[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/10/goddard.arizona.art.jpg caption="Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says Mexican drug cartels use gift card technology to smuggle money across the U.S. border."]
The state of Arizona is finding itself on the front line of the war against Mexican drug cartels. Their attorney general will meet this week with leaders of other southwestern states to try to stop the flow of drugs across the border with Mexico. To do that, they say they will have to stop the flow of cash as well, including a new way smugglers are trying to get past the cash-sniffing dogs.
Lawmakers say gift card technology is now making it easier for drug lords to move cash across the border undetected. These 'stored value instruments' are often issued by offshore banks and allow large sums of money to be moved throughout the world. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.
Kiran Chetry: Walk us through these gift cards. How have they become so useful to the drug cartels?
Terry Goddard: This isn't your Starbucks or Best Buy gift cards. What we're talking about here are stored value instruments, which have chips in them…that basically can store fairly large amounts of cash. The total amount is undetermined; it depends on who the depositing bank or financial institution is. As a result, since they're not considered monetary instruments, they can be taken across the border and you don't break any laws. It is a huge loophole in our financial crimes observations.
Chetry: So you're talking about gift cards, these blank cards that can be preloaded with large amounts of cash. How do they cash it in once they get across the border?
Goddard: These basically are your passport for cash. They are your way of getting into a financial institution. If you're buying coffee with them, obviously your return is not that big. But if you've got a participating financial institution, say in the Cayman Islands or in Central America, then all you have to do is go to a group that corresponds with that financial institution, present your card and take out your cash. So there's nothing at the border that you have to display. Under U.S. law, these cards, however much they may be worth are not considered financial instruments. Therefore, the border patrol, customs agents when they see them there is no violation because they're not part of the money that you're required to declare. And they can't read them, which is a big problem. Basically we need to have transparency so that if a law enforcement agency looks at one of these cards, he or she knows how much it is worth.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/14/art_marijuanaelsohly_cnn.jpg caption= "Mahmoud ElSohly says marijuana's potency will continue to rise before tailing off in the next five years."]
By Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers
OXFORD, Mississippi (CNN) - The average potency of marijuana, which has risen steadily for three decades, has exceeded 10 percent for the first time, the U.S. government will report on Thursday.
Scientists working for the government predict that potency, as measured by the drug's concentration of the psychoactive ingredient THC, will continue to rise.
At the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project, where thousands of samples of seized marijuana are tested every year, project director Mahmoud ElSohly said some samples have THC levels exceeding 30 percent.
Average THC concentrations will continue to climb before leveling off at 15 percent or 16 percent in five to 10 years, ElSohly predicted.
The stronger marijuana is of particular concern because high concentrations of THC have the opposite effect of low concentrations, officials say.
In addition, while experienced marijuana users may limit their intake of potent marijuana, young and inexperienced users may not moderate their intake and possibly suffer from dysphoria, paranoia, irritability and other negative effects.
So, what do you think? Should the United States legalize drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin? Vote now!
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By Asa Hutchinson
Special to CNN
Editor's note: Asa Hutchinson is former Director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and served as the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/16/intv.hutchinson.asa.art.jpg caption= "Asa Hutchinson is former Director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration."]
When it comes to the debate on legalization of marijuana, we can all have confidence in the greatness of our democracy. Ultimately the voters decide the direction of our country. Thus far there is no evidence that the public is in any mood to legalize marijuana or other currently illegal drugs.
In Arkansas, a few years back, a statewide ballot initiative could not even get on the ballot because the proponents could not garner enough signatures. Nationwide, recent ballot initiatives have focused on medical marijuana or enforcement policy.
The advocates of legalization are trying to chip away on the fringes of the legalization debate but they know there is not a sufficient popular movement for legalization. Parents are in no mood to make another harmful drug more accessible and socially acceptable for the youth.