Stories of drug busts are common these days, but the recent seizure of six tons of cocaine headed for Baltimore was still big news. The traffickers meant to work through a Catonsville business, but got tripped up after authorities grew suspicious about its imports. The six tons, hidden in the center of a container of untouched tiles, could have supplied the entire Mid-Atlantic region's illicit drug markets.
Not even a six-ton seizure can cut off supplies in the open-air markets in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, as was apparent three years ago when 20 tons of cocaine were seized in L.A. It is time to update the popular wisdom about drug trafficking, however. For as America's drug habit has grown, so has the smugglers' boldness.
Major drug rings have abandoned the pin-prick imports of the past for industrial-strength deals. Authorities say at least a third of the illicit drugs now get into the country in ship-borne containers such as the one in which Panamanian and U.S. officers found the six tons of cocaine. Smaller shipments still cross the border inside the intestines of international air travelers -- swallowed in cut-off fingers from surgical gloves -- and hidden in secret compartments of luggage, airplane toilets and in cars and trucks, to be sure.