SINALOA—Enrique Torres wearily walks into his garage after a frustrating day on his dusty ranch. Torres is about to wash up before his compadres arrive for the night’s meeting. “It used to take me almost an hour to get the marijuana smell off my hands at the end of the day,” he says. “Now my hands smell like my lunch.” Torres has spent the last few brutal months scouring for work and doing odd jobs around town. Ever since four U.S. states legalized marijuana, and dozens more began medical marijuana programs, the demand for his old crop has all but vanished. Farmers like Torres, once made rich growing pot for thriving drug cartels, are now left with heartache and hungry children.
“Modelo Juan Garcia went to the jefe of the local cartel to plead our case,” says Torres, “to say hey, we are starving here. We’ve never seen him again. Some of us tried our hand at cooking meth – but after Tito burned down half the village, we have few options left.”
The meeting he’s assembled tonight has been called to open the letter they’ve received back from the U.S., penned on pristine White House stationary. Three months prior, Torres and his fellow farmers sat down and pieced together a letter demanding $120 million in reparations for the destruction that U.S. cannabis legalization has wreaked on their livelihoods. The letter was addressed to President Obama himself.
The men sit on the edge of their seats as Torres carefully opens the envelope. He draws out the crisp, white sheet of bond paper with the ornate presidential seal at the top. He calls over his son Manny to stand ready to translate, delicately passing the letter to his son. Manny looks at the letter and begins to laugh. “Manny!” his father scolds, “why do you laugh, mijo?” He hands the letter to his father. Written in plain black ink reads the response: