New Law Targets Drug-Smuggling Across Canadian Border

At 5,525 miles across land and water, the U.S.-Canada border is the longest international boundary in the world. It is a place where our two nations meet in peace, friendship, and commerce.  Unfortunately, criminals increasingly are exploiting the size and openness of our shared border for a variety of illegal activities, including drug smuggling.

Recently, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation I co-sponsored that will greatly strengthen our defenses against drug trafficking while preserving the personal and business relations that are so important to Americans and Canadians.  The Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act requires the Office of National Drug Control Policy to develop within six months a comprehensive plan to bring together federal, state, local, and tribal law-enforcement authorities into one coordinated effort to blunt the illegal drug trade across the U.S.-Canada border.

This all-inclusive approach, which includes enhanced cooperation with Canadian authorities, will provide law-enforcement in communities on the front lines with the resources they need to fight back against the increasingly sophisticated and well-financed drug-smuggling operations.  Just as important, this legislation requires that the plan reflect the unique nature of small communities along the border.  The challenges faced by the rural Maine towns along our 611-mile border with New Brunswick and Quebec are vastly different from those faced by such cities as Buffalo, Detroit, or Seattle, and this plan will address those differences.

During my service in the Senate, I have consistently supported efforts to combat the scourge of drug abuse and addiction in our society.  As a leader of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, one of my top priorities has been to ensure that our border is open to our friends but closed to those who would do us harm.

The alarming increase in drug smuggling across the Canadian border was a concern raised by two distinguished Maine federal judges when we met in December 2009.  The judges were especially concerned about the sharp rise in addiction to methamphetamine, or crystal meth, an illegal drug that previously had been more associated with states in the West and South.  It was shocking to learn that the majority of crystal meth produced in Canada ends up in the United States.  At the same time, a recent federal report finds that Maine leads the nation in the percentage of residents being treated for addiction to the long-standing scourge of prescription painkillers.  The prescription drug crisis has been particularly acute in our border communities.

Crystal meth is a unique challenge.  It can be manufactured by people with little knowledge of chemistry in makeshift labs from inexpensive components that are legal and that have legitimate purposes.  While both the U.S. and Canada have taken steps to restrict and track the sales of one component, which is found in some over-the-counter cold medications, Canada’s restrictions are considerably less stringent.  As result, large amounts of these precursor chemicals are being purchased in Canada and smuggled into the United States.  The comprehensive plan that will be developed as a result of this new law will help stem the flow of crystal meth across the border, as well as the precursor chemicals from which it is made.

It is important to recognize that illegal drugs flow both ways.  While large amounts of crystal meth and precursor chemicals enter the U.S. from Canada, much of the cocaine smuggled into Canada comes through shipment routes that run through the United States.  Drug abuse and addiction are ruining lives and destroying families on both sides of the border.  As drug trafficking increasingly is dominated by large, well-organized, and ruthless criminal gangs, communities on both sides of the border are threatened by violence.

In addition to having the longest border in the world, the U.S. and Canada have the largest trade relationship, with some $1.3 billion in commerce crossing each day.  Along its length are hundreds of communities, from small towns to large cities.  Illegal drug trafficking, and the misery and violence it brings, is a grave threat.  The enhanced cooperation and coordination among law-enforcement agencies at all levels of government that will result from this law will help protect our northern border, our economy, and our communities.