The first former global head of state to address a marijuana industry conference, former Mexican President Vicente Fox opened up the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit & Expo last week with a global vision of the marijuana trade as a “world business sector to many, many entrepreneurs.” Fox rattled off a list of nations with increasingly reform-minded cannabis laws, and identified emerging markets — some which could even overtake the U.S. market  — to the nearly 5,000 eager cannabiz entrepreneurs at the summit.

“In times, if I would have come before, the audience wouldn’t dress this way,” Fox joked to the button-down, professional crowd. “Now we have a business community.”

While Mexican president, Fox laid the groundwork for the Mexican marijuana decriminalization laws that passed in 2009 after he left office. “We have the case of Holland, the case of Portugal. Great examples of what can be done when you have a vision,” Fox said, citing the countries that inspired Mexican reform. “They did eradicate crime. They did eradicate the underground economy. They did bring in regulations that have brought income and taxes to governments.”

“Now Uruguay is open also and has moved to legalization or decriminalization. Mexico, one year ago, now took the same decision,” he explained.

While Mexico decriminalized marijuana in 2009, the country is poised to become a much bigger industry player since both houses of Mexican Congress have now passed a medical marijuana legalization bill. Current President Enrique Pena Nieto is expected to that sign it later this year, though its enactment window remains uncertain.

The United States still remains well ahead of the most of the world in cannabis reform and market share. Smaller countries like Spain and Colombia are now essentially legal nations, while Germany and Italy are among a half-dozen or so medical-use countries.

Around 30 countries in the world have decriminalized marijuana in modest amounts for personal use, including Greece, Israel, and Russia. None of these nations has a cannabis industry approaching the size of America’s.

Canada is the new wild card in cannabis the game. Our neighbor to the north has been a medical-use country (on and off) since 2001, but is poised to become a recreational-use nation in mid-2018. “Canada is changing,” Fox said. “With a leader like Justin Trudeau, Canada will go to become a leader in this industry.”

In fact, Fox views Canada and Mexico as potentially leapfrogging the U.S. cannabis industry — though acknowledged that Mexico is currently far behind. “The state of California produces more marijuana than we do in Mexico,” he pointed out. “It’s important and mandatory to move ahead in Mexico on this new situation, starting with cannabis and maybe I hope so with other drugs.”

“Mexico, in the economic sector of the cannabis, is going to be a great competitor,” Fox said, citing that majorities of U.S. broccoli, avocados, and tomatoes and imported from Mexico. “We hope we will take our share of market and Mexican farming will enjoy 60 percent minimum of the marijuana industry.”

Fox sees a new ‘Emerald Triangle’ emerging in the global cannabis trade — Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. “This product, cannabis, has to be integrated into [the North American Free Trade Agreement] NAFTA,” he declared. “[It] has to have the trade potential of moving without barriers, without taxes and without limits”

Free trade and marijuana, of course, are explicitly not priorities for President Donald Trump. “Now we have an extreme conservative government in the United States,” Fox warned, noting a potential decline in the American marijuana market that would be an opportunity for Mexico and Canada.

The American cannabis industry may be under fire from the feds right now, but does have deep-pocketed funding and a great deal of public sentiment on its side. “We’re not here just to make money,” Fox told the giant audience of cannabis entrepreneurs. “We’re here to bring to make and bring good things to the community, to the world.”

Photo courtesy NCIA