Analysis

Mexican drug cartels' ingenious pot-smuggling cannons

What's the inspiration behind the new devices? Evidently, Mythbusters has made its way to Mexican cable — or drug lords really like the shirt-shooters at NBA games

When it comes to sending their contraband across the increasingly heavily guarded U.S. border, Mexico's drug cartels appear to be taking inspiration from modern pro sports — specifically from the handheld shooters used to launch T-shirts and other goodies into the stands at baseball and basketball games. Last weekend, U.S. Border Patrol agents found 33 cans holding 85 pounds of marijuana scattered across a field near Yuma, Arizona. After a little more nosing around, they also found an empty carbon dioxide tank. Their conclusion: Mexican drug smugglers are now using pneumatic cannons — essentially larger cousins of the devices used in sports arenas — to shoot their wares at least 500 feet into the U.S.

Of course, in this case, the goodies being shot are not T-shirts but 2.5-pound cans of pot, with a collective street value of about $42,500. This engineering advance represents a pretty big leap forward from one of the smugglers' earlier efforts, says Adam Martin at New York — a primitive catapult mounted on the roof of a van. The can-shooting cannons are also suspiciously similar to ones built on the TV show Mythbusters, another possible inspiration. "Cartels are a force for evil, sure, but dreaming up ways to propel packages of weed over a border fence must be one of the most fun jobs in the organization," says Martin. "Probably the only one."

Actually, says Adam Clark Estes at The Atlantic Wire, this fits "neatly into the broader narrative of creative drug-running schemes." Pneumatic cannons are arguably an easier, cheaper solution than the innovative go-carts, unmanned drones, track-equipped tunnels, and submarines drug runners have come up with in recent years, but the technology clearly isn't flawless: With $42,500 down the drain, it's a "bummer none of their buddies came to pick it up before the police."

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