Last week Montana’s Republican Sen. Steve Daines hosted a roundtable in Missoula to talk with police and prosecutors about the devastating toll methamphetamine is taking on western Montana. The event also offered a revealing look at the business end of the meth trade.
Local meth-cooking operations are generally an anomaly. Home brew labs are certainly dangerous and toxic, but account for a fraction of the meth supply on Montana’s streets.
“The vast majority of drugs into American and into Montana – especially meth – is coming from Mexico,” according to Missoula City Police Detective Guy Baker.
Baker says that’s been the case ever since the United States restricted consumer access to several so-called ‘precursors,’ or the base ingredients, used to make meth.
“Almost all the meth, if not all the meth we see, is straight from superlabs in Mexico. So we’ve get meth that even has had cartel stamps on it. Different cartels mark their meth. We're alking one or two transactions before it hits the streets of Missoula from a cartel in Mexico," he says.
Missoula County Sheriff’s Sergeant Jeremiah Peterson is a commander with the local High Intensity Drug Task Force.
Peterson says once meth is smuggled over the southern border, it typically moves north into California, Oregon and Washington.
“And then it comes east. We’re seeing it specifically, Spokane and the Tri-Cities are what people are telling us where they're getting it," he says.
Peterson estimates several pounds of meth is transported into Montana every day.
Detective Guy Baker says there’s a huge consumer appetite for the drug. On the supply side, there’s money to be made – and lots of it.
“A cartel can make a pound of meth for about $200," he says. "The first drop in American goes for $2,000. So, they’re making a 1,000 percent profit on every pound. And then a person has a good source might buy that pound for $3,000 or $4,000 where that person doubles their money. And then they bring it to Montana and theysell it for $1,000 an ounce. So, their $4,000 investment nets them $16,000.”
Baker and his law enforcement colleagues told Sen. Daines last week that methamphetamine is tearing apart Montana families, leading to record amounts of violent crime and overwhelming the judicial system.
President Trump and Daines say this drug crisis bolsters arguments for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But the former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Gil Kerlikowske, drew a different conclusion when he spoke with National Public Radio’s Michel Martin earlier this month.
“The drugs that are actually taking the lives of people here in the United States -- methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl -- almost universally come through the ports of entry along the southern border," he says.
Kerlikowske says those legal ports of entry and the international postal service are the real flashpoints for American drug imports – not the porous borders.
Sen. Steve Daines tells the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that most drug seizures do happen at legal ports of entry because that’s where border patrol activities are focused. However, he adds that because no one knows how many drugs may come across the border in other places, a wall could help stanch the flow of Mexican drugs into Montana.