By JULIA CASTILLO
The legalization of marijuana and some juridical actions to decriminalize possession, consumption and harvesting is the big topic of the day in Mexico. Already, some of the first steps towards legalization of the drug for recreational use have been taken. This led me to think about how weed, which is currently largely consumed in Mexico, even if it is still technically illegal in many parts of the world, owes its popularity to marketing.
Weed legalization for recreational use has been a key issue of debate for the past few years in many parts of the globe, especially in Latin and North America. Canada just took the big step and the reaction of the population was unprecedented. In less than 48 hours, vendors were out of supplies.
In the United States, the issue is being considered one state at a time. The United States is a pretty conservative country, and something similar is happening here in Mexico. There is an aspect that has been bothering me since a while now; I’m talking about weed’s marketing mix.
This is a breakdown of the current market and demand:
Product: In Mexico, the quality of marijuana is fairly good for the most part. The packaging of the product is simple, just a little, transparent Ziploc bag. No fancy elements.
Price: The quality of the product determines its price. There is high quality at a high price and viceversa. The price also depends on where you buy it and how difficult distribution is.
Place: Distribution issues increase price due to all the arrangements that have to be made for delivery to the final consumer. Despite all the regulations and police surveillance, it is relatively easy to find to find marijuana in Mexico and there is a high volume of consumption in the nation.
Promotion: Here is the interesting part of this topic. Marijuana consumption is highly promoted both in Mexico and the United States. There is a whole culture involved around it. You can find it in songs, movies, series, documentaries, hats, T-shirts, boxers, socks, lighters, stamps, tattoos, pens, notebooks, boxes, kits, you name it.
Watching certain images can lead us to act in certain ways. There are some experiments that show that the exposure to some images can change the behavior of people subliminally in an unconscious way. That’s why a person who is near a habitual consumer tends to start consuming sooner or later, especially because of all the attractive paraphernalia that surround it, such as for pipes, boxes, bongs, vaporizers and a lot of visually pleasing items that make it desirable.
In other words, if you are surrounded by weed and its paraphernalia, your brain will yearn to consume it because is easier to make the decision to smoke marijuana than to consciously decide not to do so. Many proponents of marijuana claim it is not addictive, but it is, in a low and social way, and it can be harmful, if consumed on a regular basis, especially for people whose brains are not yet fully developed (that happens at about age 25) or for those who are predisposed to addictive behavior.
When you have brand new toys to play with, you use them, like when you buy a new pan and feel so rapt that you use it every day to cook every meal on it, until it loses its novelty. But by the time that happens, you have already developed some sort of attachment to it or it has become a part of your daily habitual life, so you just keep using it until you buy a new one and the cycle is repeated.
So, if marijuana is illegal, why is there so much paraphernalia to make it so desirable? What I am trying to say is that you don’t see a whole cultural movement around heroin or cocaine, at least not yet.
Call me paranoid, but I don’t think is by mere coincidence that the smoking of marijuana has become a bit of a status symbol, the in thing to do. It is said that there are hidden interests behind the legalization of marijuana. There are very loud albeit unsubstantiated rumors about how in Mexico governors, mayors and powerful people are already deeply involved in the distribution of drugs, specially marijuana. There are even investigations about it (and no shortage of dead journalists because of muckraking investigations).
This makes me wonder if marijuana’s illegality is due to the government’s concern for public health, or if those in power are more worried about having to pay taxes for it.
Despite countless scientific studies proving the consumption of marijuana can lead to long-term alterations in memory and concentration, and disproving its long promoted benefits in treating cancer and HIV, the negative aspects of legalizing the drug are severely overshadowed by all the positive and unsubstantiated promotion that surrounds marijuana.
Mind you, I’m not saying that is it necessarily bad to smoke marijuana; I’m just saying that all things in excess can be harmful, weed included.
My biggest concern is the promotion of daily consumption, especially since it is illegal there is no way to ensure that the quality and contents of the weed sold to consumers is of high quality.
What they buy may end up contained substances that can damage their health. High quality weed is expensive and harder to find, and those who have developed a dependency on the drug will smoke whatever they can get their hands on.
As in the case of any product, a marketing mix is important. You need to maintain a balance between all the factors that influence supply and demand so that the product has the right amount of success, for producers, dealers and consumers. When a marketing mix is out of balance, it can cause shortage, speculations and all sorts of vices from the marketing system, including a black market, and this is exactly what is happening inthe case of marijuana.
Legalization has to go hand-in-hand with accurate information, scientific research and the promotion of the correct way and quantities of consumption, as well as keeping it out of the hands of minors or even young people whose brains are not yet fully developed.
Maybe it’s too late, because the marijuana culture has already permeated virtually every aspect of Mexican society. There is a lot of confusion and a wealth of misinformation about marijuana, which, if legalized in Mexico, will have to be considered in order to prevent a nationwide public health crisis.
Julia Castillo is a marketing analyst. Her twitter account is @MarketeerJulia.