A new analysis suggests that marijuana seizures on the U.S.-Mexico border are decreasing, which could be an indication that state legalization is lessening the demand for illegally trafficked product.
Data was gathered from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as well news reports regarding drug seizures, and compiled and analyzed by Logan Freedman. “A majority of these drug arrests are going to be large quantities of drugs,” Freedman said.
“So if someone was captured in, say New York City with under an ounce of marijuana, it’s not necessarily going to show up in this report, because it’s going to be misdemeanor crime. This is going to be large drugs coming into the U.S.”
Cannabis is still by far the most commonly seized substance by CBP, as well as the drug responsible for greatest number of arrests, but the latter has decreased sharply over the past five years. Points of entry in Arizona are the most frequented along the U.S-Mexican border, and 60 percent of drug arrests are made in this area. But data from CBP indicates ports of entry in California slightly outpaces drug seizures at the border. Their data also suggests that less cannabis is entering the United States at the border, but there has been an increase in the amount of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin moving from Mexico to the U.S.
This fluctuation can be a signal that America’s appetite for illicit drugs is changing, and cartels are taking notice. Drug cartels function similarly to any other business, driven by supply and demand. The U.S. is currently experiencing an opioid epidemic, and heroin in particular seems to be an alternative to those suffering from opioid addiction in need of a stronger high. It appears drug cartels are responding to that demand.
Freedman’s data also examined the rate of arrests per 100,000 people in each state. The highest rates of arrests also correspond to the CDC’s data on drug overdose deaths by state. Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have been identified as having a particularly high rate of fatal drug overdoses, but they are also among the top ten states that have the highest rate of drug arrests. Comparing the data shows that arresting people for drug possession has little effect on fatal overdoses.
Politicians and law enforcement have wide-ranging ideas on how best to combat this problem. The Trump Administration believes building a wall would both reduce the amount of drugs and people crossing the border, but the data shows that drug cartels have no problem trafficking their products through customs checkpoints. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced his intention to return to the war on drugs, using techniques from past decades that have proven to do more harm than good. A bill circulating through Congress would give Sessions an unprecedented amount of power to revise how the government categorizes drugs with little oversight. Sponsors of the bill claim that the goal is not to arrest individuals for typical possession, but to break up large-scale drug operations.
It is unclear whether the administration’s purpose for fighting drugs actually pertains to preventing deaths and addiction. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Trump made promises to curb the opioid epidemic, even rhetorically asking an audience, “What’s taking so long?” But it took six months for the president’s team charged with solving the opioid crisis to meet, and the consensus was that more law enforcement efforts were needed, rather than a focus on substance abuse treatment. Combined with his support of GOP health care bills that would cut public health services for addiction, it appears the answer to the opioid epidemic will not come from the federal government.