US Customs officials seize ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of legal Cannabis in New Mexico

US Customs officials seize ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of legal Cannabis in New Mexico

It's unclear if the stops are the result of a policy change by the Biden administration.

Federal U.S. officials have stepped up their enforcement game with state-legal marijuana businesses in New Mexico in a way that the industry hasn’t seen in more than a decade, reportedly seizing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of cannabis goods from state-licensed businesses.

According to Marijuana Moment, the enforcement push began about two months ago, with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizing cannabis at multiple traffic checkpoints set up at various spots across New Mexico.

The CBP has authority to set up such checkpoints within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, and industry insiders said the agency has made at least 13 stops and seizures of marijuana goods from state-licensed cannabis companies, but the actual number of seizures could be much higher.

“There’s a lot of really successful important cannabis producers and cannabis manufacturers operating south of those checkpoints,” Ben Lewinger of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce told Marijuana Moment. “Basically, every road that you could take from the southern to the northern part of the state, you have to go through one of these checkpoints – and it’s just bifurcating the industry and making it impossible for people in the southern part of the state to get their products to anywhere in the central or northern part of the state.”

A spokesperson for CBP told Marijuana Moment that the agency – and the Department of Homeland Security, under which CBP operates – isn’t bound by a federal budget rider that prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with state-legal medical marijuana markets.

“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 CBP spokesperson 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.”

One company, Top Crop Cannabis Co., told Marijuana Moment that one of its vehicles was stopped on Valentine’s Day by CBP, and 22 pounds of cannabis worth $139,000 was seized by federal agents. Top Crop has thus far been unable to get its goods returned and has not received any further communication from CBP.

Multistate operator Schwazze (OTCQX: SHWZ) (Cboe: SHW) also reported one of its vehicles was stopped on March 22 by CBP and had five pounds of product seized, but employees in the vehicle were allowed to keep their personal cannabis stashes they had with them.

Another media report by The Paper reported that a “handful” of cannabis industry workers have been arrested by CBP, and that an audio recording from a traffic stop on April 4 had a CBP agent stating, “We’ve been instructed to seize all cannabis – all illegal products. It’s still federally illegal.”

That particular traffic stop also was a $20,000 loss for Head Space Alchemy, whose employees were involved in the incident.

In 2013, the Department of Justice issued the Cole Memo, which outlined how Colorado and Washington state could proceed with recreational marijuana sales and avoid federal interference by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration. Since then, the federal government has been largely hands-off with regard to state-legal cannabis commerce, focusing most of its enforcement attention instead on those in the still-enormous illicit market.

It’s unclear if the new approach by CBP in New Mexico is the result of a policy change by the Biden administration or how widespread the seizures have been thus far.

But the situation has garnered the attention of at least some members of Congress who represent the Land of Enchantment.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a statement to KRQE that CBP and Homeland Security should be focusing on “stopping the flow of illicit fentanyl,” instead of “seizing cannabis that’s being transported in compliance with state law.” And a spokesperson for Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, a co-sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said “the federal government should respect New Mexico law.”

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Region: New Mexico

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