As the cannabis market in Mexico changes, a new type of branding is taking shape: “ethical” weed produced and distributed outside the influence of the drug cartels.

Cartel-free cannabis is attractive for consumers in several ways. For one, it does not come with the baggage of violence and tyranny associated with the country’s powerful violent gangs. Ethical weed also tends to be of higher quality than that produced in large quantities by the cartels.

Talking to VICE, demand is growing in Mexico for refined weed from independent cannabis growers, strains marketed as Cronica (chronic), Blue Dreams, and Purpura (purple). This is made possible in part by seeds brought in from the United States and Europe.

“We have to innovate,” said Ricardo, a cannabis farmer in Sinaloa. “Innovation is what is generating business now. The seeds arrived a few years ago from Europe and the U.S., but at first people just grew it at home and didn’t want to share it. Now they have to, out of need.”

Better product comes with a much heftier price tag than what many consumers in Mexico are used to paying. One dealer in Mexico City said that his standard price for lower quality “mountain weed” was 600 pesos ($25) per kilo. For the good stuff coming from Ricardo, the dealer said he pays as much as 30,000 to 40,000 pesos ($1,278 – $1,700) per kilo.

Though operating outside the cartels come with risks, the cartels themselves have become much less focused on cannabis in recent years. With weed legal in much of the United States, the demand for imported illegal cannabis has fallen sharply, and cartels have concentrated mostly on harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl.

Besides the obvious perils of pissing off violent cartels, starting up independent shops presents considerable business obstacles for farmers. It means going outside of established infrastures to forge their own logistical networks, going directly to dealers without the traditional middle men.

“You’re not benefiting from any cartel protection structures or mechanism,” said Jaime Lopez, a security analyst. “As long as you stay small and not too flashy you might avoid the vultures. But that’s a big if.”

Photo via Flickr/WeedPornDaily