The Many Possible Reasons Marijuana Seizures Are Down

Data showing that marijuana seizures by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are down drastically over the last decade is generally perceived as good news. But pro-marijuana advocates should be cautious about attributing the decline to state legalization. Legalization has contributed, but there are many possible reasons to consider.

According to the most recent numbers, just under 155,000 pounds of illicit cannabis was seized by the Border Patrol in 2022. A decade ago, they were looking at 2.8 million pounds. Do the math and you will discover that federal seizures are down 95% since 2012.

It Must Be Legalization

Leave it to pro-marijuana advocates to credit state legalization as the primary reason for the decline. As the thinking goes, state legalization has created a legal marijuana industry. A strong legal market reduces the incentive to bring illegal marijuana into the country.

That may be so, but states like California have demonstrated that the legal market has barely put a dent in the illicit market. The only difference is that some illicit operators that were conducting business from outside the country are now inside it. Simply put, the illicit marijuana market is as strong as it has ever been.

Illicit marijuana is even found in conservative states like Utah, where Park City medical cannabis pharmacy Deseret Wellness says recreational cannabis is still illegal. Only medical cannabis is allowed in Utah. Yet the Beehive State’s rules have by no means put an end to recreational consumption.

Turning a Blind Eye

No doubt that state legalization has reduced the demand for cross border marijuana. But there are other contributing factors, the first of which is the reality that Washington has chosen to turn a blind eye to state legalization. They have also stopped aggressively investigating and prosecuting marijuana crimes.

Let’s face it, federal law enforcement going after marijuana distributors amounts to bad optics. Washington knows the national mood around medical cannabis and recreational pot. They are not about to upset an already unhappy electorate by continuing aggressive marijuana law enforcement.

Other Priorities for CBP

Another thing to consider is that CBP has other priorities. Right now, they have a lot of other problems at the border without having to worry about drug investigations and seizures. It is enough for them to keep up with the flood of people crossing the border into southwestern states.

A good portion of the decline in marijuana seizures could be due to the fact that Border Patrol officers do not have the time or resources to put into drug enforcement. Should their resources ever be restored to them, perhaps things will change. For the meantime though, CBP needs to be incredibly careful about how it allocates the resources it does have.

The Illicit Market Thrives

Getting back to the illicit marijuana market, it’s worth exploring why it continues to thrive. There is no doubt that it does. The reasons are many, and they start with state regulation and heavy taxation. Illicit operators do not apply for licenses or pay taxes. Therefore, they can sell their product for less and still make a killing.

Fewer marijuana seizures by Border Patrol officers is good news. But that doesn’t mean state legalization has reduced the flow of illegal marijuana into the country. Nor does it mean that the illicit market is starting to wind down. Neither possibility could be further from the truth.

As long as state-legal marijuana continues to be tightly regulated and heavily taxed, illicit operators will continue doing what they do. They may or may not choose to bring their marijuana in from south of the border.