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|Pot seizures reach new high|
|Written by Meaghan Bayley|
|Thursday, 10 September 2009 22:21|
As the hot summer months come to an end, Mexican drug lords have dollar signs in their eyes. Marijuana growing season is over and thousands of pounds of pot will be cultivated and shipped to the U.S. for illegal sale.
Cities along the U.S.-Mexico border like Tombstone are no strangers to drug trafficking. However, county officials are shocked at the high level of marijuana illegally coming across the border this year. Tombstone Marshal Larry Talvy said a reported 47,000 pounds have been seized in and around the town since November of 2008. Talvy said confiscating the drug has been a tireless task. With cultivation season coming up in October, “Mexico still has an overabundance of marijuana that needs to be shipped out.”
Mario Escalante, spokesman for the Tucson Sector Border Patrol, said the state had seized 1,148,000 pounds of marijuana within the past year. “Last year around this same time we had only seized around 777,000 pounds,” Escalante said. “This year we have almost doubled the amount of confiscated, illegal marijuana but not without hard work.”
Border Patrol agents and Tombstone police are working together with help from Operation Stonegarden — a governmental program that provides border states with $30 million in effort to help suppress the flow of drugs into the U.S. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Arizona received $7.2 million out of the budget compared to the $12.8 million Texas received at the beginning of 2009.
Both Escalante and Tombstone’s Marshal Talvy said the importance of federal money is a huge help in the fight against illegal drug trafficking from Mexico.
“(With the money) we can put additional manpower out there and provide patrol of the various highways and roads that are commonly traveled,” Talvy said.
Escalante also agreed saying, “We start to see the huge increase in seizures this year because of the manpower.”
With extra officers and more presence in rural and urban areas, the Border Patrol feels they are more effective in controlling the people coming in and carrying marijuana illegally. Even with the federal grants and law enforcement assistance, it’s a challenge for Border Patrol and Tombstone officers to discover newly routed rural areas. Many of the trails drug traffickers utilize go around Tombstone. Checkpoints along Routes 90, 82 and 191 prevent smugglers from maneuvering around Cochise County and point the flow of traffic in one direction north, Talvy said.
“We know the routes that some of them are taking and we try to find new routes each time,” he said. “We do know where they’re at.”
Determining who is attempting to smuggle the illegal drug into U.S. territory continues to be a complex task.
“There’s an intelligence that we develop and we know what to look out for,” Escalante said.
This intelligence includes vast knowledge of the desert roadways and even identifying specific vehicles smugglers use to transport the drug.
“So many things come into play,” Escalante said. “We can’t just stop a vehicle with no explanation, we need good reasonable suspicion.”
According to Talvy, drivers will innately give themselves away by merely acting suspicious. Other times Border Patrol or the marshal’s office will recognize strange and nervous activity amongst drivers.
“Sometimes we get lucky about making the stop because the driver does very foolish things,” Talvy said.
Once vehicles are pulled over, officers will many times find compartments filled with hundreds of pounds of marijuana. Talvy said he pulled over a vehicle in recent months “right out there in the open” where a woman driver attempted to transport a 100-pound load of marijuana through Tombstone.
Talvy reported that the vehicle was full from the front to back and to the ceiling. “There was barely enough room for the driver,” he said.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the marijuana that does succeed in escaping law enforcement authorities along the U.S.-Mexico border is headed for big cities throughout the U.S. and particularly in the Southwest.
In cities such as Tucson, the marijuana arrives at houses where it is weighed, individually packaged and trafficked out to personal buyers.
“It’s definitely harder to come by and crazy expensive to buy now,” said Jennifer Carlson, a Tucson resident. “Obviously border patrol is doing their job and catching the huge shipments that come in.”
Law enforcement is encouraged by the news that illegal consumers are finding it more difficult to get their hands on marijuana. Both Talvy and Escalante believe their success is marked in the thousands of pounds seized throughout the year.
“This was an exceptional year,” Talvy said. “But we’ve been able to catch just about everything each time.”