Border protection officers seized 1 ton of marijuana Monday from a commercial tractor attempting to enter Michigan through the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, court filings say.
The vehicle, a Manitoba, Canada-plated commercial tractor, arrived at the port Monday night when the driver presented officers a manifest for a shipment of carbon fiber rods.
It’s one of many seizures border officials have racked up this year, recording an increase of 1,726% over last year.
On Monday, officers observed the driver, a citizen of India residing and working in Winnipeg, Manitoba, exhibiting nervous behavior and directed him to the inspection area for a mobile X-ray of the truck and trailer, according to a criminal complaint.
During the X-ray exam, the driver was told to step out of the tractor and walk over to the safety zone while he awaited inspection.
“Upon exiting the commercial tractor, an officer noted that the driver seemed distraught and forgot to set his air breaks on the tractor-trailer,” the complaint said. “The tractor and trailer started to roll backward and CBP officers had to yell at (the driver) to get into the tractor immediately and set the brakes.”
The X-ray revealed anomalies in the load. During the physical inspection of the trailer, officers found 79 boxes of marijuana stacked on top of the load of carbon fiber rods.
The boxes were sealed with tape while the substance was contained in vacuum-sealed packages weighing 1,084.25 kilograms, or nearly 2,400 pounds, according to the complaint.
The driver, who officers noted did not want to follow directions, was arrested. They noted the driver was placed on the ground in handcuffs and “sank his head into his chest.”
Christopher Perry, Detroit CBP field director, acknowledged the ton of marijuana seized but had no further comment during an ongoing investigation.
Marijuana seizures jump 1,726%
Not including Monday’s major bust, Michigan’s border protection seized 9,059 pounds of marijuana during this fiscal year over last year.
It’s a trend, Perry anticipates, that will continue.
While Detroit is seizing between 500 to 600 pounds of narcotics yearly, northern areas of Michigan are seizing upward of 10,000 pounds, Perry said.
“What we’re seeing with our quantities and our sizes at our northern borders are what we saw 20 years ago,” said Perry, who has worked with the department for 30 years. “I didn’t expect it this year and don’t anticipate it slowing down.”
Perry said it’s a combination of the pandemic, border closures and high demand that’s led to the surge.
“The increased demand, with the border of being closed to non-essential travel, is making it much more difficult for the smuggling organizations to move their products,” Perry said. “They’re becoming more desperate.”
Among the 225 people arrested this year was a nurse who was deemed essential. She was stopped, allegedly with 150 pounds of marijuana in her car as she attempted to enter the United States during COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The contraband primarily is coming in from Canada, which legalized marijuana in 2018, at a time when supply can’t meet the demand in the United States, Perry said. After it enters the border, marijunana is being traded for cocaine and vice versa, he told The Detroit News.
“Most of the narcotics are found in commercial vehicles, which haven’t slowed during COVID. Our focus is on how we leverage advanced technology to try to find a needle in a haystack while keeping our agents safe,” he said.
Earlier this month, more than a half-ton of marijuana was found hidden in a trash hauler at the Blue Water Bridge.
Arriving at a primary inspection booth, the driver told CBP officers he was transporting municipal trash headed for a landfill in New Boston. When he was referred for a secondary examination, “officers uncovered over 1,000 pounds of marijuana concealed in trash bags in the rear of the truck.”
“What makes Michigan special is we have an international border city that is in line from Montreal to Toronto and the highway system that leads to the border,” he said. “And then when you get to the U.S., Michigan’s highway routes facilitate the movement of narcotics throughout the U.S.”
On Monday, Detroit leaders unveiled proposed regulations for the operation of recreational marijuana shops, with controversial provisions that give residents priority.
The plan guarantees no less than half of all licenses will go to legacy residents. City leaders noted it was crafted to ensure residents disproportionately affected by the nation’s failed “War on Drugs” will have an equitable opportunity to participate in an industry that’s estimated to yield $3 billion in annual sales.
With no federal legalization, authorities will continue to interdict the contraband, Perry said.
“We have to be vigilant,” he said. “Even though marijuana may be legal recreationally in many places, but what you see here, this is organized crime and trafficking organizations trying to cause tremendous damage to our country.”