dispelling any myths the plant only comes from the seedier sides of communities – Mexico or not.Just as in the states, the plant is privileged, and law enforcement turns a blind eye in upscale neighborhoods. Especially in larger ex-pat communities, where American’s use cannabis recreationally and medicinally.
The ordinary citizens and the visiting gringo getting pulled over, we were told, are still harassed for what’s referred to as curb money or a bribe – as has been a longstanding tradition among the poorly paid law enforcement in Mexico. This is another illegal practice tolerated, as the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to do away with the prohibition of cannabis, stating there was no good reason to prohibit it in the first place and citing the plant and the compound THC beneficial.
Even so, private lounges and pop-up seshes are commonplace now with events hosting flower competitions, concentrates, and myriad products, with live music and infused foods in the mix, as was demonstrated by our most excellent tour of the Tijuana cannabis scene.
Build it and they will come!
Our first stop was a private club and lounge in an unmarked storefront on a busy city street. The lounge hosts live music, lectures, and workshops all centered around education about the plant. Inside were about a dozen of some 200 card-carrying members sitting at modern tables, chairs, and leather couches, listening to Mexican rap music, eating, and partaking. In contrast, a foosball table encouraged to play, and a large screen TV ran Mexican music videos.
The shelves were lined with supplies, tools, non-cannabis snacks, and professionally labeled CBD products. Some were clearly from the US, but many more were made locally. The members of this club also engage in community outreach, organizing city and beach clean-up days promoted on social media. They also lead protests when called and organize the occasional event.
A young man holding a jar of psilocybin mushrooms was deep in conversation with a young woman wanting to micro-dose for depression, while a young woman rolled joints on a tray. As acceptance for alchemy-changing, plant-based remedies increases around the globe, the younger generation of Mexico is also educating itself on many natural remedies and experiences with plants.
The second stop was to the Underground Flower Club tucked away in a lovely courtyard on a bustling tourist street. Here you’ll find the brand’s line of clothing and accessories, as well as imports from the states.Another tiny shop on a tourist street I grew up going to, Revolucion, traditionally lined with souvenirs, cafes, and clubs, had its acronym boldly printed on a sign above, “THC,” or Tijuana High Club, selling CBD products from the states and by makers in Mexico.This was surreal to me, as I pictured my adolescent self walking down this same street more than 50 years ago. Never in a million years could I have imagined this.
The Habana Tijuana Smokers Outlet has been a staple on Revolution for years and hosts the usual tobacco products and hookahs, now also carrying many supplies needed for the savvy cannabis partaker. One state brand spotted was Cookies, via a signature blue vape pen with charger – less the cartridge, of course.
The Border Grow shop located in another upscale neighborhood downtown was like stepping into a Humboldt County (Northern California) grow supply store. The shelves lined with nutrients and supplies from the north, portable grow tents, and even vegetable seeds for the well-stocked indoor farm. These types of shops demonstrate how a city and country’s economy can be boosted by the cannabis industry, as it touches every aspect of commerce – from farming to packaging and everything in between from seed to shelf.
It also confirms that the plant is being grown widely by the people waiting for ordinances to be placed.
Another shop downtown was skateboard-friendly, carrying a full line of boards and accessories, as well as glass pipes, bongs, and more – knowing its clientele well. Raw rolling trays were sold alongside Clear Eyes.
A colorful graffiti-painted alleyway nearby was the perfect sesh spot to take a break in the middle of the day – surrounded by our Mexican tribe. Sesh spots were easy to find, as cannabis is tolerated to a point. Or, maybe the plant prevails like this around the world, with patients and partakers alike living in the shadows together.
We were privileged to join others’ partaking in a number of hideaways, likened to speakeasies in a don’t ask, don’t tell environment created by, again, a lack of ordinances. A highlight was being invited into one private club investor’s modern high-rise apartment overlooking part of the city.
It was a breathtaking view and a joy to sesh with members of the elite cannabis community of Tijuana. These are the movers and shakers pushing the plant into the future, using their old-school Mexican money to fund a more significant-good industry too big to fail and too needed for the health of its people to disappear.
Farah Tariq and I were also invited to attend the first annual TerpsFest held in a private location in Tijuana Playas, in a mansion on the beach. We were lucky enough to be just a few of those invited to spend the night, with a room on the third floor overlooking the event in the courtyard below and on a deck hosting one stellar band and performer after another just across our balcony.
Vendors lined the rooms inside and out with various products and brands from the US and Mexico. Edibles, medibles, and remedies, including psilocybin mushrooms, were available for purchase at Mexican prices.
The food included cannabis-infused chicken and waffles, with an assortment of foods from a local cannabis-friendly catering chef. This writer has a weakness for chicken and waffles, and they were delicious!Farah was asked to judge concentrates and a joint-rolling competition. The Harvard Lawyer-turned cannabis counsel enjoyed herself immensely, stating, “Half of my lineage is Mexican from my mother’s side.
Even though I grew up in Southern California, I feel the connection here. These are my people, but more so, this is my global tribe. It will be nice to see Mexico get ordinances to make the industry already thriving here legit.”I’ve covered several states and countries for many years, reporting on cannabis as medicine, from the jungles outside Mexico City to the streets of Detroit. One thing that is universal around the globe is our tribe’s love for the plant and the way we quickly come together to sesh, knowing each other’s language or not. The plant is a bridge if you will. World peace via partaking of the herb is not a bad idea.
Passing the peace pipe is as ancient as the plant itself for an excellent reason. You won’t see altercations surrounding cannabis events like you do alcohol-related events, and it just doesn’t happen. Cannabis partakers are a peaceful lot no matter what country you are in. The plant works for our species, and the sooner the greater community understands that, the better.
The future looks green, educated and globalWhen discussing the changing attitudes of cannabis in Mexico with a 30-something edible maker, it was clear the younger generation is stepping up to normalize cannabis use, demanding fair laws be put into place to legitimize the industry already booming.“It’s up to the younger generation to change things in Mexico concerning cannabis and psychedelic drugs,” they said. “The failed War on Drugs wasn’t Mexico’s doing, but we were pulled into it, and it devastated us and corrupted our people and our government.
Things can’t continue the way it’s been, and we are stepping up because we have to.”Education on the plant as a medicine is typical chatter – with the younger generation embracing what generations before them already knew, that cannabis is just another beneficial plant – proven to be safer than alcohol or other recreational substances.The US created Mexico’s Cartel with its failed War on Drugs.
It never worked; it only made one of the largest privatized prison systems in the states, full of non-violent drug war casualties.The younger generation of Mexico and the world sees you. They know the damage was done and demand change through education while dispelling myths of the stupid stoner. The industry is as productive as its people and as resilient as the plant herself.
Viva la Mexico! Viva la Cannabica!
- The Weed Traveler series by Sharon Letts
- The Weed Traveler – Barney’s of New York, The High End – By Sharon Letts
- Weed Traveler: Avenue CBD, Los Angeles – By Sharon Letts
- The Weed Traveler, Glowing Goddess Getaway – By Sharon Letts
- The Weed Traveler, Copa Cannabica, Baja California, Mexico, By Sharon letts
- The Weed Traveler: The Emerald Triangle – Historic and multi-generational farmers struggling in a legal market – By Sharon Letts
- The Weed Traveler, Cannabica South of the Border – Tijuana Mexico