FOX 11 Investigates: Police say legal marijuana impacting drug traffickers

    Marijuana seized in Green Bay, May 3, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Green Bay Police)<p>{/p}

    GREEN BAY (WLUK) --Police in Northeast Wisconsin say they are seeing a rise in heroin and meth. One reason may surprise you: Police say drug cartels are changing their ways, in part, because of the legalization of marijuana in states across the country.

    "I think we're feeling the impact here in Green Bay," said Green Bay police chief Andrew Smith.

    He says more marijuana found in the city is coming from other states instead of other counties. Case in point, a bust from May of last year, where police seized 20 pounds of pot with a street value of $70,000,

    "That marijuana we determined came from Northern California," Smith told FOX 11 Investigates. "It wasn't Mexican marijuana that we used to see in the old days. That would come in those dried out bricks. This was fresh, high-grade, hydroponically grown probably, Northern California marijuana that was shipped here to Green Bay for distribution out of Green Bay."

    Smith says the availability of domestically-grown marijuana has had a major impact on drug trafficking and the types of drugs that make it to Wisconsin.

    "If marijuana becomes legal in more and more places, the cartels marijuana distribution network, their money is going to dry up. The cartels that used to sell marijuana in Mexico are not going on unemployment, okay? They're going to find another alternative method of making money and that seems to be methamphetamine, fentanyl and heroin and that's what we're seeing in Wisconsin," Smith said.

    "Everything from south of the border seems to be now mostly methamphetamine, heroin, heroin mixed with fentanyl. It's whatever those cartels, those large-scale drug trafficking organizations can make money on," added Lt. Kevin Kinnard, director of the Brown County Drug Task Force.

    Data from the U.S. Border Patrol shows just that. From 2012 to 2017, marijuana seizures are way down, from 2,299,864 pounds seized in 2012 to 861,231 pounds seized in 2017.

    Heroin seized rose from 430 pounds in 2012 to 953 pounds in 2017. Methamphetamine seizures went from 3,715 pounds in 2012 to 10,328 pounds in 2017.

    "Talking to our narcotics investigators, they think there is a direct correlation to the legalization of marijuana in all of these states, the drying up of the marijuana money for the cartels and the increase in fentanyl, the increase in heroin, the increase in methamphetamine," Smith said.

    "You're going to hear that from law enforcement and I probably agree with that," responded Jay Selthofner from the Northern Wisconsin Chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    When asked if he is surprised to hear how much marijuana is coming to Wisconsin from legal states, he replied, "No."

    He added, "America's appetite for marijuana is huge."

    Selthofner says marijuana does have a positive impact on heroin-related deaths. A 2018 Rand study found that states with "medical marijuana dispensaries" saw a drop in "opioid-related overdoses."

    "Prohibition in general doesn't work. We've seen it has failed," he said.

    Selthofner says the solution is simple: Legalize marijuana.

    "The best way to combat illicit marijuana coming into your state is to develop a program opposite of prohibition," Selthofner told FOX 11 Investigates.

    While police still enforce marijuana laws in places like Wisconsin, Kinnard says more attention is being given to other, more dangerous drugs.

    "Lately, we're focused more on heroin, fentanyl and meth just because the demand is that we focus on what's causing the biggest problems and the most problems in the community," Kinnard said.

    But the law is still the law.

    "We've been getting that attitude of well, it's legal 100 miles away. Why can't we use it here? The answer is, the laws are still the laws that they are in Wisconsin. We as the police department are still going to enforce the laws of the state of Wisconsin as it comes to marijuana," Smith said.

    He added, "If the state of Wisconsin wants to change the laws, then we'll change what our enforcement posture is but until then, we're still going to be enforcing the marijuana laws here."

    No matter where the drug comes from.

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