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Jorge Bustamante and his find. Photo: Instagram

Jorge Bustamante and his find. Photo: Instagram

On the afternoon of Monday 2 July 2018, days before his birthday, freelance steadicam operator and underwater photographer Jorge Bustamante was fishing with his mum and dad at the Hillsboro Inlet off the coast of Pampano Beach, Florida, slightly north of Fort Lauderdale, hoping for mahi-mahi or kingfish but catching few.

Bustamante has in the past found Cuban rafts and even a message in a bottle. On this occasion, he observed something floating in the water and reeled it in, then realised it was a two-pound brick of cannabis wrapped in plastic. Appropriately enough, the find was made in the weed line, a massive gathering of sea weed that is popular for fishing. Bustamante quipped that his discovery was also “sea weed.” It’s uncertain how long the item had been afloating, but it’s possible it was dumped by smugglers seeking to escape the law.

It was a birthday present from Pablo Escobar

Bustamante quipped that his brick of cannabis was “an early birthday gift from Pablo Escobar.” Escobar was the richest criminal in history and one of the richest people of the time, worth $30bn. At his peak, his Medillin Cartel was responsible for 80 percent of the coke smuggled into the United States – 70 to 80 tonnes a month. This cartel carried out the murders of many police officers, judges, prominent politicians and locals. On 2 December 1993, a day after his 44th birthday, he was shot dead by the Colombian National Police. His story was told in the TV series Narcos. It got crap after that.

What to do with the dope?

Cannabis is legal for medicinal but not recreational purposed in Florida. Bustamante didn’t use the emergency frequency because it was hardly an emergency. Instead, he informed a friend who is a commander in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The friend contacted Coast Guard District 7, which is responsible for the southeast of the United States, through official channels and a boat was despatched to take possession of what was confirmed to be a brick of cannabis. A search of the area was mounted but uncovered nothing.

Bustamante made a video of the arrival of the Coast Guard, who informed local authorities, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. Personnel checked that Bustamante’s flares and personal flotation devices were up-to-date. The encounter took 25 minutes. “Still cool,” Bustamante declared, remarking that he had had a trip he “won’t forget for a long time.” Bustamante has posted countless photographs of himself and his catches to Instagram, but none as interesting as this.

Not the first time it’s happened

The find was far from unprecedented. Locals would call it a square grouper. A brick of cannabis weighing 11 pounds washed up on Daytona Beach the previous weekend. In March, two smuggling ships carrying 2,600 pounds of cannabis were seized by the Coast Guard in the Caribbean in March and seven people arrested. Large quantities of cannabis were discovered on the shore of West Beach in Santa Barbara in April and more parcels were found off the Carlsbad Coast after being dumped from a boat.

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