Weed seizures at this U.S.-Canada border spiked by 140% around legalization

The weed is coming from Canada and being confiscated by border officials with the Buffalo field office.

by Rachel Browne
Nov 21 2018, 4:54pm

U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

There’s been at least a 140 percent spike in marijuana seizures at a major entry point along the U.S.-Canada border around the time Canada legalized recreational cannabis.

The marijuana is coming from Canada, and being confiscated on its way south, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Buffalo field office, which did an analysis of all the cannabis seizures between Oct. 2017 and Oct. 2018.

It reports approximately 100 cannabis seizures at crossings and in the mail during October 2018, up from around 40 in October 2017. That office covers border crossings and mail screenings for New York state, except New York City.

Canada made recreational cannabis federally legal on Oct. 17th. The product is available only online through the provincially-run store in Ontario, while there’s a mix of online and storefront sales in other provinces. Patients in Canada with prescriptions for cannabis have been able to purchase it online since 2013.

Sign up for the VICE News Canada Newsletter to get the best of our content delivered to your inbox daily.

While many U.S. states have legalized cannabis for recreational and medical purposes, it remains federally illegal.

The October 2018 cannabis seizures amounted to 85 pounds, up significantly from the 2.5 pounds seized in October 2017. The Buffalo office made a total of 52 seizures of narcotics in Oct. 2017, including cannabis. In October 2018, that number jumped to 218 seizures, the majority of which were cannabis.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The border agency was not yet able to provide total cannabis seizures for those time periods for the whole of the Canada-U.S. border.

In the months leading up to legalization in Canada, officials with the Buffalo field office began to note an uptick in marijuana seizures at traffic crossings into the U.S., and through the mail, specifically through commercial carriers such as Fedex.

“We started to see an increase in not only larger amount but also personal use amounts, 10 to 30 grams,” Aaron Bowker, a spokesperson with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Buffalo field office, told VICE News over the phone. “I think what contributed to that was ease of access … people's ability to get their hands on it got easier.”

For Bowker, the spike in cannabis seizures in recent months is striking, however drug seizures are a routine part of the job. “We’ve always seen people bring narcotics over, that’s never stopped. I’ve been on the job 15 years and every day for those 15 years I've been on the job [there have been seizures],” Bowker added.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had charged a 23-year-old Delaware woman with cannabis possession and smuggling goods into the U.S. after some cannabis was allegedly found in her car while she was crossing from Canada into the U.S. at the Peace Bridge

If convicted, the woman could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Canadian government has warned against leaving or entering Canadian borders with cannabis, something that’s against the law even though it’s legalized.

“This is the case even if you are travelling to places that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis. Transporting cannabis used for medical purposes is also illegal,” a government of Canada website states.

Cover image of marijuana seizure via the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.