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Trucker arrested in $20M marijuana bust at Canada-US border

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found $20 million worth of marijuana at the Canada-U.S. border near Buffalo, New York. (Photo: (Photo: Shutterstock)

A truck driver was arrested after U.S. border officers discovered marijuana valued at $20 million hidden in a tractor-trailer. It was the largest drug bust at the Canada-U.S. border in five years, authorities said on Monday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers discovered 9,472 pounds of marijuana during an inspection of the tractor-trailer at the Peace Bridge border facility near Buffalo, New York, on June 25. The marijuana was hidden in storage bins, the CBP said.

The seizure marked the third major marijuana bust involving a truck on the U.S. side of the Peace Bridge in less than a month. It also came during an uptick in drug seizures at the U.S.-Canada border since it shut down for non-essential travel in March. 

“The resurgence of large-scale illicit marijuana seizures is alarming and brazen given the public health crisis,” Kevin Kelly, Homeland Security Investigations special agent in charge, said in a statement. 

U.S. federal prosecutors charged the driver, 26, with possessing marijuana with intent to distribute and importing marijuana into the U.S. Authorities did not release the name of the driver, a Canadian resident. 

Drug busts increasing at key Canada-U.S. border crossings

Drug seizures have jumped at the crossings in northern New York and Detroit since the Canada-U.S. border closed for non-essential travel in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The regions account for the busiest cross-border freight links with Canada.

The spike in drug seizures came as non-commercial traffic slowed to a fraction of its pre-pandemic levels. In the case of the Buffalo office’s crossings, including the Peace Bridge, commercial vehicle traffic also was down by 25%.

But Mike Niezgoda, a CBP spokesperson in Buffalo, told FreightWaves earlier in June that border officers aren’t simply catching more smuggled drugs because of the reduction in traffic. Niezgoda said he wouldn’t speculate on what’s driving the increase.

“We’re always looking for vehicles trafficking drugs,” Niezgoda said. “But situations where a person has a pound or a couple of pounds of marijuana, those are gone because of the traffic restriction.”

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].