The size of the meth bust in Mexico state suggests involvement of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.
GUADALAJARA, Mexico — The seizure of 15 tons of pure methamphetamine in western Mexico, equal to half of all meth seizures worldwide in 2009, feeds growing speculation that the country could become a world platform for meth production, not just a supplier to the United States.
The size of the bust announced late Wednesday in Jalisco state suggests involvement of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, a major international trafficker of cocaine and marijuana that has moved into meth production and manufacturing on an industrial scale.
Army officials didn’t say what drug gangs could have been behind the dozens of blue barrels filled with powdered meth. Army Gen. Gilberto Hernández Andreu said the meth was ready for packaging. There was no information on where the drugs were headed.
Jalisco has long been considered the hub of the Sinaloa cartel’s meth production and trafficking. Meanwhile, meth use is growing in the United States, already the world’s biggest market for illicit drugs.
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The haul could have supplied 13 million doses worth more than $4 billion on U.S. streets, officials said.
The Sinaloa cartel, headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is equipped to produce and distribute drugs “for the global village,” said Antonio Mazzitelli, regional representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
“Such large-scale production could suggest an expansion … into Latin American and Asian markets,” Mazzitelli said. But he also noted, “It may be a product that hasn’t been able to be sold, and like any business, when the market is depressed, stockpiles build up.”
A senior U.S. law-enforcement official in Mexico said the operation raided in Jalisco was “probably Sinaloa.”
Reporters were shown barrels of white and yellow powder that filled three rooms on a small ranch outside Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city.
The lot around the house was littered with metal canisters and caldrons used in production.
The seizure of such a large quantity of meth is expected to have a big impact on the U.S. meth market, where a pound of it can sell for about $15,000.
“This could potentially put a huge dent in the supply chain in the U.S.,” said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rusty Payne. “When we’re taking this much out of the supply chain, it’s a huge deal.”
But that may not ultimately mean less meth in the U.S. Law-enforcement officials in California’s Central Valley, a hub of the U.S. methamphetamine-distribution network, say a cutoff in the Mexican supply could mean domestic superlabs will increase production.
The Mexican army said troops received several anonymous tips and found the big drug stash in the township of Tlajomulco de Zuniga, near the Jalisco state capital of Guadalajara.
The previous biggest bust announced by the army came in June 2010, when soldiers found 3.4 tons of pure meth in three interconnected warehouses in the central state of Queretaro.
Few drugs do as much widespread damage — to users and the public — as meth, which is highly addictive. It’s produced with volatile chemicals that can lead to explosions.
Chronic use can lead to psychosis, which includes hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations. The stimulant effect of meth is up to 50 times longer than cocaine, experts say, so users stay awake for days, impairing cognitive function and contributing to extreme paranoia.
Users are known to lose massive amounts of weight, suffer scabs on their bodies and lose teeth to “meth mouth” caused when saliva dries up and decay takes over.