Tijuana: Mexican security forces seized at least 105 tons of US-bound marijuana in the border city of Tijuana on Monday, by far the biggest pot bust in the country in recent years.
Soldiers and police grabbed the drugs in pre-dawn raids in three neighbourhoods after police arrested 11 people following a shootout, Army Gen Alfonso Duarte Mujica said at a news conference.
The marijuana was found wrapped in 10,000 packages, which were displayed to journalists by soldiers in masks. Duarte said the drug had an estimated street value in Mexico of 4.2 billion pesos, about USD 340 million.
Duarte said authorities were still counting and weighing the packages and the amount could increase. He said the drugs — wrapped in different colours and labelled with apparently coded phrases and pictures that included Homer Simpson — would be incinerated immediately after the weighing and counting is completed.
The bust began when Tijuana municipal police on patrol came under fire from gunmen in a convoy of vehicles, Duarte said. One police officer and one suspect were injured.
Police arrested 11 people who were travelling in the convoy and called the Army and state police for reinforcements, Duarte said.
He said the detainees led the security forces to three different neighbourhoods in the city, which is across the border from San Diego, California. The drugs were found stored in tractor trailers and houses.
Duarte said local criminal gangs were gathering the drugs to smuggle into the United States. He did not identify any of the gangs or say where the marijuana originated.
Although Mexican drug cartels smuggle marijuana from South America, the drug is increasingly produced in Mexico.
Cannabis production in Mexico increased 35 percent to 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres) in 2009, from 8,900 hectares (21,991 acres) the previous year, according to the US State Department`s 2010 International Narcotics Control report.
The report attributed the increase to drug cartel efforts to "diminish reliance on foreign suppliers."
The Tijuana bust dwarfed marijuana seizures of recent years. Major pot seizures this year in Tijuana and other parts of the country have amounted to about a dozen tons each.
Before this seizure, soldiers in Baja California state, where Tijuana is located, had confiscated a total of 115 tons of marijuana this year.
The seizure comes as overall marijuana confiscation and crop eradication has dropped in Mexico.