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The Produce Pipeline: Smugglers Now Using ‘Limes’ to Move Illicit Cannabis

With the spread of legalization, the American demand for illicit Mexican-sourced cannabis has fallen precipitously. But that doesn’t mean smugglers don’t still move product across the border. In fact, the reduced demand for Mexican brickweed seems to have spurred traffickers to a new level of creativity. Their latest invention: Fake produce.

Yesterday, US Customs and Border Protection officials announced that on January 30, officers in Pharr, Texas, discovered 3,947 pounds of cannabis within a commercial shipment of key limes. The truck hauling the fake produce crossed the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge along the US-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas.

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Lime-shaped bundles containing 3,947 pounds of marijuana seized by CBP officers at Pharr International Bridge (Photo courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection)

Over 34,000 individually-wrapped and painted cannabis-core “limes” were discovered by an imaging inspection system and drug canine team.

“Our CBP officers continue to excel in their knowledge of smuggling techniques, which allows them to intercept these kinds of attempts to introduce narcotics into our country,” said Port Director Efrain Solis Jr. in a statement. (Note: Cannabis is not a narcotic.)

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the cannabis seized is valued at approximately $789,467. The case is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.

This isn’t the first time smugglers have tried to bring cannabis into the country using “fresh produce” as their cover.

Less than a month ago, CBP officers in Pharr, discovered 3,000 pounds of cannabis within a commercial shipment of watermelons. The tractor trailer containing the packages tried to cross the border was stopped by a canine team, which sniffed out the marijuana.

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Watermelon-shaped packages containing 3,000 pounds of marijuana seized by CBP officers at Pharr International Bridge in watermelon shipment. (Photo Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Officers extracted 390 packages of cannabis in the shipment, valued at approximately $600,092.

Watermelons are hardly the most unique item of produce used to smuggle cannabis. If there were a prize for most unusual item of fresh harvest, it would go to carrots. Yes, carrots. Last year those same CPB officers working the Pharr International Bridge intercepted 2,493 pounds of cannabis that was concealed within a commercial shipment of carrots. And let me tell you, these carrots—actually look like carrots!

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Marijuana hidden in a carrot-like package, part of a total of 2,493 pounds of marijuana seized by CBP officers at Pharr International Bridge in a carrot shipment. (Photo courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection)

Officials said they found the cannabis packed into 2,800 long, orange packages that were hidden inside a commercial shipment of real fresh carrots. The street value of the cannabis was valued around $500,000. No word on the value of the carrots, which we assume were also seized.

“Once again, drug smuggling organizations have demonstrated their creativity in attempting to smuggle large quantities of narcotics across the US–Mexico border,” Port Director Solis Jr., said of the notorious carrot affair. “Our officers are always ready to meet those challenges and remain vigilant towards any type of illicit activities.”

Agricultural products make up one of the largest categories of commercial products trucked across the US–Mexico border. The US imported $4.8 billion worth of fresh vegetables from Mexico in the past year, along with $4.3 billion in fresh fruit. Those figures may have to be discounted, however. If smugglers keep getting caught using the produce gambit, you gotta figure a certain number of trucks bearing false vegetables are making it through.