LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11) - More than a year after California legalized the recreational use of cannabis, trafficking arrests have surged 166% at Los Angeles International Airport, it was reported Monday.
The 166% figure was based on arrest records obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper reported.
Emboldened by legalization and facing only light punishment if captured, more and more smugglers are taking to the friendly skies in an effort to escape California's glutted cannabis market, according to authorities, marijuana industry experts and a lawyer who represents accused smugglers, the Los Angeles Times reported. As a result, the world's fourth-busiest airport is now an expanding hub in the illegal export of marijuana, they say.
"This is normal procedure for these guys, and I would say 29 out of 30 times they make it through without a problem," said Bill Kroger Jr., a 20-year criminal defense lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases.
Authorities at LAX say they are encountering more and more airline passengers who are carrying small amounts of pot for personal use, but the number of checked bags stuffed entirely full of marijuana has soared as well. Police in Oakland and Sacramento say they are seeing the same thing.
"We intercept large quantities of marijuana regularly," said Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over Oakland International Airport. "We find it in about 50-pound quantities -- the carry-on rate for luggage. I would imagine we're only intercepting some of it, not all of it."
The sudden increase in airport smuggling is largely the result of legalization and a saturated market. California grows far more marijuana than its residents consume -- up to five times more by some accounts -- and cannabis users in other states will pay a much higher price.
"Since pot's been legalized in California, there's no money to be made because everyone got involved in it,'' Kroger said. "They've got these big 50,000-square-foot [grow] houses, and they're flooding the market. The money is outside of California."
CNS contributed to this report.