Santa Barbara County’s struggle with how best to regulate the local cannabis industry is a microcosmic example of the struggle many Americans have with drugs, including prescription medications.
Stopping drug cartels in Mexico is part of President Trump’s border wall objective, but to address the real drug problem, this nation should also be able to look within, to ourselves and the unrelenting demand for a steady supply of illegal drugs that come across the U.S./Mexico border.
The question then becomes, would a multi-billion-dollar wall along the border stop that tidal wave of drugs? The president thinks so, and what was one of his major campaign themes in the 2016 election hasn’t changed as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.
Back to that question about a wall’s efficacy with regard to stopping the flow of illegal drugs, the short answer is that such a structure likely would do very little to stem the tide.
According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, more than 90 percent of the heroin, 88 percent of the cocaine, 87 percent of the meth and 80 percent of the fentanyl has been seized at the border’s legal crossing spots, the official ports of entry. Very few of those big shipments cross anywhere else along the 2,000-mile-plus border, because most of that terrain is remote, hostile and unforgiving unless you really know and respect the desert.
The ports of entry are the main entry points because there is a lot of commercial traffic at those places, big trucks carrying produce and other goods from Mexico. For example, the port at Nogales, Arizona, handles about 1,500 tractor-trailers every day, and smugglers can be very clever about hiding large caches of drugs.
Volume is what makes the difference when it comes to drug trafficking, and drug cartels know that a few people carrying sacks of narcotics on their backs and walking across a remote border point means small profits with big risks.
The nation’s busiest entry is at San Ysidro Port in Southern California, with more than 100,000 people going back and forth every 24 hours. About 50,000 cars cross daily, while truck traffic volume at the nearby Otay Mesa entry port exceeds 3,500 vehicles a day.
The San Ysidro port recently completed a $750-million upgrade, and Border Patrol officials say even that isn’t enough to stop all the illegal drugs from making it through.
Considering the volume of traffic, it’s not difficult to understand why Democrats and many Republicans in Congress would prefer to direct any extra funding toward increasing security at ports of entry, instead of building a massive wall in the wilderness.
And there remains the nagging reality that the biggest part of the illegal drug problem is on this side of the border, the desire for drugs by Americans, creating the demand from which drug cartels reap massive profits.
The issue for Santa Barbara County is not so much what happens at the border, but how local policy makers deal with problems associated with the legal marijuana industry here.
Demand for legally produced marijuana is strong, and growers have pinpointed this region as prime for the cannabis industry, which has provoked an adversarial situation with residents who do not want marijuana grown in their back yards.
The end result is that the Board of Supervisors understands that more work is needed on cannabis rules, just as more work is needed on the immigration/border issue — all of which begs for an examination of America’s attitudes about drug use.