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What Happens to Mexican Cartels If Legalization Passes in Arizona?

Maureen Meehan

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Arizona, state flag

Mexican cartels are shipping large quantities of pot across the U.S. border daily, and Arizona seems to be their favorite port of entry (POE).

Seizures at and between POEs in Arizona have accounted for about 50 percent of all weed confiscated at the Southwest border since 2006.

As the primary drug smuggled across the U.S. border from Mexico, nearly 800,000 pounds of weed were impounded during the last fiscal year in Arizona alone. Another 120,000 pounds was seized at border crossings within the Tucson sector.

However, as pot legalization in Arizona picks up steam according to a new poll, residents are wondering how the Mexican cartels will respond if Prop 205 passes this coming November and dispensaries take over, making pot smugglers no longer necessary.

Some law enforcement agents say the cartels will infiltrate the legal pot market and increase their sale of harder drugs. Prop 205 advocates say legalization will undercut the cartels by eliminating a key segment of their business.

Carlos Alfaro, deputy campaign manager for Proposition 205, told the Associated Press that legalization in other states has already led to a drop in marijuana seizures by the Border Patrol.

From fiscal year 2011 to 2015, the number of seizures made by the agency nationwide fell by 39 percent. In the Tucson sector, at one point the busiest smuggling corridor in the nation, seizures fell by 28 percent, according to Border Patrol statistics.

“Now cartels have competition,” Alfaro said. “They have to compete with legitimate business in the U.S. with product that is more pure, with regulations on the shelf and prices.”

Retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent Finn Selander agrees that the cartels will turn to pushing other drugs, but he calls that a “lame excuse” to oppose legalizing pot.

As long as pot is still illegal under federal law, Border Patrol agents can and will likely continue to seize marijuana, even if it is legalized in Arizona.

Meanwhile, smugglers have become very creative in their methods.

One U.S. border guard, reported InSight Crime, has seen smugglers lobbing softball-sized packages into people’s backyards, using high pressure air cannons, catapults and heavy equipment with ladders to hoist weed shipments over the border fence, where in parts of Arizona it can be as high as 26 feet.

Then, of course, there were the so-called Mexican Spidermen who were caught on camera in Arizona scaling the wall with giant backpacks full of weed draped over their shoulders.

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