Why you should care
Because legalization is about more than getting high.
It started with marijuana, but the legalization of all sorts of drugs is taking off across the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The result is a boon for users who enjoy substances for their narcotic effects, and the now-legitimate businesses catering to them. But there’s much more to this story that doesn’t involve a high. These drugs often come from crops that have been cultivated for thousands of years and have all kinds of uses beyond getting blitzed. In this original series, OZY is diving into the sober implications for legal drugs.
Fabiola Piñacué has confronted a multinational, the Colombian government and even drug traffickers — all in the service of promoting products made from the coca leaf. Stigmatized in Colombia for fueling deadly conflicts for decades, the leaf has a long history with indigenous communities like Piñacué’s. Her company, Coca Nasa, is at the forefront of reclaiming that reputation, selling tea, flour, cooking oil, rum, wine, cookies, pain relief creams and a soft drink called Coca Sek. The latter started a fight with The Coca-Cola Co. that Piñacué won, but she’s still battling federal health authorities to sell coca products freely.
As Mexico’s Senate weighs a marijuana legalization bill, Guillermo Nieto is the head of the cannabis business lobby hoping to cash in. But he’s not anticipating big business from joints. Nieto, a recreational user himself from his college days in Boston, knows that Mexico’s more conservative culture means there won’t be a huge market for smoking pot. But the industrial uses of the plant — including paper, clothes and biodegradable plastics made from hemp — will fuel a potential $2 billion industry.
You’ve probably seen the hype about CBD by now. A New Jersey nutritionist named Laura Lagano has emerged as one of the chief evangelists for the cannabis extract that doesn’t get you high like THC. A ubiquitous media and medical conference presence, Lagano touts it as a cure for everything from chronic pain to bad skin to sleepless nights. While it helped her daughter with a seizure disorder, CBD’s broader benefits remain in dispute. But Lagano’s nutrition-grounded work — combined with her background in PR — are helping to broaden CBD’s reach as a holistic cure, infused in anything from brownies to smoothies to tea.
Decriminalizing production and consumption of marijuana in Mexico has been proposed as a means for reducing the drug-related violence that’s ravaged the country for years. New legal products are critical to propping up small farmers who make their living in the drug trade — because it’s all they know. Medicinal and beauty products, as well as fibers that produce plastics and clothing, could inject new money into farm country. But the demand for mind-altering substances will never go away — so it will remain incredibly difficult for policymakers to phase out the cultivation of products that get you stoned.