Pot Seized from RV

More than a ton of marijuana was removed from an RV stopped by border agents at the port of Lukeville.

Catapults, cannons, drones and camouflaged backpacks.

These have been some of the mechanisms smugglers have used to bring marijuana into the U.S. across the Arizona border. The catapults and cannons are used to shoot bales of pot over the border fence to be picked up on the other side. While drones fly over the fence and drop bales.

The backpacks are used by illegal immigrants to carry loads of pot through the Arizona desert to be dropped off for pickup, often near Interstate 8 and other major highways, where they can be easily transported to market.

These methods, which may seem comical, are successful to a point. The main problem is the resources committed are high per bale. That may be why we are now seeing larger busts involving semi-trucks, and even motor homes, smuggling marijuana loads through border crossings.

Last week federal border agents found nearly 2,500 pounds of marijuana hidden in an RV at the Lukeville border crossing near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a popular winter tourist destination.

I suspect the smuggler thought he could pass himself off as a snowbird making a quick trip in the old motor home to Rocky Point and back.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents say approximately 120 bundles of marijuana was found in the vehicle’s compartments, walls and the floor.

A 55-year-old Phoenix man driving the RV was arrested.

Officials say there has been an uptick of pot smuggling in recent years and they blame the legalization of the cannabis in many states, both for medical and recreational purposes.

This year California became the latest state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, meaning more than 100 million citizens living in states where pot is legal.

But with the legalization of weed, shouldn’t smuggling go down, rather than up?

When the Volstead Act was repealed in 1933, bringing Prohibition to an end, the importation of illegal liquor pretty much stopped dead in its tracks. Breweries and distilleries fired back up, and organized crime had to turn to other pursuits, like drugs.

That doesn’t appear to be the case with marijuana, at least not in Arizona. Our state could be turning into a pot pipeline because it may be cheaper to grow marijuana in Mexico and smuggle it into the U.S. than to grow it on this side of the border.

“Those of us in law enforcement kept saying, ‘(Legalization) will not stop crime. You’re just making it easier for people who want to make money. What we’ve done is give them cover,’” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told USA Today.

Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana through a voter-approved referendum.

Legalization advocates have long argued that regulating marijuana forces the industry out of the shadows and into the public eye, where the drug can be taxed and the black market effectively eliminated. But because marijuana has no federal oversight and remains illegal in so many states, smugglers have taken advantage of the patchwork of laws.

The federal government needs to take care of business or get off the pot.

And that appears to be what the Trump administration is going to do.

Thursday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of an Obama-era leniency policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down in states that have declared it legal.

Because marijuana is still not a legal crop federally, banks won’t even allow growers or dispensers to use their services, making marijuana literally a cash crop.

The federal government regards marijuana as an illegal drug; it is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a controlled substance with no accepted medical use. Banks are regulated by the feds.

Something had to give. Either the federal government needed to recognize the legalizations, or crack down.

What Sessions’ declaration will do now that so many states have legalized marijuana will be up for debate. The only thing certain was the legalizations weren’t stopping the smugglers.

“We are talking about an industry expected to come short of $7 billion beginning in 2018, with expected tax revenues of approximately $1 billion,” California Treasurer John Chiang told the Los Angeles Times. “This is trouble waiting to happen.”

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Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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