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Trump's Wall Wouldn't Help Win The War On Drugs, But Legalization Could

Somehow amid the interruptions and accusations, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton managed to discuss actual issues during the third presidential debate October 19. And one of those topics was Donald Trump's infamous plans to build a massive wall along the Mexican-American border. The wall, he claims, will stop illegal immigrants from entering America and prevent Mexican cartels from smuggling drugs into the United States.

"I want to build the wall," Trump said during the event in Las Vegas. "We need the wall. The border patrol, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], they all want the wall. We stop the drugs. We shore up the border."


But can cartels really be stopped by a wall? Last Week Tonight host John Oliver investigated the issue earlier this year and found that a wall would be pretty much useless because cartels are already smuggling drugs by tunnelling underneath current international barriers.

The tunnels can be very sophisticated. Earlier this year, the BBC released a video of a mile-long tunnel connecting Tijuana with San Diego. It had lightning, a ventilation system and a rail line as well as an elevator to help move thousands of kilograms of/ cocaine and marijuana. 

And if they don't want to go under it, the cartels can go over the wall in one of three ways. They can hire drug mules called Mexican spidermen because they can scramble up and rappel down barriers quickly. Or they can use cannons to fire drugs over the border, which at least one cartel has done, launching softball-sized packages of cannabis into America. 

Or they can just get someone with a good arm to throw marijuana over the barriers. So Trump's wall - as Oliver noted - could be foiled by a retired NFL player like Payton Manning moonlighting as a drug catapult. 

Legalization Could Help

So building a wall won't put a dent in drug smuggling. But legalizing marijuana in states like Arizona could. 

“Arizona might be a unique situation because there’s so much cartel traffic going through there," Morgan Fox - Communications Director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) - told Civilized. "You're talking about trans-national drug trafficking organizations. It's a gateway for the entire country. People in Indiana, Mississippi and elsewhere get their marijuana from people who were bringing it through Arizona."

So how can legalization help? By cutting cartels out of the state's marijuana market. That's what happening in Colorado and other states that have legalized recreational cannabis use.

"There's no market for [smuggling marijuana] anymore," Fox said. "The vast majority of the market in [legal] states is taken up by regulated, legitimate businesses."

And because of the quality of cannabis being grown and sold legally in those states, cartels are now trying to smuggle it into Mexico.

"The exchange has switched, where before a lot of [cartels] were shipping marijuana into Colorado from Mexico. And now people are trying to get Colorado marijuana and ship it back to Mexico."

Even though legalization has put a dent into the cartels' profit margins, Fox doesn't think you can ever shut down them down completely. But the money lost from their trade could save lives.

"You’re never going to get rid of the black market completely. But you can significantly decrease their profits by regulating. Even if it’s not a sizeable percentage, it’s still less money for them to spend on buying high-powered assault rifles, or buying rocket launchers, or bribing politicians, or murdering cops. Any dollar you take away from them is a dollar they can’t use on their business.”

Banner Photo: A photograph ofDonald Trump in a residential backyard in West Des Moines, Iowa, with lights and security cameras. (Tony Webster / Flickr)


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