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Interstate Marijuana - is I-80 special?

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2009-12-10 -

Twenty-five million Americans smoked marijuana at least once during 2007, according to the DEA's most recent data, and yet DEA says there is no credible data that suggest how much is grown by the users themselves, how much must be transported from grower to consumer, or how far the average bud travels before being consumed. Heck, they don't even have an estimate of how much marijuana is produced in the U.S. "Intelligence gap," indeed.

But this story from the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin suggests a hell of a lot of it is transported from state to state to meet demand. Utah Highway Patrol is under the impression that Interstate 80, which stretches from California's Bay Area to Salt Lake City and beyond, is a major corridor for marijuana distribution, or to use the pejorative language of prohibition, "trafficking."

A few things come to mind here. I know, from talking to people who work in California's marijuana industry, that they are very aware of the law enforcement hypothesis that I-80 is a favorite pathway for drug trafficking, and they know that UHP conducts stings specifically targeted at finding marijuana. This Transcript article is not the first of its kind. So why do the marijuana mules keep driving it? (Insert the media-favored narrative of "stupid crooks;").

The primary reason might be because it is the most direct route from northern California (a major marijuana-producing region) to points eastward, including Utah. That's the obvious one. Secondly, some mules must be stupid, certainly. But there's a lot more going on here. 

I'm pretty skeptical that I-80 is especially steeped in marijuana transporting. Here's why:

  • Police never have provided me with convincing data that shows their interdiction efforts had a remarkable impact on the prices of the seized product, be that marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, whatever. I've been shown fuzzy data by law enforcement in Utah that allegedly show they've increased the price of drugs or decreased availability (two major metrics in the War on Drugs) but nothing is every dramatic, or lasting. The most frank and honest law enforcement officers we'll even admit that gains in either area have always been fleeting.
  • The DEA admits they have no credible estimates on the amount of marijuana produced in the U.S., but with 25 million Americans using the product at least occasionally and 14.4 million using it at least once per month, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, you know there is a ton of marijuana everywhere, being grown, trafficked and consumed.
  • In fact, not just one ton, but several thousands of tons, if you think that the U.S. is similar to Canada. Canadians law enforcement believe they've overcome the DEA's "intelligence gap" and provide estimates of domestically-produced marijuana in that country. "Despite strong eradication, however, RCMP estimates that criminal groups produce between 1,399 and 3,498 metric tons of marijuana in Canada each year." That quote is taken from the DEA's National Drug Threat Assessment 2009.

Put all that together, and it seems that marijuana is nearly as popular as iPods. In which case, could there be any freeway in America where marijuana is not being transported in large quantities?follow_jesse.jpg

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