Of course, lack of harmony between the state and federal positions on marijuana is nothing new. But it’s important for marijuana businesses in cities close to international borders to use extra caution, and consult with a California cannabis lawyer for insight on how best to protect their investment, operation and employees from legal headaches. As The Los Angeles Times reported recently, those in Imperial and San Diego counties especially need to beware due to the closeness of the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. Boarder Patrol has the authority to establish checkpoints that stretch as far north as 100 miles past the international line.
In one reason case, a small van transporting about $15,000 of marijuana wholesale – locally grown, certified and state-legal – from Imperial County to a state-licensed dispensary about three hours north. However, it was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint on the highway – 20 miles from the actual U.S.-Mexico boarder. The distributor reports federal agents seized the entire load.
It’s incidents like this that have prompted some marijuana dispensaries, delivery operators and others to avoid these areas – especially Imperial County. That’s been problematic for several operators in that region.
For example, one of the few state-certified testing labs in Southern California revealed it no longer makes testing trips to cannabis farms and dispensaries in Imperial County. The risk is just too great. In turn, that makes it tough for legal operators to do business there, but some say they’ve been left with little choice. As the lab’s CEO put it: “They’ve trapped a corner of the state.”
At any given time, there could be up to nine checkpoints within 65 miles north of the U.S.-California border. Primarily, these exist along I-5 North, I-8 West and I-15 North, with some on more rural stretches.
As far as federal agents are concerned, setting up these checkpoints allows for an additional measure to halt illegal immigration of people coming in through Mexico who may have slipped passed the border without detection.
It is true that the region is a hot spot for drug trafficking across the border. The checkpoints are viewed as the final defense before those substances reach larger distribution hubs in other areas. Big drug busts involving cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine and fentanyl are reported with some regularity. But there is still a question of how much authority federal agents have when it comes to accosting citizens of the U.S., particularly those who routinely cross the border for school, work or errands. Nonetheless, courts have ruled time and again in the government’s favor.