The wall vs. legal marijuana: One is pointless, the other secures the border.

A new report shows how legalizing marijuana nationally would likely be much more effective at curbing drug smuggling than building a border wall.

  • The report uses recent government data to examine the effects that marijuana legalization has had on drug and human smuggling by Mexican cartels.
  • Overall, it appears that marijuana legalization has led to decreases in not only marijuana smuggling, but also smuggling of all drugs across the border.
  • The report suggests that the benefits of marijuana legalization might also serve as a model for how legalizing more immigration for workers might curb illegal border crossings.

How should the U.S. stop Mexican cartels from smuggling people and drugs across the border?

The answer isn't to build a wall, but rather to legalize pot, hire more border agents at ports of entry, and open up channels of legal immigration for workers.

Those are the takeaways of a new report by David Bier at the Cato Institute. The report uses recent government data to analyze the effects that marijuana legalization has had on the rates of drug seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border, and it also draws parallels between marijuana and alcohol prohibition and current immigration laws.

​Marijuana legalization and drug smuggling

What's demonstrably effective at stopping the flow of drugs across the border?

Bier notes that, between 2003 and 2009, Border Patrol doubled its agents, constructed more than 600 miles of fencing, and introduced new surveillance technologies. But none of this seemed to have any considerable effect on the amount of marijuana and other drugs seized by border agents between ports of entry. This was, by the way, an era when as much as two-thirds of the marijuana Americans smoked came from Mexico.

Then, in 2014, Colorado and Washington moved to fully legalize marijuana, and more states began to follow. This legalization correlated with not only a decrease in marijuana seizures at the U.S.–Mexico border, but also a drop in seizures of all drugs.

(Data visual via infogram.com)

There's no reliable data on the amount of illegal marijuana smuggled into the country annually. The next best thing is data showing the number of seizes at the border. From 2013 to 2018, the authors wrote, the amount of marijuana each Border Patrol agent seized declined by 78 percent.

"Marijuana smuggling has also not shifted toward entering through ports of entry," they wrote. "Overall, all DHS agencies seized 56 percent less marijuana in 2017 than 2013."

​Cartels compensate by smuggling other drugs

Although Mexican marijuana smuggling has decreased in the past five years, it seems cartels are trying to make up those lost profits with other, more profitable drugs: cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl. These rises, which were measured in the value of drugs seized, only occurred at ports of entry where a border wall would have no effect.

(Data visual via infogram.com)

"In light of these facts, a surge of agents, technology, and infrastructure between ports of entry does not make sense as a strategy to control the flow of hard drugs into the United States."

​Reducing the incentives to cross illegally

The report makes an analogy between immigration laws and alcohol prohibition in the 1920s: You can make either illegal, but people are still going to take part, so the better option is measured legalization. In terms of immigration, the report notes that the number of work visas is negatively correlated with illegal entries along the border over the past 70 years.

"In other words, more work visas mean fewer illegal entries," the authors wrote, adding that Congress could decrease illegal border crossings by issuing more permanent and temporary work visas, "thus reducing the incentive to cross illegally."

(Data visual via infogram.com)

Bier suggests a border wall isn't the best way to curb rates of human and drug smuggling.

"Instead, they indicate that a better approach to managing human and drug smuggling would be to hire more officers at ports of entry, increase legal channels for migration, and legalize marijuana nationwide. These alternative strategies have proved more effective than enforcement alone."

Still, it's worth noting that Bier doesn't quite address how a border wall might curb rates of illegal crossings between ports of entry.

In a separate report, Bier argues that while a wall might discourage some crossing attempts, people would still be able to cross by climbing over a wall, digging under it, exploiting damages to it by natural forces, and even using ramps to drive over it.

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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