Cannabis seizures at checkpoints by US-Mexico border frustrate state-authorized pot industry

0
8

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Border Patrol is asserting its authority to seize cannabis shipments — including commercial, state-authorized supplies — as licensed cannabis providers file complaints that more than $300,000 worth of marijuana has been confiscated in recent months at highway checkpoints in southern New Mexico.

New Mexico’s Democratic governor says the disruptions prompted a discussion this week with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whose impeachment charges were dismissed this week. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she voiced concerns that the scrutiny of cannabis companies appears to be greater in New Mexico than states with regulated markets that aren’t along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Authorized cannabis sales in New Mexico have exceeded $1 billion since regulation and taxation of the recreational market began two years ago. Yet cannabis transport drivers say they have been detained hours while supplies are seized at permanent Border Patrol checkpoints that filter inbound traffic for unauthorized migrants and illegal narcotics, typically located about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the U.S. border.

“Secretary Mayorkas assured the governor that federal policies with respect to legalized cannabis have not changed,” said Lujan Grisham spokesperson Michael Coleman in an email. “Regardless, the governor and her administration are working on a strategy to protect New Mexico’s cannabis industry.”

Managers at 10 cannabis businesses including transporters last week petitioned New Mexico’s congressional delegation to broker free passage of shipments, noting that jobs and investments are at stake, and that several couriers have been sidelined for “secondary inspection” and fingerprinted at Border Patrol checkpoints.

“We request that operators who have had product federally seized should be allowed to either get their product returned or be monetarily compensated for the losses they’ve sustained,” the letter states.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said the Department of Homeland Security should be focused on urgent priorities that don’t include cannabis suppliers that comply with state law.

“Stopping the flow of illicit fentanyl into our country should be the Department of Homeland Security’s focus at these checkpoints, not seizing cannabis that’s being transported in compliance with state law,” the senator said in a statement, referring to the parent agency for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. “New Mexicans are depending on federal law enforcement to do everything they can to keep our communities safe. Our resources should be used to maximize residents’ safety, not distract from it.”

A public statement Thursday from the U.S. Border Patrol sector overseeing New Mexico provided a reminder that cannabis is still a “Schedule 1” drug, a designation also assigned to heroin and LSD.

“Although medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in some U.S. States and Canada, the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana or the facilitation of the aforementioned remain illegal under U.S. federal law,” the agency’s statement said. “Consequently, individuals violating the Controlled Substances Act encountered while crossing the border, arriving at a U.S. port of entry, or at a Border Patrol checkpoint may be deemed inadmissible and/or subject to, seizure, fines, and/or arrest.”

Matt Kennicott, an owner of Socorro-based High Maintenance, a cannabis business, said seizures by Border Patrol started in February without warning and create uncertainty about shipments that include samples for consumer-safety testing. He said cannabis producers in southernmost New Mexico rely on testing labs farther north, on the other side of Border Patrol checkpoints, to comply with safeguards against contaminants like mold or pesticides.

“It’s not a little confusing, it’s a lot confusing,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out where this directive came from.”

Source: post