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Era of legal weed forces Mexican drug cartels to shift gears to meth and heroin

January 1, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Era of legal weed forces Mexican drug cartels to shift gears to meth and heroin

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As more states in the U.S. legalize weed, Mexican drug cartels are compensating for lost business and profits by turning their focus to smuggling hard drugs such as heroin and meth across the border.

“We’re becoming more self-sufficient for marijuana,” David Sherk, director of the Justice in Mexico project at the University of San Diego, said. “The decriminalizing is reducing the profitably of marijuana from Mexico.”

In the past three years, the amount of marijuana seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at border crossings and international bridges has decreased by almost half — from 602,795 pounds in 2015 to 338,676 pounds this year.

During the same period, meth smuggling by Mexican drug cartels steadily increased from 29,001 pounds seized at the border in 2015 to 44,065 this year.

Border patrol agents also saw an increase in meth from 6,443 pounds in 2015 to 10,328 in 2017.

“The more you legalize, the more other drugs matter and become profitable,” Arturo Fontes, a former FBI agent and expert on Mexico’s cartels, said. “Right now nothing matters more than meth, heroin. That is why we are seeing such a bloody year.”

Mexico is on its way to set a record for homicides. Police are projecting an estimated 27,000 drug-related murders by the end of the year.

A law awaiting Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s signature would permit the use of the military to patrol the streets in areas devastated by drug violence, a move contested by human rights groups.

Mexico became the leading source of meth distribution after the U.S. banned over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used in cold and allergy medicines needed to produce meth, back in 2006.

Meanwhile, the opioid crisis in the country is feeding demand for heroin from Mexico as Americans addicted to painkillers search for alternatives when they can no longer get a prescription or afford them.

Additionally, more U.S. states are decriminalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use and are permitted American growers to supply patients and customers legally.

So Mexican drug cartels have adjusted by moving more meth and heroin through border crossings, where smaller amounts of drugs can be hidden in vehicles.

“Drug organizations will try to use body carriers to transport smaller-sized loads of drugs across ports of entry,” Roger Maier, CBP spokesman for the El Paso Field Office, said.

The amount of heroin seized by officers at the border nearly doubled, from 45 pounds in 2015 to 85 pounds this year.

Drug traffickers typically avoid the official crossing points and bring large loads of marijuana across isolated stretches of borderland.

“The most common routes tend to be in the desert of southern New Mexico, with smugglers utilizing vehicles or people backpacking the drugs on foot,” Joe Romero, supervisory Border Patrol agent for the El Paso Sector, said.

Mexican marijuana has long been a staple for smugglers. Experts predict the interruption created by the increase of legal weed growers in U.S. states will only lead Mexican drug traffickers to use more violence.

“You can’t beat the U.S. market for marijuana,” Shirk added, “but you can try to eliminate competitors that might be producing heroin.”

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