President Vicente Fox Wants To Legalize Cannabis
Vicente Fox has “one specific purpose” these days: to end cannabis prohibition across the globe. His newfound passion for the cannabis industry has come as a surprise to many. As a former Coca-Cola executive turned center-right politician and president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, he was not particularly supportive of cannabis. But after learning about the health and economic potential latent in the world of cannabis, he quickly became not only an ardent industry supporter but also the only former head of state active in cannabis enterprises. In recent years, he has taken up positions on a number of cannabis companies’ advisory boards, including the parent company of the iconic publication High Times and Canada-based Khiron Life Sciences, a major industry force in Latin American markets.
At this year’s Cannabis Dealmakers Summit in Dallas, we sat down with Fox to talk about where he sees weed going in his native Mexico, the future of legalization across the world, and his work with cannabis companies like Khiron.
Why have you gotten so involved in both the effort to legalize cannabis and in the cannabis industry?
Because [where it has been legalized], it has proven to be an industry that develops products that are useful, creates jobs, generates wealth, and brings income to the government and the people. And because of the violence in Mexico. We are the transit point for [illicit] drugs going north through the U.S. market, and we pay a blood toll for that. We are seeing 50,000 people killed every year because of this product, the industry, and the cartels. If we legalize, we can take this plant away from the criminals and put it in the hands of farmers and businessmen. Then the picture would change. It’s already happening in Canada, which has gone for the whole enchilada, full approval for medical and recreational use.
The cartels won’t go away that easily, though. Won’t they want to get into the legal business?
Of course they will not go away. But we estimate that, in Mexico, 40 percent of cartel income comes from the marijuana industry. It’s difficult to say what’s going to happen. My guess is that if you take away 40 percent of their income, you could weaken them. They could go after new markets. But around the world over the past 10 years, I’ve seen criminals becoming a positive force, willing to move into a legal industry. They’re risking their lives [in black markets]. So the most convenient thing for them would be to move out of that market and join the new, legal industry.
Ultimately, it is stupid not to move toward a regulation strategy. Legalization is something you cannot stop. It will reach the whole world pretty soon. I’m for total legalization of every single drug. We must let people make their own free decisions. There’s no way you’re going to change their behavior or consumption habits as a government. That is stupid. What they need to do is educate -- inform people how something can be bad for you if consumed in excess -- not use a stick to take people to jail because they used drugs.
You’ve predicted that recreational legality is imminent in Mexico. Do you still believe that?
The new government [which came to power last December] has continued the process of medical use and committed to recreational use. So we’re just waiting for things to happen. When you have a change in administrations, everything is slow, especially as we’ve moved from a conservative to an extremely liberal, populist administration. But I’m convinced that between now and the end of December, regulations on medical usage will be issued and that the approval of recreational use will come along [eventually]. It is clear that the majority of Mexican families today are in favor of legalizing cannabis. So you’re not going to go against public opinion [in advancing those goals].
As legalization develops, what opportunities will emerge for American entrepreneurs?
Mexico has 130 million people. That’s a big market. The problem is that free trade is going to take some time to develop. You need a very strong regulation [framework for such trade]. Also, don’t forget that purchasing power in Mexico is one tenth of the purchasing power you have in the United States.
So we have the consumers, but they might not have the money to pay for high-quality products. That will limit the size of the market in Mexico. Still, Mexico’s consumption capacity for any product you can imagine is among the 13 largest markets in the world.
Tell us a little about the kind of work you’ve been doing with Khiron Life Sciences.
I participate in board meetings, number one. Number two, I participate in fund-raising for the company, go to the markets, work with the family farms, connect them with governments and businessmen. They have also donated to three [charitable] foundations I represent. It is a socially responsible company -- as all companies in the space should be -- not only doing business but also helping people and making a social commitment to donate to nonprofit organizations for progress.
And what sort of work have you been doing with Bonaventure Equity’s Cannabis Fund? You’re involved in cannabis venture capital, right?
I have embedded with many companies working in the space -- farmers, producers, processors. I do a profound amount of due diligence to make sure I’m not joining companies that don’t understand the responsibilities and ethics the industry needs, or compliance with regulations.
I want this industry to grow. I want it to become international. I want to see it become part of the NAFTA framework, so cannabis can move freely between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. I am happy to be the only former president active in this field. Other former presidents publicly support change. But they are not activists. They don’t get out into the field. And I’m happy to announce that we are going to have a greenhouse for research right in the Center [Vicente Fox Center of Studies, Library, and Museum in San Cristóbal, Mexico]. I cannot imagine President Bush putting such a thing in his presidential library.
I believe in the work. I’m putting my image, the respect I have gained through the years, into this because I believe this change is pragmatic, and for the betterment of humankind.