These Photos Show How Legalization Is Affecting International Drug Trafficking

January 8th 2017

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency shared its "Top 20" confiscations of 2016 on Twitter last month, posting images of the inventive ways traffickers have attempted to smuggle illegal products (mostly drugs) across the border.

There's a noticeable trend in smuggling photos: hard drugs. 

The bulk of the show photos of methamphetamine — followed by heroin and cocaine. It's unclear whether the seizures came from Mexican drug cartels, but the prevalence of harder substances appears to reflect a recent trend in international drug trafficking. As states in the U.S. have moved to loosen restrictions on marijuana, cartels have been forced to diversify their portfolios.

The latest drug seizure statistics, released by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in November, reveal a decline in "Mexico-sourced marijuana" confiscations at the southern border. From 2011 to 2015, marijuana seizures dropped 37 percent. Meanwhile, heroin seizures tripled from 2009 to 2015, and During that same time span, meth seizures increased by five times, from about 3,000 kilograms to more than 15,000 kilograms, according to border enforcement officials.

"Legalization of marijuana for recreational use has given U.S. consumers access to high-quality marijuana, with genetically improved strains, grown in greenhouses," Raul Benitez-Manaut, an expert in drug policy at National Autonomous University in Mexico, told The Washington Post. "That’s why the Mexican cartels are switching to heroin and meth."

"When you have a prohibited substance, and a criminal organization develops a monopoly or near monopoly on distribution of that substance, prices tend to go up dramatically," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "What happens when you decriminalize and take away the monopoly, you take away the profit. You see those criminal organizations losing money or losing the ability to profit from that sector."

"The big organizations that can continue to maintain supply chains into the U.S., those are the ones doubling down on heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine because they’ve got to make money somewhere," Shirk added.

Here are some of the most creative attempts to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States, as documented by CBP. 

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