Border Patrol Agents Thwart Smugglers Importing Drugs in Cut Flowers

Importing cut flowers into the US is a huge industry that reaches its peak during the Valentine season, which runs between January 1 and February 14. While flowers pour into the US through a number of ports of entry, the lion’s share travel through the Miami International Airport.

About 84% of the flower stems imported during the 2014 Valentine season travelled through this airport. The Miami International Airport processes around 187,000 tons of flowers a year, and drug traffickers have been taking advantage of this huge volume to use flowers to hide their drugs.

The largest international source of flowers by far is Columbia followed by Ecuador. Since the beginning of fiscal year 2014, border patrol agents at the Miami International Airport seized more than 80 pounds of heroin and cocaine hidden in flowers coming from these two countries. The drugs have been hidden in the flower boxes and sometimes even in the flowers themselves.

While agricultural specialists with the border patrol generally inspect the flowers to keep harmful pests and diseases from entering the US, they have proven invaluable at detecting drugs, too. Not surprisingly given its volume of imports, agents discovered the largest number of pests in flowers coming through Miami.

Ironically, the large quantity of flowers produced by Columbia that facilitate drug trafficking are a direct effect of US efforts to curb the volume of drugs flowing out of the country. To provide alternatives for coca growers, the US government backed the elimination of import duties on flowers from Columbia. In 2013, the country exported more than $1 billion worth of cut flowers to the US.