If a primary goal of Donald Trump’s presidency is to curtail Mexican drug cartels from smuggling illicit substances across the border, he should seriously consider cannabis legalization. In addition, hiring more border agents while creating better channels of legal immigration is the way to go, according to a new study.
Conducted by David Bier at the Cato Institute, the new report demonstrates that less marijuana is being smuggled across the border amidst cannabis legalization at the state level. Bier reached these conclusions by studying recent government data of Border Patrol drug seizures at the border.
“State-level marijuana legalization has undercut demand for illegal Mexican marijuana, which in turn has decreased the amount of drug smuggling into the United States across the southwest border,” Bier writes.
“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 surveils, the value of the agency’s seizures overall — on a per-agent basis — has declined 70 percent,” he adds.
It goes without saying that 2018 represented a banner year for cannabis legalization. In total, 10 states have legalized recreational cannabis while 33 states have legalized medical marijuana. More states are expected to either expand their medical marijuana programs and/or legalize cannabis for adult use.
Bier’s research also calls into question Trump’s current proposal to construct a wall and increase border patrol to stop drug smuggling. Trump’s insistence on his Border Wall has led to government shutdown that won’t be resolved until the President can have his wall built.
Data visual via the Cato Institute
“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.”
Rep. Matthew Gaetz (R-FL) made a similar argument at a congressional hearing last week, when he told the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security her job would be a lot easier if the federal government ended marijuana prohibition. Gaetz cited an inspector general’s report from earlier this year, which showed that from 2005 to 2017, seizures of illicit marijuana at the border had dropped by 330,000 pounds.
“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 [the DHS] 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.”
However, Bier also suggested that marijuana legalization and its impact at the border could provide a useful model for stopping the flow of illegal immigration.
“The legalization of marijuana eliminated the incentive to smuggle it across the border. In the same way, the legalization of migration and employment by foreign workers in the United States would eliminate the incentive to cross, live, and work illegally,” Bier writes. “The state-level legalization of marijuana has had a major effect on cross-border smuggling, implying that even modest reforms to legal immigration could have strong effects on illegal border crossers.”