Erick Ponce Flores
Grupo Promotor de la Industria de Cannabis – GPIC
Expert Contributor

Dear Mexican Authorities, Prohibition Is Not the Way Forward

By Erick Ponce | Wed, 06/29/2022 - 15:00

Prohibition, a long-held concept and doctrine, has been with us since the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s, though it heavily expanded in the 1920s. One hundred years later, it seems we have not learned our lesson.

What started as a religious concern, led by Protestants anxious about morals and “well-behaved citizens,” quickly evolved into an economic and political play. It is well documented that proponents of prohibition have used such doctrines in a place of control and power.

History has taught us that regardless of the motive of such doctrines, prohibition does not work. In fact, it is the main driving force behind the creation of black markets and underground operations, as well as an accompanying rise in violence and gang-related crimes in the battle for control of the illicit and unregulated distribution channels.

It’s not just the 1920s alcohol prohibition or the 1930s cannabis prohibition. We don’t have to look back that far. Some weeks ago, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed a decree banning electronic cigarettes and vaping devices, a presidential decree that was never up for discussion in Congress or the Senate.

Citing health concerns, and launching a communications campaign supposedly with the intent of showing “the real danger of vapes,” often contradicting scientific and social studies showing that indeed electronic cigarettes help people leave tobacco or at least presenting itself as a lesser of two evils, the Mexican government decided to opt into the prohibitionist path, instead of acknowledging the reality of the situation, and proceeded to regulate a booming market (on a social, cultural and economic level).

While I don’t advocate for nicotine, tobacco or even alcohol (in my opinion incredibly dangerous substances), one can’t help but notice the irony behind it all. The approach to those industries started with openness, then prohibition; it wasn’t until the realization of how this prohibitionist approach not only helped create illicit channels but how aggressively it fueled the black market that regulation was introduced.

Such grand failures are not just showcased in their approach to black market trade. Prohibition not only helps illegal commerce; it is also the driver of major health risks. A prohibitionist approach, where banning a product instead of regulating it, always creates a vacuum in quality control of such products, but not so much in consumer demand.

Prohibition also backfires in the attempt to control the “influx of dangerous drugs into the market” since, in fact, it effectively deregulates such markets; meaning, the market still exists, albeit illegally, but without oversight and accountability – consumers have no idea what they are buying and who they are buying from in an unregulated market.

If there are no quality and safety compliance laws and regulations, the products will often be adulterated (why expend on sanctioned products and specifications, if you can get cheaper off-label or home-made substitutes?), while also making them more potent or concentrated.

In terms of “product potency,” the black market often prefers and pushes the expansion of high-potency products since you can carry physically less of an illegal product, while promising the same intoxicating effects in a smaller dosage. There’s a reason that while the alcohol prohibition was in effect, for example, the illegal trade was more focused on spirits with high-alcohol content, than, say, a low-alcohol beer or wine.

The same thing has happened during the (ongoing) prohibition of cannabis. It is a known fact that the concentration of THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis) greatly increased during the “war on drugs,” effectively pushing it into both genetics (the plant itself) and the consumer product concentration, in order to increase the pricing point while still occupying the same physical space in illegal cultivations and product containers.

In short, the lack of regulation, often excused as a complete ban on a product or category, is not only a proven strategy destined to fail, it also puts the consumers at major risks, by forcing them to participate in illegal trade channels that have no accountability or quality control assurances.

A big concern right now is that our current government's point of view, it seems, continues to be prohibitionist, instead of having a focus on sanitary control and public health policies. We cannot approach the lowest hanging fruit (regulation and control of an existing market) if we decide, instead, just to cut down the tree, leaving consumers, legal advocacy groups and the rest of the institutional players to their own devices.

Also worrying is that prohibition, as history has taught us, usually follows the whims of elite political or economic power figures. If public policy dictates that we should follow our reality with facts and with expertise, guided by common sense, how can one person, be it a top government official, or even by presidential decrees, impose a countrywide ban on a product, substance or a category of such, without debate, fact-checks and proper procedures?

For better or for worse, history has also taught us a lesson regarding fighting this narrow-minded prohibitionist approach: we should fight it in the courts, both in the benches and in the court of public opinion.

The authorities have chosen the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach, basically trying to wish a problem away. They believe there is neither moral responsibility nor legal accountability when actively looking the other way. Using prohibition to feign ignorance is not only cowardly, but criminal. We must pave the way, by voicing our discomfort with their naivety, through lawsuits, injunctions and other legal strategies, if we want to force open their eyes and make them see what they choose to ignore.

Photo by:   Erick Ponce Flores