A border wall along the entire southern border would surely be the best way to cut off the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico into the United States. Right? Well…perhaps not.
Newly released data suggests that cannabis legalization could actually have a much greater impact than any pricey physical barrier that can be erected. According to CATO, a public policy research organization, Border Patrol agents are confiscating 78 percent less cannabis in 2018 than they were in 2013, just before Washington and Colorado’s recreational markets came online. Cannabis is in high demand and since it is being transported far less from Mexico into the U.S., the average value of drugs seized by agents has fallen by approximately 70 percent.
Cannabis is generally smuggled between ports of entry since it is difficult to hide and often emits a strong odor. With significantly less cannabis being snuck into the U.S. from Mexico, ports of entry are becoming the main passage for the flow of illegal drugs. However, smugglers have shifted their focus to harder drugs.
“Today, a border wall would have little effect on the most valuable drug smuggling,” David Bier, author of the CATO report said. “Border Patrol agents between ports of entry accounted for just 8 percent of hard drug seizures by value in 2018.”
Bier also highlighted the failures of federal policy when it comes to handling banned narcotics. The decades-long War on Drugs has done nothing to reduce addiction in the United States. In fact, prohibition may have made the situation worse. The United States government spends $78 Billion per year on its War On Drugs which has yielded virtually no measurable success. The War On Drugs and militarization of law enforcement has resulted in higher incarcerations, lives lost, and wasted revenue that could be spent elsewhere, such as fighting the opioid epidemic. Despite all of this, cannabis use among adults in the United States is rising.
“Despite federal prohibition of marijuana, the United States has one of the highest use rates in the world, with nearly half of Americans reporting that they have consumed it at some point in their lives,” Bier said in his report.
For years, many cannabis advocates and criminal justice experts have speculated that legalization would lead to a reduction in smuggling. Now that enough states have legalized cannabis, there is finally information to test this hypothesis. The reduction in cannabis smuggling could be attributed to several factors. For one, shoppers may prefer to buy in a safe and controlled environment as opposed to turning to the potentially dangerous black market. With legal and regulated shops, the need to purchase from illegal sources vanishes. Additionally, U.S. legalization seems to be impacting the economy of cannabis in Mexico.
“Mexican growers have reported that marijuana prices in Mexico have recently fallen between 50 and 70 percent after U.S. legalizations,” Bier states. Taking away profit margins eliminates the appeal of smuggling an illicit drug across the border.
Cannabis legalization also impacts U.S. Federal spending. “Since 1965, Congress has invested $64 billion to secure the border from illegal immigration as well as drug smuggling,” Bier explained.
All of this is great news for the cannabis industry. Some critics of drug policy reform measures predicted the sky would fall if cannabis were legalized, which seems almost laughable now. While more research into drug policy should be conducted, it seems that the End of Days has not been ushered in with common sense policy adjustments.
Dispensary operators and cannabis producers can rest assured that their future is bright. A healthy majority of Americans support cannabis legalization and an overwhelming number back criminal justice reform.
Americans are now seeking an even newer New Deal than President Roosevelt’s ambitious plan. This leaves little room for billions wasted on a War on Drugs as a new generation demands Medicare for all, affordable access to education, and initiatives that will reverse the impact of climate change. It’s hard to envision a scenario where we continue to wage war with a plant that has no idea it’s an enemy of the state while turning our backs on the mounting issues we truly want to be solved.
President Trump’s border wall also seems out of line with the wishes of most Americans. This expensive project (likely to cost tens of billions of dollars) will likely not accomplish any of its goals. The cannabis industry has been about networking, innovation, and charting new social and business territory. Simply put, it has always been about eliminating walls, not building them.