Cannabis seizures along the southern border have dropped like a stone since 2013, when the first states started legalizing recreational marijuana in the US.

According to data released by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in its 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment, marijuana seizures plummeted more than 80 percent during this period.

“In US markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana. In 2019, CBP [US Customs and Border Protection] seized nearly 249,000 kilograms of marijuana along the SWB [southwest border], a decline from over 287,000 kilograms in 2018,” the report reads. “CBP marijuana seizures along the SWB have decreased more than 81 percent since 2013, when almost 1.3 million kilograms were seized.”

The DEA’s assessment mirrors a 2019 Cato Institute report which found a near-identical drop in marijuana seizures along the southern border over a five-year period beginning 2013.

NORML’s Political Director, Justin Strekal, said the decline in marijuana border seizures confirms what cannabis reform advocates predicted.

“This dramatic shift in the cannabis supply chain is a welcome development. As reformers predicted, when given the option, consumers choose their cannabis to be grown in America,” Strekal said. “States’ decisions to legally regulate cannabis has, as expected, led to a precipitous drop in demand for imported cannabis and has significantly disrupted the illicit cannabis trade in Mexico,” he added.

These latest seizure figures are a far cry from 2009 when DEA agents confiscated a record 4 million pounds of marijuana. A few years later, Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize adult use cannabis in 2012, and have since been joined by thirteen other states with Virginia looking set to become the latest to approve the measure and the first to do so in the South.

The DEA’s assessment that marijuana is now primarily grown in the US instead of trafficked across the US-Mexico border also chimes with a recent congressional research report into Mexican organized crime. It reported less demand for Mexican marijuana from US consumers, and projects this decline to continue into the future. More generally, the DEA itself reported lower demand for black market marijuana in states that legalized marijuana, as US consumers prefer to source their cannabis legally.

This doesn’t mean the DEA is taking its foot off the gas. In 2019, the DEA seized an estimated 4 million plants grown illicitly across the US – almost 50 percent more than the previous year. The DEA’s new report also discusses the challenges presented by the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp nationwide. It describes how “traffickers use their state-issued hemp documentation as cover for large-scale marijuana grows and marijuana loads transported across state lines. Additionally, large hemp grows are sometimes used to hide marijuana plants interspersed throughout the hemp plants.”

While US demand for Mexican cannabis continues to drop, Mexico itself is inching ever closer to legalizing the plant. Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved a recreational marijuana legalization bill on March 10, 2021, in a 316-129 vote. It now heads back to the Senate Chamber where the new amendments will be discussed.

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