Border wall

The Wall Won't End Pot Smuggling at the Border. Legalization Will.

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Pot is bulky and pungent. That makes it difficult to conceal in, say, a suitcase or a truck. For that reason, marijuana traffickers tend to avoid legal ports or entrances, preferring instead to traverse the expanses of deserts and canyons where Border Patrol agents are often the only signs of human life. To the extent that other drugs cross outside normal entry points, they are most often hitchhikers along for the ride with the weed. In 2013, for example, Border Patrol agents seized 274 pounds of marijuana for every one pound of other drugs.

So for those familiar with the history of drug smuggling, there was a dog that didn't bark in Donald Trump's early January Oval Office address, which was intended to frighten Americans into supporting a border wall and give him leverage to end the shutdown. While Trump described the southern border as "a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs," he only specifically mentioned "meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl"—all drugs that typically come in through formal points of entry. He did not speak of what has been, for most of living memory, the most-smuggled item over the Mexican-American border: marijuana.

Pot, and the impoverished undocumented immigrants who often bring it, are no longer flowing across the border at the rate they once were. This decline has virtually nothing to do with expensive security innovations at the border and everything to do with legalization in the United States. If it were any other industry, one imagines the president would be delighted: When it comes to pot, customers prefer to buy American.

A Century of Fecklessness

President Trump is far from the first politician to use drug smuggling to justify greater border security. During the 1920s, the "need" to combat smuggling served as a primary justification for the creation of the Border Patrol. In 1922, the commissioner general of immigration warned that "dope, liquor, Chinese, and alien smuggling has become a lucrative business and is being carried on by international gangs in which there have been found the hardest, most daring, and cleverest criminals." These nefarious forces, he added, were "backed by no limit of funds and possessed of the highest powered vehicles."

In 1924, Congress responded to these concerns and the need to enforce new restrictions on legal immigration by creating the Border Patrol. During alcohol Prohibition, the agency went on to confiscate millions of quarts of liquor. Year after year, the immigration commissioner's reports requested more agents, vehicles, and even airplanes to compete with the traffickers.

Then, in December 1933, national Prohibition was repealed. Though some states continued the pernicious policy, the illicit smuggling of booze immediately dropped by 90 percent. By 1935, liquor importation at the border, and the grave warnings over it, had disappeared entirely.

The calm, however, was short-lived.

Barely two years later, Congress enacted a nationwide ban on marijuana through the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Suddenly, the Border Patrol began touting the "drive against narcotics"—in particular, "Mexican marihuana"—as the justification for spending more money to "secure the border." With the official launch of the "war on drugs" under President Richard Nixon, when marijuana was classified as having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," the Border Patrol focused even more attention on drug smuggling. In 1972, the Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that "because of known alien involvement in illicit drug traffic, Service officers have directed increased attention to the detection of possible drug violations."

Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spends billions of dollars a year on drug interdiction efforts. In addition to its 20,000 agents, the Border Patrol has constructed 650 miles of fencing and "vehicular barriers" designed to stop drug runners across the deserts. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has nearly 1,500 canine units and a coast-to-coast surveillance network that includes a fleet of Predator drones. Despite this costly effort, the DHS inspector general concluded in 2016 that the department "could not ensure its drug interdiction efforts met required national drug control outcomes nor accurately assess the impact of the approximately $4.2 billion it spends annually on drug control activities."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Foretelling the doom of Trump's wall, the Border Patrol discovered on average more than one drug smuggling tunnel from Mexico every month from 2007 to 2010, even as it built out hundreds of miles of security fences along the border. This was in addition to more than 300 holes per month that people were putting in the fences. When smugglers weren't going under or through the barriers, they were literally driving over them on ramps—a fact uncovered when an unlucky smuggler's SUV pinned itself on top of a fence. Even that hang-up didn't stop the innovative criminals from making off with the dope.

Pot Smuggling Plummets

Drug smuggling moves in an underground economy, which necessarily means rigorous formal statistics are hard to come by. Importers understandably make no publicly available reports, so the true scale of the enterprise can only be estimated indirectly, when government agents bring portions of the invisible market to light. The absolute amount of drugs that smugglers bring into the country is many times greater than the amount seized, but drug seizures can serve as a proxy for changes in the flow of drugs. In the absence of other developments, a significant increase in drug seizures likely indicates an increase in the flow.

If the government cracks down on the border, seizures will increase even if the same quantity of drugs is being smuggled. But focusing on the amount seized per agent controls for the level of enforcement activity.

From 2003 to 2009, Congress made massive investments in border security. It nearly doubled the number of Border Patrol officers from 10,717 to 20,119, and nearly all of the existing border barriers were constructed during that period. But the amounts of marijuana seized per agent remained virtually constant, with the average agent confiscating about 115 pounds annually throughout.

In 2013, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) concluded that marijuana smuggling had "occurred at consistently high levels over the past 10 years, primarily across the US-Mexico border" and indicated no particular hope of halting the flow. From 2010 to 2018, enforcement remained roughly constant—no new hires or fences—but something strange happened in 2014: Seizures per agent began to decline. By the next year, they were down by a third. By 2018, the average Border Patrol agent was seizing just 25 pounds for the entire year, or less than half a pound per week—a drop of 78 percent from 2013. Even within 2018, monthly seizures during the first quarter of the fiscal year were a third higher than those in the remainder of the year.

FIGURE 1
Joanna Andreasson

Although it is the most important agency for interdicting marijuana, the Border Patrol isn't alone in witnessing the sudden disappearance of pot smugglers. Its sister agencies in the DHS—Air and Marine Operations, the Coast Guard, and ports of entry inspectors with the Office of Field Operations—saw similarly large drops in marijuana seizures. While full 2018 figures aren't yet available, all DHS agencies together seized 1.8 million fewer pounds of marijuana in 2017 than they did in 2013—a decrease valued by the department at about $1.5 billion.

Legalization Does What Fences Can't

The mysterious disappearance of illicit weed did not coincide with any significant changes in use of marijuana by Americans. Indeed, slightly more people told government surveyors that they had used marijuana during the prior year in 2017 than in 2013, continuing a trend that started before legalization. But the disappearance did coincide with a nearly sevenfold increase in legal sales, according to estimates from Arcview Market Research. A relatively small number of such transactions had gone on prior to 2014 under the auspices of medical use, but full legalization jump-started the industry.

It was in 2014 that Colorado and Washington state permitted the first legal sales of marijuana for recreational purposes. Oregon officially joined the pot party in 2015, Alaska in 2016, and Nevada in 2017. California opened fully legal dispensaries in January 2018. Massachusetts did the same in November. And Michigan and Maine have similar plans to be implemented in 2019 and 2020.

By September 2018, one in six Americans lived in states with legal marijuana sales. After Michigan and Maine open their dispensaries, nearly one in four will do so.

Some opponents of legalization doubted the black market would dry up. At least in Colorado, they were wrong. A study commissioned by the state's Department of Revenue found that a "comparison of inventory tracking data and consumption estimates signals that Colorado's preexisting illicit marijuana market for residents and visitors has been fully absorbed into the regulated market." States with more taxes and regulations have seen less success, but except in heavily regulated California, legalization has been accompanied by major increases in legal sales and moves away from the black market.

FIGURE 2
Joanna Andreasson

Within the year, two-thirds of Americans will live either in or next to states where marijuana is legal. Given the ease of travel, these legal sales can end up supplying places where pot prohibition is still the law of the land. The Colorado study noted that "legal in-state purchases that are consumed out of state" are likely occurring. How far these purchases travel is difficult to know, but even before Washington and Colorado implemented legalization, a study by the Mexican think tank IMCO predicted that U.S. domestic weed would quickly replace the imported stuff, since it would likely be more expensive to smuggle the plant from Mexico than to ship it from those two states to any other state except Texas.

Colorado authorities working with the DEA have made several high-profile busts of interstate smuggling rings. "Residents of Colorado, and people that I'll call 'transplants to Colorado,' are moving here, becoming involved in the marijuana industry with the expressed purpose of hiding their illicit proceeds and their illicit activities in plain sight under some of the laws that we have," said Barbra Roach, head of the DEA's Denver division, in March 2017 after breaking up a smuggling operation that involved shipments to Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Minnesota. Oklahoma and Nebraska even sued Colorado in an attempt to stop legalization there, a case the Supreme Court declined to hear in 2016. But no one disputed that legally grown Colorado marijuana was making its way to other states.

The increased supply of U.S.-grown cannabis has undercut demand for the Mexican product and harmed marijuana farmers south of the border. Growers in Mexico have reported declines in wholesale prices of 50–70 percent in recent years. "If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they'll run us into the ground," one marijuana producer in Mexico told NPR in 2014. "We're only getting $40 a kilo. The day we get $20 a kilo, it will get to the point that we just won't plant marijuana anymore."

That is exactly what has happened as the flood of higher-quality marijuana from the U.S. has begun competing with the illicit plants from Mexico. CBP itself has hypothesized that one explanation for the decline in pot seizures since 2014 could be that "legalization in the United States [h]as reduced demand" for imported cannabis.

Two Failed Government Wars

Marijuana, thanks to its volume and odor, has traditionally been the primary drug smuggled into the U.S. between official points of entry. Those routes are risky and expensive; thousands of migrants have died in the deserts trying to use them. This is why drug cartels primarily rely on U.S. citizens to bring more easily concealable drugs, such as heroin, into the country in their baggage or on their person through normal ports of entry. They already have the right to enter, which reduces the reason for law enforcement to stop them.

Given this dynamic, the decline of marijuana smuggling has made the Border Patrol, which focuses on areas between ports, of much less use to drug warriors. In 2013—before the first state legalization laws took full effect—the average Border Patrol agent seized drugs that were more valuable than the average inspector at ports of entry, based on the agency's own valuations. With the disappearance of marijuana coming across the deserts, the value of all drugs seized by the Border Patrol declined 70 percent from 2013 to 2018. Today, the average port inspector seizes drugs three times more valuable than those seized by the average Border Patrol agent.

FIGURE 3
Joanna Andreasson

The difference is even more dramatic for "hard drugs": 87 percent of the meth, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl seized by Border Patrol agents or port inspectors in 2018 came in through a point of entry. DHS valued its nonmarijuana drug seizures at official entrances at $1.5 billion, compared to just $216 million for those by Border Patrol. In other words, Trump's border wall won't touch the vast majority of hard drugs entering the country, despite him singling them out in his Oval Office speech. And even if it did, it would be no more likely to succeed than the fence, agents, or cameras were in combating marijuana or alcohol.

The cartels, reeling from the loss in marijuana income, have attempted to replace pot with other drugs, but that proved easier said than done. The total value of all drugs seized at the border—at ports or otherwise—has fallen by a third since 2013. So cartels that invested significant capital in the marijuana trade are attempting to make up the losses in another way: by using their drug tunnels to smuggle immigrants across the border. The profit margins for moving humans are so small, and the effort has such a large footprint, that only desperate times would justify using tunnels to bring them in.

"While subterranean tunnels are not a new occurrence along the California-Mexico border, they are more commonly utilized by transnational criminal organizations to smuggle narcotics," a CBP official stated after the agency busted a group of 30 immigrants emerging from underground in 2017. "However, as this case demonstrates, law enforcement has also identified instances where such tunnels were used to facilitate human smuggling."

This shift allows Trump to point to the other purpose of his proposed wall: to keep migrants out. But just as the fences failed to keep out drugs, there is no evidence that a wall would keep out people.

Indeed, the border brings together two failed government wars in one place: the war on illegal drugs and the war on illegal immigrants.

When Congress enacted the first draconian caps on legal immigration in the 1920s, illegal entries became a regular occurrence for the first time. Everyone understood what had created the problem—the ratcheting back of legal immigration—and immediately made the comparison to alcohol Prohibition. In 1926, the immigration commissioner wrote that "as a consequence of more recent numerical limitation of immigration, the bootlegging of aliens…has grown to be an industry second in importance only to the bootlegging of liquor."

While the war on booze has ended, the wars on drugs and illegal immigrants have continued at full speed. The origins of these efforts have long since receded from the national memory, and people view illegal immigration and drug smuggling like hurricanes: as natural phenomena that the government manages or mitigates rather than causes. But as the effects of marijuana legalization prove, smuggling is not caused by traffickers; it's caused by government.

Fixing Illegal Immigration

The story of widespread pot legalization contains a clear lesson for immigration policy.

For nearly a century, Americans have been told that illegal immigrants ignore the law and bypass the legal options. But they aren't ignoring the law. They are acknowledging what it says: that they are barred from coming to this country. And they aren't bypassing legal options, because no such options exist for them.

Whenever aboveboard options do appear, the problem dissipates. The more unskilled guest workers that the United States allows in legally, the fewer illegal immigrants appear at the border to be caught. In the seven decades from 1949 to 2018, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 86 people annually in years when guest worker entries were greater than 200,000. In other years, the average was 269 people per year—three times as many. Since 1986, thanks to the lack of a quota on agricultural workers, the total number of legal guest workers in the United States has increased twentyfold to 536,634; meanwhile, the average agent now apprehends 97 percent fewer people than he did 30 years ago.

FIGURE 4
Joanna Andreasson

Legalization works. More legal immigration, like more legal pot, means less illegal activity. The problem with America's immigration laws is that we make it almost impossible to come here while following the rules. While those guest worker admissions are impressive, nearly all of the increase has gone to Mexicans, because regulations require U.S. employers to pay for employees' round-trip travel, which incentivizes hiring the closest candidates. Central Americans therefore have a much harder time finding legal entry. No wonder they constituted the majority of apprehended migrants in 2018.

Even for Mexicans, lesser-skilled workers without U.S. citizen family members have no legal way to come to the country permanently or even to work in year-round positions. Businesses can't sponsor their lesser-skilled guest workers for permanent residence (lawmakers want them to have to leave), and since 1990, Congress has allocated just 5,000 green cards per year for employees of U.S. businesses who lack college degrees—a infinitesimal fraction of the nearly 11 million immigrants here illegally today.

For people fleeing violence south of the border, the situation is even bleaker. Their only legal option is to somehow get to the U.S. and request asylum. The government is supposed to process anyone who asserts a fear of returning to her home country at a legal port of entry, but the Trump administration is turning them away, saying it's prioritizing other travelers. The result is that most asylum seekers are now crossing illegally and turning themselves in. Even then, only people with a "well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion" can actually receive asylum. Reasonably believing that you're going to be murdered isn't enough.

The answer to these problems is the same as the answer we've stumbled upon to marijuana smuggling: Legalize it. Make it simple. Get rid of as many regulations as possible so that people truly have the option to "follow the rules." If peaceful people want to put their talents to work for Americans, let them. If someone is fleeing a fire somewhere in the world, America doesn't need to put it out—but we shouldn't block the fire escape. Until the government learns that its own policies are the causes of illegal immigration and drug smuggling, the problems will continue. Legal weed offers a blueprint for a better way forward.


Sources, Figure 1: U.S. Department of Homeland Security Ofce of Inspector General, "Independent Review of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Reporting of Drug Control Performance Summary Report," 2008, 2011; Customs and Border Protection, "Sector Profiles," 2012–2017; Customs and Border Protection, "Enforcement Statistics FY 2018," August 31, 2018; Border Patrol, "Staffing Statistics," December 12, 2017.

Sources, Figure 2: Arcview Market Research, The State of Legal Marijuana Markets, 1st–6th editions; author's calculations based on drug valuations and amounts from Customs and Border Protection, "Local Media Releases," 2013–2018; U.S. Department of State, "Narcotics Control Reports"; Customs and Border Protection, "Enforcement Statistics FY 2018," August 31, 2018; Air and Marine Operations, Reports and Testimony, 2013–2017.

Sources, Figure 3: author's calculations based on drug valuations and amounts from Customs and Border Protection, "Local Media Releases," 2013–2018; Customs and Border Protection, "Enforcement Statistics FY 2018," August 31, 2018.

Sources, Figure 4: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "General Collection," 1949–1995; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Yearbook of Immigration Statistics," 1996–2017; Immigration and Naturalization Service, "History: Border Patrol," 1985; TRAC Immigration, "Border Patrol Agents," 2006; Border Patrol, "Staffing Statistics," December 12, 2017.

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  1. Duh!

    Legalize killing innocent people and eliminate murder while you’re at it.

    I guess when reason repeats stories we should repeat our comments.

    https://reason.com/reasontv/2019/02/22/
    legal-weed-did-more-to-stop-drug-smuggli

    1. Sure, smoking pot is a horrible misdeed, equivalent to killing a born human being in violation of the human’s free will (not “assisted suicide”).

      And I would be fully within my rights to punish you for stealing an acorn off of my property (after proper courtly lawsuits and yada-yada), at the same level of punishment as if you’d cut down (and sold for lumber) my treasured full-grown, beautiful oak tree.

      We’ve been over this before, and I doubt that you’ll ever change your mind, despite your pretenses of being data-driven, logical, and rational.

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    2. The idea that murder is only a crime because the governments says so would be ridiculous. Our rights exist regardless of whether the government violated them.

      No one’s rights are violated when one adult sells marijuana to another adult. No one’s rights are violated when an adult consumes marijuana in the privacy of his or her home.

      The only reason adults selling and consuming marijuana is a crime is because the government says so. It’s just arbitrary. It isn’t comparable to murder at all.

      1. my pal’s sister is losing 80 kilos at regular intervals. She has been over weight anyway last month she started to take those new dietary enhancements and she has lost forty kilos to this point. test the site online here……….

        http://Internet32.com

        1. Your sister is a fat slob.

          1. His sister’s going to be executed by the cartel if she “lost” 40 kilos of “dietary enhancements”, AKA Bolivian marching powder.

      2. Can you pronounce the criteria that makes something a right, or is everything a right?

        1. Rights are freedom of action for an individual that don’t infringe on the freedom of other individuals.

          Not that tough.

          Murdering someone infringes on their freedom.

          Jones selling an herb to Smith doesn’t infringe on Wilson, or Smith, or Jones.

          1. Owning nuclear weapons doesn’t infringe upon anyone’s rights.

            Do you think you have the right to?

            1. as long as I do not deprive anyone ELSE of ther lawful right to life and health by the way I take care of y nuke. If I were to threaten to blow up a theatre if they allow a certain speaker I don’t like to speak there, I’m wrong. If I DO blow it up for ANY reason, I’m wrong…….. but the fact of simple possession on my part harms no one.

              If I begin developing and testing some dleivery system to enable me to put that somewhere I am likely to cause harm, then the issue is not the nuke, but my apparent intended use of it.

              Same with my possession of one of those so-called “assault rifles” so many have knotting their knickers these days, on the insane notion that that particular inert piece of machinery can act all on its own and hurt someone. The issue DOES become a problem when I misuse that piece of machinery to harm innocents. But to tell me I cannot have it at all, thus depriving ME of y ability to ward off violent attackers (however likely their attack might really be) then you have infringed upon MY right to life…. and to protect that life by whatever means I choose.

        2. there have been plainly identified a number of rights that are ours by the fact we are breathing, that predate and are not dependent upon government, and in fact, government are charged with protecting those rights to the individual as well as society. The “Bill of Rights” contains most of them.

          Other places in our Constitution FedGov are assigned a few certain specific tasks…. and prohibited all others. Amongst the things government are to manage and perform, NOTHING has anything to do with what we do/do not put into our bodies. Enforcing crime is also prohibited it, excepting for one crime, named and defined in that document, and the use of certain “controlled substances’ is NOT it.
          Yu do NOT have a right to live at a certain standard, to make use of certain things or enjoy certain liberties as YOU define. Nor do you have any “right” to force YOUR will or values on someone else. Yuo DON”T have a right to employment, a certain minimum wage or standard of living, certain types of food, services, to be called/not called certain things……. nor to force YOUR opinion or values upon anyone else. You cannot make me like or dislike Genera lLee OR Grant.

    3. Your’e absolutely right Rob – while we’re at it, let’s make pre-marital sex, not performing at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 times a week, eating too much red meat or carbs, driving faster than 55 mph, and not helping little old ladies across the street illegal too.

      That way we can punish ourselves to the perfect society. No worries about the social costs of an offense compared to the costs of preventing it from us – full-speed ahead to the panopticon.

      Moron.

      Oh, you Sugarfreed your link.

    4. Legalize killing innocent people and eliminate murder while you’re at it.

      Bad logic. Murder is an actual crime, not a vice.

      When alcohol was prohibited, gangland crime went rampant, with rival gangs shooting each other over turf.
      Now that alcohol is legal, how often do rival beer companies do drive-bys?

      When drugs were prohibited, gangland crime went rampant, with rival gangs shooting each other over turf.
      Now that marijuana is starting to be legalized everywhere, cops can focus more on actual crime.

      1. What makes murder a crime and not a right?

        There are 750000 legal abortion murders every year in the US.

        How’s your logic? What is the criteria that makes something a right?

        1. the killing of individuals who as yet have not been born IS murder, no matter WHAT our “laws” declare. And FedGov have NO place stepping in and declaring that a right.. not in their bailiwick. In fact FedGov have no place to be enforcing any laws against murder.. those are state issues. They are NOT to be dealing with “crime” and the endless lists of thousands of federal “crimes” is illegal. They are assigned a very few specific and limited tasks.. and law enforcement is NOT on those lists.

          1. Still no criteria that defines a right. Just avoidance.

            So, you’re ok with state laws but not federal ones. That’s illogical.

            If you don’t like your states law, you can leave.

            If you don’t like federal law, you can emigrate to Mexico.

  2. Is David aware that the underground pot market continues to thrive in California despite legalization due to the tax costs?

    1. I was about to make the same point. Legalization won’t slow the smuggling if the taxes are prohibitive.

      1. Why, it’s a,lost as if money is the motivating factor!

      2. like cigarettes in New York

    2. No. No he is not. Because these people keep pushing *theory* and ignore practice – for ‘simplicity’ because the ‘voter isn’t sophisticated enough to understand nuance’.

    3. Mexican weed is garbage, given how little profit there is for it compared to domestic black market weed, I’m surprised they bother.

      Or out simply. This is a stupid article.

    4. Same in Washington State. The black market here thrives because the stupid state wierdoes got too greedy for revenue, overweening control, micromnagement, permits, restrictioins, etc. WHY can’t I just grow a few stems in my own backyard or closet, and if I end up making too much boiled zucchini sell some to my neighbours?

      A couple other states just starting out in the weed is legal world are bent upon doing the same thing. Stupid paul a TISH uns need to go learn about Laffer’s Curve. Its true…..

  3. President Trump trails a generic Democratic rival in the early stages of the 2020 race, NBC/WSJ poll shows

    Just as my 2018 #BlueTsunami prediction proved correct, my prediction of a Democratic victory in 2020 will hold up too.

    1. Can you be more specific about which geriatric Democratic rival he trails? The senile one, the dumb one, the lying one or the evil one?

    2. Too bad all the actual Democrats planning to run are worse than generic.

      AOC is our next president, I’m afraid, after Trump’s second term.

      1. she’s too unstable. Soon enough she’ll step in it big time and the stench will run off anyone seriously supporting her. Her outeageous socialistic ideas are way too far “out there”. She may appeal to certain segments as wierd and unstable as she is, but too many are either laughing at her or are abhoored by her insane antics.

    3. And Obama lost almost every 2012 poll against a “Generic Republican Candidate” too

      The problem with generic candidate polls is people imagine their ideal person to run against the incumbent

    4. OBL, don’t you think that tpwhoever gets the nomination, the only acceptable running mate is Jussie Smollett?

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  5. I also believe that decriminalization will diminish a world of suffering in this country. However, I’m always surprised when I read about the types and quantities of drugs seized at the border being used as a measure of the total amount of drugs smuggled. It is intuitive to believe that smaller quantities of more valuable drugs would be much more profitable to smuggle, but the cartels have to meet a demand, and if that demand is for marijuana, then that is what they will smuggle. Border Patrol says that MJ seizures have decreased between the ports of entry, which is *probably* due to less weight being brought in, but improved smuggling methods that may not even be known to BP may be employed, so the total amount brought in may have not decreased at all, and maybe has increased (they sell drones in Mexico, too). Also, I don’t trust DHS stats at all. DHS and Border Patrol try to extrapolate and then estimate overall drug smuggling based on tiny samples and using typical government math, that can’t be corroborated by anyone else.

  6. “Something strange happened in 2014: Seizures per agent began to decline. By the next year, they were down by a third. By 2018, the average Border Patrol agent was seizing just 25 pounds for the entire year, or less than half a pound per week?a drop of 78 percent from 2013.”

    I would argue that if we’re seeing less of it come across the border, that suggests that the networks of street gangs that make their money distributing it are, likewise, having their revenue squeezed. Gang affiliation is much more complicated than simple marijuana distribution and being affiliated with a gang isn’t the same as being a soldier or an active member. However, when there is less money to go around, there will be fewer active members and soldiers.

    Over time, territory for distribution becomes less valuable when there is 78% less product to sell in your territory. They can move to other markets like protection and fencing, etc., but the reason they didn’t concentrate more on those markets in the past was because it wasn’t as profitable and wasn’t as easy as making money from marijuana sales. Just like with any business, as revenue declines, they’ll need to downsize. The first thing we’ll see is a hiring freeze–not as many opportunities to move up from mere affiliation as there were should mean less recruiting.

    1. the big money is NOT from the green herb. It is from the concentrated powders.. the hard stuff. THAT is the big push of the mexican cartels….. and the source of MOST of the real “drug problems” this side the Rio Grande. I’ve read of a few recent busts interdicting enough fentanyl to kill a million people. THAT is some potency. It wold take a pretty full contianer ship to hold enough MJ to make a millioin people even mildly stoned… which would kill none of them (at least not directly.. but the hard stuff can, and DOES kill fequently.

  7. So the folks at Reason and Cato actually know how much MJ is covertly smuggled in? And they know how many illegal aliens have covertly entered–and continue to enter–the country? How do they know these things?

  8. That’s wishful thinking, because even if it’s going to be legalized, it’s going to be taxed. Very heavily in some states, which means there will always be a black market for it.

  9. On ideological grounds, I am neither opposed to, nor in favor of, a border wall. I’ve considered rationed arguments from both sides; this article is no exception.

    On practical grounds, I am opposed. A wall is an extremely simplistic architectural feature, and the number of ways to bypass/breach one renders them practically useless in the absence of additional security measures.

    A far more practical feature would be a dry moat. This is due to at least four reasons:

    1. Cost-effectiveness. Which is cheaper to construct and maintain: a 1500-mile long fence, or a trench of the same length?

    2. Anti-tunnelling. Instead of only having to dig a 10′ tunnel 5′ under a wall, diggers must bore even deeper and lengthen the tunnel extensively. Depending on the dimensions of the moat, it may be as much as a 100′ tunnel 25′ deep — or more.

    3. It would effectively act as two walls (one down and one back up) separated by a no-man’s-land. Additionally, the danger of people accidentally falling into the moat whilst standing on the foreign side might be high enough that the foreign government will pay for and erect a security fence of their own (Yes, Mr. Trump, THIS is how you can still live up to your campaign promise of making Mexico pay for it!).

    4. Uninterrupted line-of-sight. A wall greatly reduces the visibility range of agents who patrol the border. A moat would eliminate this obstacle.

    There is a 5., but it’s not for a practical reason.

    Thank you for reading.

    1. “On practical grounds, I am opposed. A wall is an extremely simplistic architectural feature, and the number of ways to bypass/breach one renders them practically useless in the absence of additional security measures.”

      Yeah, no. The type of structure proposed is not a simple wall, but a multi stage system of. Ariel’s that is not easy to bypass.

    2. You have not read of the tunnels (yes, multiple ones) discovered along the Imperial COunty border with Mr=exico, hav eyou? More than a mile long, big eough to drive a full sized forklift with load through it… or a truck. concrete walls and floor, sophisticated ventilation system, access at both ends very cleverly disguised as active freight warehouses. capacity hundreds of tonnes per day.

      Further your vision of “the wll” is a kid’s backyard project compared to what I’ve seen being implemented. Anti-tunnelling system goes deep, post points at intervals for armed sentiinels., electronic listening and sensory devices, live video feeds. etc. But at this point even the bare wall without the add ons is necessary to end the invading hordes….. and the stuff they transport. BOTH are undermining our ecurty and prosperity. We seem to be the ONLY nation on the planet that folks expect to throw our borders wide open to anyone/thing desiring to cross, for whatever end.
      Do YOU leave yur front door unlocked all the time, and thing anyone walking down the street can come on in and help themselves? Nah, didn’t think so. Nannie Girl Pelosi sure does NOT>……..

  10. I like it when artices remind me of songs I’ve not listened to in decades. TCH, legally obtained of course, improves the Tom Lehrer songs.

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  11. the marijuana legalization movement threatens to put cops and prisons out of business, hence the scare tactics about human trafficking

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  14. The wall won’t stop criminals. It will stop the flow of asylum seekers who have no chance of asylum, giving border agents more time to focus on criminals.

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  17. Yes, look at how effective CA’s new Pot Laws have completely driven Black-Market pot from the state.

  18. ” The more unskilled guest workers that the United States allows in legally, the fewer illegal immigrants appear at the border to be caught.”

    It’s refreshing to see an article on Reason advocating legal immigration. But the writer is from Cato where perhaps the anarchists don’t hold so much sway.

    That aside, legalising weed won’t do a damn thing to stop drug importation if tax and regulation make a black market viable. Then you get the worst of both worlds: a vast bureaucracy involved in legal weed and vast bureaucracy involved in deterring illegal weed. And this is the actual case. All legalisation achieved was an increase in the pervasiveness of the state.

    Smoke up, boys, you’re gonna need it.

    1. but the one aspect of lagalising mere possession is that if I want to produce and market my own, Gummit have no means of proving the bag I have is in itself illegal. Thus they can ONLY bust me when they PROVE I am vending it outside their prescribed system, with the taxes being paid. I’ve known some producers in another state who run the legal “front” business to provide cover for the REAL business they run under the shadows……. where they make their REAL money.

      Making it legal everywhere will end the criminal association for mere possession. How many are now in prison at about $45K per year, for having a dime bag of an herb someone decided was evil to possess? Last figure I saw for the DEA’s War on Drugs was about $Bn65/year. i can think of a WHOLE lot of better ways to spend/invest that much.

      1. And how has the situation been improved? You’re still operating in the shadows and having to lie. And as I’ve already pointed out the enforcement by the state is now on both legal weed and on illegal weed. Nothing has been diminished; it only appears to be. The state is involved in more regulation and spending of tax dollars than ever before. But all the weed libertarians think they’ve scored a victory. But ask yourself, has the state’s total oversight, enforcement and taxing power diminished or increased?

        You’ve become a stoned budgie in a gilded cage.

  19. Yes, now marijuana is decreasing in border incursions, however the amount of heroin and to a lesser extent cocaine have increased significantly. Great, now we have replaced marijuana with heroin.
    Might just as well make everything OK and just let the weak die (the real endgame).
    I this what the author advocates or is this outcome not even considered?

  20. Well, I’m in favor of legalization but would prefer the government stay out of it. By their plan only government buddies will be allowed in the business, cutting out all those that have risked their neck for decades. And instead of legalizing because this is the land of the free, they’re doing it to increase their revenues. These are tactics government used against the Mafia, pushing them out, throwing them in jail, then taking over their business and calling what they do “legal” and “moral”. Concerning regulation, well, try to get some poison ivy cream without a doctor’s prescription. How about some ear drops for your kid when they have an earache in the middle of the night? Government will require certified growers and tenders and other needless crap, all morally justified by them. And yet, they don’t have to be certified to be a politician, explaining why government is largely ineffective, inefficient. It’s just not worth cutting the government in on the action. As shareholders in this country, we should demand better performance, limit their power until they demonstrate better performance and adhesion to the principles our country was founded upon. And for God’s sake, reduce their ability to start wars.

    1. Precisely what happened as Prohibition brought an end to bootlegging. Most states, the successful well entrenched bootlegging operations were the same individuals who ended up taking control of the now-legal distribution of booze. The former bootlegging dynasties are today’s legal distribution dynasties. Same is happening with weed……

  21. David raises good points that miss THE point. Weed is probable cause for seizing your home, pickup, Winnebago, bank account and brokerage accounts. Other seized drugs are immediately worth 400% of what they would be worth if made legal. Seizing expensive drugs along with the loot from legal robbery by First Responders?, then dealing them out via kids on probation is waaaay more profitable than begging “both” political parties to repeal violent laws. Roy Olmstead was a Seattle cop before his bootlegging case opened the door for telephone surveillance and surprise raids on homes by men with guns. Voting for these politicians and their laws prolongs the danger with its economic side effects. Voting libertarian has accelerated change so fast that even Sullum is surprised, his predictions falsified. Integrity works if you vote to give it a chance.

  22. Pot isn’t the problem – methamphetamine, fentanyl and other designer chemicals are. Fentanyl in microscopically small doses is lethal and it’s being smuggled in by the pound and used to cut heroin and cocaine. The Arriano-Felix cartel is one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of methamphetamine, and they routinely employ illegals as mules. The pot seizures in 2018 are 50% of what they were in 2015, so legalization HAS cut the smuggling. But legalizing these other drugs is a solution that is worse than the problem.

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  24. Unfortunately, the wall will not end ANY drugs being smuggled into the country. Controlling America’s heroin and opiate epidemic should be the first priority.

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