By now, we’re sure you’ve heard some type of amazing, almost too good to be a true story about marijuana transforming someone’s life. The legalization of marijuana by some states certainly has had an effect in the United States, especially when it comes to its medicinal use. Federal legalization of the drug could increase those positive effects as well.
While the medical benefits of marijuana legalization are a strong argument, we believe there is an even better but rarely used argument in favor of its legalization. Marijuana legalization would increase border security and limit the power of the Mexican drug cartels.
Drug cartels are extremely powerful all throughout Mexico due to limited rule of law, but especially at the U.S.-Mexico border. Over time, the cartels have diversified their business models and have developed extensive criminal networks. They have branched out into human, animal, and arms smuggling, as well as extortion and kidnapping.
But by far, their most profitable revenue stream is still drug smuggling. While marijuana may be the least profitable of the illegal drugs being smuggled, it still has an important role in the smuggling tactics used by cartels.
The price of drugs varies, depending on which drug you want. According to the DEA, heroin was one of the more expensive drugs in 2016, with a PPG (price per gram pure) of $902. Cocaine came in at $177 and meth at $69. Marijuana had a measly PPG of $9.
These drugs are also smuggled and seized at the border in different amounts. The DEA reported in 2016 that about 566 pounds of heroin were seized at the border. Compare that to 5,473 pounds of cocaine and 8,224 pounds of meth. However, a whopping 1.29 million pounds of marijuana was seized in 2016.
With a back of the envelope calculation, we determined that the cartels lost roughly $5.2 billion in 2016 due to marijuana seizures at the border. With such a huge loss, you’d think the cartels would be going bankrupt. But analysts estimate annual revenues from drug sales in the U.S. for the cartels to land somewhere between $19 to $29 billion. The cartels either must be smuggling in millions of pounds more of marijuana than are seized, or cartels are getting creative in how they smuggle drugs across the border.
Problems at the Border
Cartels use a variety of ways to get their drugs across the border. Some smugglers brave the desert and pass through where there is no border barrier. Others pass through tunnels drilled under the border. Some even use drones to fly the drugs over the border and drop them on the other side of the barrier. But according to the DEA, the large majority of smuggled drugs pass through legitimate ports of entry on the border. How can so many drugs be passing through into the U.S. when the majority pass through our most heavily guarded border crossings?
We interviewed 20 experts in this field, ranging from current border patrol agents and DEA officials to university professors who study drug cartels. Each had their own opinions on how to combat the drug cartels and drug problem in the U.S., but each made it clear that the cartels were taking advantage of current U.S. drug policy.
With marijuana illegal in the U.S. at the Federal level, border patrol agents must stop individuals carrying any amount of marijuana and seize the drugs. This requires a large amount of man-power, especially when the amount is substantial. This distraction, coupled with staffing issues that are currently plaguing border patrol, is used by cartels to sneak the harder, more profitable drugs through the border crossing station.
Some of the experts we spoke to told us corrupt border patrol agents may even facilitate the smuggling of these drugs and help create more distractions while the more profitable drugs slip past. While the border patrol is forced to deal with marijuana, which is less deadly and worrisome than drugs like heroin or cocaine, smugglers can easily pass through undetected with these dangerous drugs.
This technique explains why so much more marijuana is confiscated at border crossings than any other drug. Drug cartels are using U.S. drug policy to their advantage and forcing border patrol to focus on their least profitable drug. It’s no wonder the cartels are bringing in revenue in the $20 billions all the while taking a $5 billion loss from marijuana confiscations. The cartels’ more profitable and dangerous drugs are slipping past border patrol precisely because of current U.S. drug policy.
The U.S. should reevaluate its current prohibition of marijuana. Legalizing or decriminalizing the possession of marijuana would allow border patrol to focus on dangerous drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine that are contributing to the incredibly high overdose rates that the U.S. is currently experiencing. Regardless of whether or not marijuana has medical benefits, legalizing it will increase border security and allow U.S. drug policy to focus on drugs that are doing the most harm to its citizens.