marijuana legalization reduces border smuggling

With an ever increasing number of U.S. states legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis, the demand for black market cannabis from Mexico has decreased.

That is the conclusion reached by the Cato Institute based on a new analysis published last week that examined cannabis seizures by Border Patrol agents over the last five years.

According to David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at Cato, “State-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”

He also wrote, “Based on Border Patrol seizures, smuggling has fallen 78 percent over just a five-year period. Because marijuana was the primary drug smuggled between ports of entry where Border Patrol agents surveil, the value of the agency’s seizures overall — on a per-agent basis — has declined 70 percent.”

Beginning in 2012, Colorado and Washington were the first states to defy federal prohibition and legalize recreational cannabis for adults and, since then, 8 more states have followed their lead with both Connecticut and New York likely to do so next year.

There are now 32 U.S. states that have legalized cannabis for medical use and 10 states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use with several more states expected to join them in 2019 and 2020.

The Cato Institute analysis has also questioned President Trump’s cited justification of building the border wall that it will aid in reducing drug smuggling.

“Given these trends, a border wall or more Border Patrol agents to stop drugs between ports of entry makes little sense,” Bier wrote. “State marijuana legalization starting in 2014 did more to reduce marijuana smuggling than the doubling of Border Patrol agents or the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing did from 2003 to 2009.”

He also wrote that, “From FY (fiscal year) 2003 to FY 2009, Border Patrol doubled its workforce and constructed hundreds of miles of fences yet, this increased enforcement did not reduce marijuana smuggling. Each agent annually seized virtually the same quantity of marijuana through 2013, indicating roughly the same overall inflow of the illegal substance.”

Consumers Prefer Legal Cannabis

These finding support the claims of U.S. advocates of cannabis legalization who, for several years now, have argued that American consumers would prefer to purchase their cannabis from local, licensed, dispensaries who supply their customers with reliable strains and who test for potency rather than purchasing from the illegal black market where they have no such guarantee.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) agreed with this rationale in a congressional hearing last week in which he urged Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to acknowledge that ending federal cannabis prohibition would make it easier for her and her agents to perform their duties.  

“Some think that state-based marijuana is a gateway drug and makes people want illicit products more,” he said. “But, the people who’ve looked at your agency—and you’ve got this very difficult job—are saying that if states have the ability to innovate and make legal, high-quality, medical cannabis available to people, then we’re not going to have as difficult a job for you and your border patrol agents and for the people who live across our border.”

While it remains to be seen whether or not Bier’s logic is accurate, logic would dictate that the legalization of cannabis in the U.S. would decrease the demand for cannabis smuggled across the border from Mexico while providing both U.S. states and the Federal Government with a significant boost in income.

Read the Cato Institute’s full Policy Analysis here.

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