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LAX Is the World’s Largest Hub for Drug Trafficking, Law Enforcement Says

Officials say that Los Angeles International Airport is the largest distribution center of illegal narcotics in the world.

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Certain regions of the world are historic corridors for drug trafficking, such as cocaine in Central and South America, opium and heroin in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle, and hashish and cannabis in the Middle East, Tibet, and Nepal. But a surprising city has emerged as the drug smuggling gateway of the world: Los Angeles. According to a recent ABC7 Eyewitness News investigation, multiple law enforcement sources say that LAX is likely the number one global drug trafficking hub thanks to a confluence of factors. 

LAX is the busiest airport in the world based on the number of flight origins and destinations, with hundreds of thousands of bags and people moving through its security checkpoints daily. One statistic says that 80 million people travel through LAX per year. TSA is responsible for screening passengers’ bags before they board their planes, but it is not equipped to screen for drugs.

“Our search authority is very narrow,” said Jason Pantages, TSA’s security director for LAX, in an interview with ABC7. Pantages explained that TSA staff are security officers, not law enforcement officials, and do not have the jurisdiction to screen for criminal activity. “We search for weapons, incendiaries, and explosives,” he said. 

READ: Congress Officially Supports Psychedelics More Than Cannabis, VA Official Says

If TSA agents do detect drugs, they notify law enforcement, starting with the LAX police agency. That agency also deals with a wide range of airport crimes, from thefts to parking violations. The DEA and Homeland Security also monitor airport drug smuggling, but their work is more investigative and focused on cracking down on narcotics before they reach the airport. 

The issue, law enforcement authorities said, is that none of the government agencies are specifically responsible for screening bags for drugs as they pass through security—leaving a legal gray area over who is really in charge of monitoring and stopping drugs from moving through the airport. 

“It’s complicated because this airport is so complicated,” says FBI special agent David Gates.

To make matters even more confusing, LAX airport’s official policy states that you are legally allowed to carry up to 28.5 grams of cannabis flower and 8 grams of concentrate, according to state law. The Los Angeles Airport Police Division officers will not arrest individuals for cannabis; however, the policy warns that TSA screening stations are under federal jurisdiction and could still prosecute you should they find weed in your bags. But, as the ABC7 investigation notes, none of these agencies are actually searching those bags for drugs. Even the trained dogs at the airport are mostly focused on explosives. 

While the average passenger might not have caught up to these complications, the cartels figured out this legal loophole years ago, which is why they have been exploiting the high traffic volume at LAX to turn the airport into a smuggling hub. So, the next time you visit Los Angeles, try not to think about how many suitcases are stacked with drugs as you make your way through the airport.

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