Marijuana Legalization Sparks Heroin, Meth Trade Increase with Mexican Cartels

By McCarton Ackerman 01/14/15

With legalization spreading across the U.S., cartels are ramping up shipments of harder drugs.

Drug Package

The full-on, or quasi-legalization, of marijuana in 23 states and Washington, D.C., has indirectly sparked a radical shift in drugs entering the country from Mexico, with cartel members now pushing more heroin and meth than ever across the border.

The latest drug seizure statistics show that while the amount of pot seized by U.S. federal state and local officers along the border with Mexico has dropped by 37% since 2011, heroin seizures rose to nearly 2,181 kilograms last year, nearly tripling the amount confiscated at the border in 2009. Separate statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration show that 90% of the meth on U.S. streets was cooked in Mexico. Approximately 15,803 kilograms of meth was seized last year by border control officials, up from 3,076 kilograms in 2009.

“Criminal organizations are no longer going for bulk marijuana,” said Sidney Aki, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Port Director at a crossing just south of San Diego. “Hard drugs are the growing trend, and they’re profitable in small amounts.” Aki also cited that heroin and meth are also far easier to hide and transport than marijuana.

That doesn’t mean the cartels are completely abandoning marijuana. Commercial trucks full of cannabis are still sent across the border, while drug mules attempt to hike into the Arizona wilderness with 50-pound backpacks full of pot. However, drug farmers in the Sierra Madre have admitted that they can barely make any money planting pot these days.

American interest in Mexican cocaine has also dwindled. U.S. agents confiscated 11,917 kilograms of cocaine along the Mexico border, down from 27,444 kilos in 2011. Although there is still somewhat of a demand for the drug, it’s far pricier to make it in Mexico and is a riskier operation for cartels because it must first be smuggled from South America.

The cartels are hoping that their push for transporting heroin across the border will affect the more than 10 million Americans who abuse prescription painkillers. As the federal government has cracked down on prescription opiates and the prices for OxyContin and Percocet have surged, more pain-pill abusers are switching to heroin for a cheaper high. A hit of heroin can cost as little as $10 on the streets, compared to up to $80 per pill for Oxycodone.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.