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Pot Smuggling in Rio Grande Valley Thwarts Feds

Despite a noticeable drop in seizures, the picturesque valley remains a hotbed for drug smuggling activity.

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By Paul Gaita

04/04/14

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The Rio Grande Valley, which encompasses the southernmost tip of Texas and lies along the northern bank of the Rio Grande River, is a fertile agricultural region that has drawn a wide demographic to its floodplains since the 19th century. The area has long been a center for agricultural business and factories, while tourists have flocked to its shores for decades, most notably spring breakers in pursuit of good times on South Padre Island.

Its proximity to Mexico has also made it a popular destination for retirees seeking cheaper pharmaceuticals and medical procedures. But the Rio Grande Valley has earned a reputation as one of the busiest sectors in the United States for marijuana smuggling. A recent report from the Rio Grande Valley Sector Texas of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has claimed that 797,000 pounds of marijuana was seized in the last fiscal year, an amount second only to the Tucson Sector’s 1.2 million pounds. Despite this staggering amount, the Border Patrol has estimated that seizures by agents have dropped 10 percent from the previous year.

Though the Drug Enforcement Administration and CBP officials are loathe to admit it, a feature in USA Today underscored the tremendous challenges faced by U.S. law enforcement officials in their pursuit of smugglers in the Rio Grande Valley. The tenacious, mutable nature of the cartels appears to be the greatest hurdle faced by CBP agents, whose pursuit procedures are scrutinized in order to adapt smuggling strategies.

Because of the sheer amount of marijuana transported across the border, smugglers will willingly abandon their vehicles, allowing agents to capture their loads while avoiding arrest. The smugglers then return to Mexico to begin the process anew; according to CBP reports, such incidents happened nearly 50 times in the Rio Grande Valley between 2010 and 2012. Though agents can publicize that hundreds of thousands of dollars in drugs were taken from smugglers, they are rarely able to bring such individuals to justice, which casts a pall over the CBP’s efforts.

As Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist studying the marijuana trade, noted, “I think you’d be hard-pressed to point to anything that shows the drug-control policy has been effective, or that enforcement is doing what it’s supposed to do.

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