In a confusing and rambling press conference this afternoon, President Trump used the introduction of Alexander Acosta, his latest nominee for Labor Secretary, to double down on his determination to stop the flow of cartel drugs across the US–Mexico border.
“We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs,” Trump said.
“We’re becoming a drug-infested nation,” he continued. “Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We’re not gonna let it happen any longer.”
This has become an emerging theme. The president seems to view the problem of drugs in America almost exclusively through the lens of Mexican cartels—which in his eyes serves as one of many justifications for building a border wall.
Trump’s phrase “we’ve ordered” refers to an executive order he issued on Feb. 9. That order directed federal agencies to prioritize efforts to identify and dismantle “transnational criminal organizations.” Although the order covered myriad criminal activity—from cybercrime to wildlife smuggling—the order focused on the eradication of international drug cartels. The order was largely overlooked by the media, as it was issued on the day the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a temporary restraining order that prevents the federal government from enforcing President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
It’s unclear where the candy bars reference came from. Drugs are not as cheap as candy bars.*
Trump’s cartel-focused comment seems to align with an anecdote that Leafly’s Lisa Rough reported last week. While in Washington, DC, for a law enforcement conference, Sheriff Scott Jones of Sacramento, Calif., held a brief conversation with incoming US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Jones said Sessions indicated that he’d be more inclined to go after drug cartels rather than state-legal cannabis companies.
“Regarding the prioritization of federal resources to combat marijuana, he didn’t see the federal government getting involved in marijuana use or low-level state, what are traditionally state and local crimes,” Jones told a reporter for Capital Public Radio. “But I don’t think he ruled out the possibility of the federal government getting involved in larger-scale operations.”
A number of reports have noted that the implementation of cannabis legalization in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington has coincided with an appreciable drop in marijuana exports across the Mexican border. Data from the US Border Patrol indicates that in 2015, seizures of cannabis along the southwest border fell to their lowest level in at least a decade.
As profit margins for cartel cannabis dry up in Mexico, those still in the trade are having to become more and more creative in the ways they attempt to move it across the border. Leafly’s Gage Peake recently chronicled the many ways smugglers have tried to disguise cannabis as produce in the past year. Including carrots.
There’s no assurance, of course, that erecting a complete border wall would stop every illicit substance transfer. Earlier this week the U.S. Border Patrol tweeted out this photo of a marijuana catapult that agents captured across the existing border wall in Arizona.
*UPDATE Feb. 16, 12:30pm PST: The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham pushes back, arguing that in some instances illicit drugs actually are cheaper, pound for pound, than candy bars. “Individual pills of hydrocodone or oxycodone can be had for as little as $1 depending on which city you’re in,” he writes. “That’s roughly the price you’d expect to pay for a Snickers at your local convenience store.” A fair point.