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Mexican Navy Starts Cracking Down on Imports of Meth Ingredients

Containers of glacial acetic acid seized at Port of Manzanillo. This ubiquitous chemical can be used in meth production (SEMAR)
Containers of glacial acetic acid seized at Port of Manzanillo. This ubiquitous chemical can be used in meth production (SEMAR)

Published Jul 10, 2024 9:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

Mexico's navy - which controls and provides security for the nation's big seaports - says that it is seeing an uptick in the importation of "dual-use" chemicals that have both legitimate applications and illicit uses, like making the precursors for methamphetamine production.  

Mexico ranks among the world's leading nations for meth production, both for export and for sale on the domestic market. Its law enforcement agencies seized over 400 tons of the synthetic chemical stimulant in 2023, a ten-fold increase year-on-year. 

In years past, Mexico's cartels relied heavily on the importation of known meth precursors from suppliers overseas, primarily in China. Any of three known precursors - ephedrine, 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) and methylamine - can be used by a drug lab to mass-produce street-grade meth, and all three have become harder to get in Mexico because of strengthened national regulations. In response, the cartels have become more sophisticated, and are now making their own precursors from everyday chemicals - like acetic acid, a basic chemical building block that is known best as the active ingredient in vinegar. 

In raids on meth labs up and down Mexico's west coast, authorities have found packaging for these "pre-precursor" dual-use ingredients, Mexican Navy officials told local outlet La Jornada at the port of Manzanillo. 

"There are records that give us the certainty that these substances are used in the manufacture of chemical precursors for illicit drugs. For this reason, work is being done to certify that they enter with all the documentation, since they can be diverted to produce the precursors used by criminal groups," an official told the outlet. 

The quantities can be substantial. In January, customs officers in Manzanillo seized a shipment of 88 tonnes of glacial (concentrated) acetic acid in totes. The importer could not identify a legitimate owner for the cargo, so it was impounded. 

Manzanillo is also an important port for exports of meth bound for markets overseas, like Australia and East Asia. The dangerous substance can fetch up to US$40,000 per kilo in Australia's high-demand market. 

Unfortunately, much of Mexico's methamphetamine is sold and used locally, with devastating effects on users' lives. “We need to look at methamphetamine as the current substance that’s creating the most problems for people who use drugs in Mexico,” Jaime Arredondo, a professor at Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica, speaking to InsightCrime in 2021.