The smuggler’s BMW slows as it nears the rendezvous point on H Street, the darkened rural road that runs parallel to the Canada-U.S. boundary on the outskirts of this town.
The passenger door opens as a man stumbles from the forest with a backpack stuffed with the marijuana he carried on a rough trail from Zero Avenue in Surrey, British Columbia.
Another bundle of British Columbia marijuana, with an estimated value of $65,700, is on its way to U.S. streets.
Despite drug seizures and government pledges to stamp out smuggling, scenes like this are increasing along the 360-mile British Columbia-U.S. border.
“We know that there are loose-knit organizations that are utilizing multiple couriers to smuggle marijuana,” says Brian Rockom, special agent in charge of U.S. Customs in Blaine. “It’s on the increase.”
Because of Canada’s relatively light drug penalties and British Columbia’s favorable growing conditions, the province has become one of the world’s top marijuana growers.
British Columbia-grown pot fetches about $8,700 a kilogram in Washington, Oregon and California - more than twice the street price in Canada - creating a strong incentive to export.
With so much money at stake, growers are turning to professional couriers like Lenny, the BMW driver whose operatives move an estimated $11 million worth of drugs into the United States each year.
Contacted through an ad in an underground marijuana magazine, Lenny described himself as a 29-year-old ex-soldier from Bellingham.
He says he’s not a criminal, but an entrepreneur. He has a college education and runs his operation like a business.
Lenny has brought new sophistication to the ancient craft of smuggling: night-vision goggles, camouflage, police scanners, two-way radios, a fast car, a pickup truck and a boat.
“Most of my camouflage tactics were taught to me by Uncle Sam because I was in the Army,” he said. “The government that’s looking for me is the same government that taught me what I know.”
Vancouver marijuana activist Marc Emery says it’s easy to smuggle drugs across the border using wilderness trails.
“You’d only get caught out of fluke.”
U.S. Customs estimates marijuana smuggling cases have risen more than tenfold in the last few years, despite announced crackdowns on both sides of the border.
“Every method in the world is used,” says Staff Sgt. Ken Ross of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police drug squad. “Your imagination is the limit.”
Ross says the major problem isn’t catching smugglers, it’s judges and lawyers who don’t always view the crime as serious.
“Catching crooks and dope traffickers is easy,” he says. “Getting them into court and through the system is different, and (smugglers) know that. It gets to be: ‘What’s the point?’ We haul them into court and they get a $3,000 fine” - about $2,200 in U.S. currency.
Ross said Canadians must decide whether they want police to continue enforcing marijuana laws or whether the drug should be legalized.
Legalization would put Lenny out of a job. He’s voting Republican in the U.S. presidential election because he thinks Bob Dole is more likely than Bill Clinton to continue the war on drugs that keeps him in business.