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Next time you fly out of Los Angeles International Airport and check your luggage with an airline attendant, there’s a chance that your shirts, socks, sunscreen, and souvenirs will be nestled in the plane’s cargo hold next to 50 pounds of vacuum sealed ganja.
According to a new deep dive investigation from the Los Angeles Times, cannabis smuggling seizures have increased over 160% in the year and a half since the Golden State legalized adult-use marijuana sales. And if you ask airport police — and criminal defense lawyers — the increase in trafficking busts reflects only a drop in the bucket when it comes to black market activity at large.
“I think we anticipated it,” LAX police spokesman Rob Pedregon told the LA Times. “If you just look at the sheer numbers for us — 87 million passengers a year… I wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple months we do what the other airports do in a year.”
California has long been America’s bread basket for black market cannabis. And with strict regulations, high taxation, and slow licensing in the state’s legal market, prohibition’s end has done little to stop the spread of Golden State grass. Bill Kroger Jr., a criminal defense attorney who has defended at least one client accused of smuggling 70-pounds of pot through LAX baggage check, told the Times that smuggling on commercial flights is an everyday occurrence.
“This is normal procedure for these guys, and I would say 29 out of 30 times they make it through without a problem,” Kroger Jr. told the Times.
In 2018, LAX saw 503 cases of cannabis found in luggage, with about 400 of those involving personal use amounts of weed, and the other 100 or so concerning large amounts obviously being shipped out of state for sale. In 2017, there were only 400 total cannabis reports, and in 2016 only 282.
Timing wise, the numbers make plenty of sense, with consequences for carrying large quantities of pot now carrying only misdemeanor criminal charges for most non-repeat offenders. Without much bite behind the large bark of airport security’s grand fanfare, it is no wonder that smugglers are feeling bold.
“We intercept large quantities of marijuana regularly,” Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly, who helps oversee Oakland International Airport in Northern California, told the Times. “We find it in about 50-pound quantities. I would imagine we’re only intercepting some of it, not all of it.”
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