A New Way to Smuggle Pot: As Fruit

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Mexican drug cartels are always looking for creative ways to smuggle weed across the border into the United States. Now they’ve cooked up a new one: marijuana painted to look like fruit.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection uncovered a large smuggling operation in June when agents in Arizona stopped a tractor-trailer full of what appeared to be fruit. The driver said it was a simple shipment of watermelons.

Customs and Border ProtectionBut agents tested the shipment with X-ray scans and found the watermelons were actually packages of pot painted to look like fruit.

“These criminals use a lot of unique ways to try to conceal their narcotics,” said border patrol Agent Bryan Flowers, who is based in Tucson, Ariz. “We’ve seen individuals use false compartments in the seats and gas tanks. We’ve also found marijuana in tractor trailers here before.”

Driver Almost Made It

The gambit brings to mind the 1978 Cheech & Chong film Up in Smoke, in which the two stoners unwittingly drive a van made of weed across the border from Mexico.

The trailer made it 20 miles into Arizona before agents stopped it June 19, according to the border patrol. The driver crossed into the United States at Nogales, Ariz., and was stopped at a secondary checkpoint near Tucson.

The DEA seized the fake watermelons and the tractor-trailer. The weed was valued at several million dollars, though agents were still determining the weight and street value as of June 20. The driver was arrested and jailed pending a pre-trial hearing.

Creative Smuggling Schemes Are Common

Federal agents have uncovered similar plots in the past. In 2010, a load of real watermelons was used to hide a shipment of nearly 10,000 pounds of pot.

Nor is this the most elaborate effort to smuggle drugs across the border, by any stretch. Agents stationed along the border have discovered dozens of well-constructed tunnels connecting Mexican border towns with their sister cities across the border.

Last year, Mexican police seized a cannon used to fire packages of marijuana onto U.S. soil. The year before, creative smugglers almost managed to drive an SUV over the top of the wall separating the two countries near Yuma, Ariz.

Smugglers attempt to drive an SUV right over the border.
Smugglers attempt to drive an SUV right over the border.

Drug cartels have used boats to get around the border; tunnels to get under it; ultra-light aircraft, T-shirt cannons, and catapults to get over it; and many other ingenious methods to get across it.

Latest Haul Is a Drop in the Bucket

Busts like the one in June have relatively little effect beyond attracting media attention. Marijuana is a multi billion-dollar business for the Mexican cartels, and the money lost to federal raids amounts to a drop in the bucket.

Even so, weed is becoming an ever-less substantial part of what cartels do. Legalization and decriminalization have made it harder for drug gangs to infiltrate local cannabis markets. The loss of that market has cost cartels an estimated $1.5 billion.

At the same time, cartels have turned to heroin to make up the difference. Mexican criminal gangs have schemed to push the drug on vulnerable populations in small towns across America.

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