In the Netflix series Narcos: Mexico, one of the most flamboyant leaders in the Guadalajara Cartel – Rafael Caro-Quintero, known as “Rafa” – proves his worth to the drug trafficking organization by pioneering a new form of seedless marijuana. It’s called “sinsemilla.”
Is this true? Did Rafa really invent seedless marijuana? The answer is that he didn’t come up with what is called sinsemilla first, but he did take the new version of the drug to a much grander level. Thus, he did play a key role in the rise of sinsemilla within the Guadalajara Cartel, giving that drug trafficking organization an early boost.
Here’s what you need to know:
Rafael Caro-Quintero Was Considered a ‘Shrewd & Youthful Entrepreneur’
As viewers of the Netflix series know, Don Neto was already a leader in a Sinaloan organization of drug traffickers before he helped Felix Gallardo unite various fractious groups into one unit known as the Guadalajara Cartel. According to the book, Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? By George W. Grayson, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo (Don Neto) was called “The Godfather” and “pioneered large-scale poppy production and trade” in Sinaloa. He also mentored Rafael Caro Quintero, who is described in the book as a “shrewd and youthful entrepreneur who converted Mexican marijuana from second-rate weed to the choice of connoisseurs by perfecting a seedless variety of the plant (sinsemilla.)”
However, in the book Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can’t Win, author Elaine Shannon writes that other growers had come up with sinsemilla first. Still, she notes, Caro Quintero dramatically increased the drug’s production and reach.
Caro Quintero “realized that cheap Mexican labor could be used to grow sinsemilla on a grand scale,” and he and Don Neto “supervised the cultivation of thousands of acres of irrigated desert using commercial agricultural techniques,” she wrote.
According to the book, Rafael Caro Quintero was “the youngest and most audacious of the lot, who captured the imagination of the Mexican peasantry” like Robin Hood or Pancho Villa. The book says that Rafael Caro Quintero “transformed Mexican marijuana from common weed to the smoke of connoisseurs” but didn’t invent it. The book credits growers in “California and Oregon” with pioneering the technique that “yielded extraordinarily potent marijuana, called sinsemilla ‘without seeds'” but said they only “worked tiny plots,” and Caro Quintero spotted the potential and took this to a “grand scale.”
PotGuide.com (using a slightly different spelling variation for seedless marijuana) says this version of marijuana remains favored by many today but is not common. “For those who don’t grow cannabis, sensimilla may sound like a specific strain, when in actuality, it’s a female plant that has been prevented from being fertilized and therefore grows without seeds. Most people want to grow sensimilla plants because it produces flower with a higher THC content, versus putting all of its energy into producing seeds. Having said this, sensimilla plants are rare because they’re unable to reproduce until it’s fertilized,” the site reports.
The plant has inspired musicians, as you can see above.
Rafa on the Run
Rafa was in custody for 28 years after the cartel murdered U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Kiki Camarena (learn more about the real Kiki Camarena here). Camarena also existed in real life, and his 1985 torture and death sparked a major crisis between the American and Mexican governments and led to what we know as the modern drug war (the busting up of the Guadalajara Cartel also created the vacuum that produced El Chapo, who has a bit role in Narcos: Mexico, which streamed on November 16, 2018.)
Quintero was sentenced to serve 40 years in prison for Camarena’s death in the 1980s, but in 2013, he was freed after a Mexican court, on appeal, ruled that he should have been tried in state court, not federal court. In only days, though, the Mexican Attorney General issued an order for the arrest of Rafael Caro-Quintero. He subsequently disappeared.
In 2018, The Huffington Post described Rafa’s life on the run: “Hunted by Mexican and American authorities, he never sleeps in the same spot twice, according to his guards. His bed is a sleeping bag, his roof the canvas of a tent. During the day, he haunts the mountains like a ghost, his head perpetually craned toward the sky, scanning for the drones that search the impassable mountains for signs of life.”
He has given other interviews on the run, now denying that he killed Camarena. In one detailed interview, he explained his background, his ties to El Chapo, and claimed he had given up drug trafficking. “I’m not involved in any such problems and less involved in a war. I’m struggling to fix my problem … Imagine, with almost 29 years in prison, would I want more trouble? I WANT PEACE,” he claimed in the interview.