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Marijuana Seizures Soar on U.S.-Mexico Border

Thu Sep 18
By Deborah Tedford

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Marijuana seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border are up dramatically mainly because of heightened security after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, border officials said on Thursday.

Between October 2002 and the end of August, agents and inspectors seized about 1.3 million pounds of marijuana -- the largest amount seized on the border in at least five years, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection obtained by Reuters.

"More than anything else it would be the intensified inspection process put into place after September 11 that is responsible for this," said Roger Maier, bureau spokesman. "Terrorism is the focus, but our greatest dividend on the border has been the increased drug seizures."

The amount of marijuana seized at the border so far in fiscal 2003, which began last October and ends Sept. 30, already rivals the total seized throughout the United States in fiscal 2002.

Last fiscal year agents seized 1.4 million pounds of marijuana nationwide.

Seizures of cocaine and heroin have also been brisk.

This month Customs inspectors in El Paso, Texas, found 87 pounds of heroin in a false compartment in the bed of a 2003 Nissan Frontier pickup, said Maier.

The $6 million find was a record for El Paso agents and was more heroin than they had seized in the previous four years, Maier said.

Inspectors along the 2,000-mile border use state-of-the-art technology to find illegal drugs. Fixed and mobile X-ray and gamma ray systems scan commercial and passenger vehicles, fiber optic scopes peer into gas tanks and density meters can determine if a space is hollow or solid.

Electric tape measures also measure the inside and outside lengths of trailers to detect false panels.