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Operation Intercept

January 3rd, 2007 by David Kronemyer · 3 Comments

“Operation Intecept” was a program devised by Richard Nixon and his associates to interdict marijuana as it was smuggled from Tijuana, Mexico to Los Angeles, California.  It was in effect during the Fall of 1969.  Even though it originated with the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, most of the burden fell on local law enforcement.  I personally got caught up in Operation Intercept under a rather amusing set of circumstances, which I now relate.

One fine October afternoon my friend Robert Nuese and I were driving north on Pacific Coast Highway, from La Jolla, California up to Laguna Beach, California.  To our surprise we were caught in an Operation Intercept “sting” traffic stop, right around San Onofre, California.  By coincidence, this was just a mile or two south of Mr. Nixon’s so-called “Western White House” in San Clemente, California. 

The selection criteria for which cars got stopped, weren’t at all clear.  Coincidentally, our hair was getting a little bit long at the time.  My car was searched thoroughly, and, naturally, none of the noxious weed was discovered.  The officer in charge, though, did take the trouble to issue me a vehicle equipment warning, to the effect that the beam in my left front headlight projected downward at an angle that was slightly off-kilter from 90 degrees, as required by the California Vehicle Code.  The next day, I had this serious equipment flaw corrected, and dutifully reported with my signed receipt to the local San Diego Police station.  They rolled their eyes, guffawed, and duly noted on my permanent record that I had accomplished by civic and vehicular duty.

As it transpires, little marijuana actually was seized.  The program was incredibly expensive, for its day.  It disrupted the natural flow of cross-border commerce, causing further commercial and mercantile loss.  By creating artificial scarcity of marijuana, it introduced anomalous and inefficient pricing mechanisms into the supply-demand equation.  This in turn lead to the establishment of more devious importation routes.  It spurred innovation.  As suppliers tested the parameters of the program, it also lead to an increase in the amount of bribes paid to Border Patrol Agents, to permit shipments to pass through, unmolested.  This price increase was passed on to the consumer.  Artificially high prices in turn instigated the development of alternative sources of supply, such as large marijuana plantations in the United States, and increased importation of marijuana from overseas, particularly, from soldiers serving in Vietnam. 

In those long-ago days before 9/11 and the Homeland Security Administration, one of Operation Intercept’s main purposes was to develop public awareness about drug consumption.  Undoubtedly it did so, but not in quite the way its creators intended.  As with most such campaigns, it is likely the public’s curiosity about marijuana was piqued, not deterred.  The public’s appetite for narcotics also became realigned.  It shifted from marijuana, which is relatively benign, especially at the time when weak strains had no psychological effect whatsoever.  In its place were substituted other drugs, such as heroin, hashish, alcohol, stimulants, barbiturates, and hallucinogens.

And the government wonders why people have so little respect for law enforcement, the bureaucracy of the courts, and associated paraphernalia of social regulation.

Here are some good cites about the history of Operation Intercept: Craig, R., “Operation Intercept: The International Polities of Pressure,” 42 The Review of Politics 556 (Oct. 1980) (may require a subscription to JSTOR for access); and Brecher, E., “The 1969 marijuana shortage and ‘Operation Intercept,” Consumer Reports Magazine (1972).