EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Border agents are reporting a 25 percent increase in illicit drug seizures at ports of entry, highway checkpoints and along the international boundary last June compared to May.

However, seizures of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin are trending substantially lower when compared to 2021, newly released U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows.

The most noticeable decrease is in marijuana seizures. Crime and law enforcement experts tell Border Report that Mexican drug cartels are moving away from dealing pot due to legalization efforts in the U.S. and higher profit margins in the manufacturing of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamines. Fentanyl seizures remain on track with last year’s numbers; meth seizures are slightly down.

“The cartels are faster and more agile and smarter than our reaction. They’re very quick to adjust,” says Victor M. Manjarrez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol chief agent and director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Other “crops” transnational criminal organizations are favoring now more than marijuana include migrant trafficking. In Chihuahua, Mexican law enforcement officials say the cartels have replaced independent smugglers with gang members, and in neighboring Sonora, no one crosses into the U.S. without the Sinaloa cartel getting a fee, Arizona sheriff’s deputies have told Border Report.

Department of Homeland Security agencies in FY2021 seized 160 tons of marijuana, an average of 874 pounds a day. With three months left in the current fiscal year, agents have seized 56 tons, an average of 408 pounds a day. Agents last year seized 2.7 tons of heroin (14.8 pounds per day) but in FY2022 seized less than three-quarters of a ton (5.1 pounds a day). Cocaine seizures were up 62 percent last month but are down more than 30 percent (a daily average of 267 pounds vs. 182 pounds) when stacked year to year.

Graphic courtesy CBP

Border Report asked the agency to comment on its publicly released stats but was referred to a statement released last Friday on its monthly operational report. “CBP continues to protect America’s national and economic security by facilitating legitimate trade while rigorously enforcing U.S. customs laws and regulations,” the statement said.

Separately, the Drug Enforcement Administration in El Paso provided Border Report with local sector data that points to similar decreasing trends in marijuana, cocaine, heroin and even meth seizures. Seizures of fentanyl, a contributing factor in America’s opioid overdose deaths epidemic, are trending up.

Graphic courtesy DEA-El Paso

The agency is only acknowledging a decrease in marijuana and heroin seizures, based on full year-to-year comparisons between 2020 and 2021. Those numbers documented explosive three-fold increases in meth seizures, a seven-fold rise in fentanyl interdiction and a two-fold increase in cocaine seizures last year.

But in the first nine months of the 2022 fiscal year, police agencies locally are seizing a daily average of 51.8 pounds of marijuana, 3.97 pounds of cocaine and 0.4 pounds of heroin. Last year, those averages were 86.5, 6.4 and 0.66 pounds a day, respectively.