Hard Drugs Top Marijuana For Busts Along Arizona Border

August 2, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

The amount of smuggled marijuana seized at the Arizona border dropped 91 percent so far this past fiscal year while seizures of other, harder drugs have increased. It appears from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) data that hard drugs like methamphetamine, fentanyl, and cocaine supplanted marijuana as smugglers’ preferred substances. 

The decreased seizures correlate somewhat with Arizona’s marijuana legalization through Prop 207, or the “Smart and Safe Arizona Act,” during the 2020 election. Arizona’s marijuana seizures dropped about 35 percent from fiscal years 2019 to 2020, and 71 percent from 2020 to 2021. (The CBP fiscal year runs from October to September). 

Arizona’s seizures of meth dropped from nearly 20,800 pounds to nearly 18,900 pounds, nine percent, from 2019 to 2020, then increased by three percent from 2020 to 2021. It appears that this year’s meth seizures will remain within margin, though at present agents have seized 1,100 pounds less than this time last fiscal year.

Conversely, the state’s fentanyl seizures grew over the past three fiscal years. From 2019 to 2020, seizures increased 79 percent, then 65 percent from 2020 to 2021. If seizure rates continue as they have this year, there will be more fentanyl seized than in 2021: over 2,600 pounds. 

Fentanyl, one of the deadliest street drugs per CDC overdose data, comes in the form of a pill to resemble its legal counterpart prescribed by doctors. Cartels like the notorious Sinaloa Cartel mark the synthetic opioid with an “M30” stamp to disguise it as the painkiller oxycodone, which is manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. 

Overdoses may occur with as low as two milligrams of fentanyl. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that fentanyl accounts for the majority of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S.

According to the CDC, Arizona has one of the leading overdose death rates in the country. 

Cocaine seizures dropped off in fiscal year 2021, but they’ve remained consistently high over the past three years. Seizures increased from over 1,800 pounds to a high of nearly 2,200 pounds, 19 percent, from 2019 to 2020 before falling by 59 percent in 2021. This year, however, cocaine seizures have rebounded at rates that may surpass 2019 levels and fall slightly behind or run even with 2020 levels. 

Heroin seizures have dropped significantly since 2020.

John Modlin, chief patrol agent of Border Patrol (BP) Tucson Sector, last posted about the seizure of personal use marijuana in February, and a major seizure of marijuana in January 2021. 

By comparison, Modlin has posted frequent updates about meth and fentanyl busts over the past year. 

The chief patrol agent for BP Yuma Sector, Chris Clem, hasn’t posted about a major marijuana seizure since last March. However, Clem’s offered more frequent updates on meth, fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin seizures.

According to CBP data, the number of drug seizures across all border sectors have dropped consistently since 2013. The reduced seizures appear to correlate with marijuana legalization across numerous states, considering the vast majority of drug seizures were marijuana in eight of the past 10 years. All border states except Idaho, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

In addition to Arizona, the following states have legalized recreational marijuana usage: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Additionally, recreational marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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