Customs and Border Protection Targeting Licensed New Mexico Weed Businesses

Federal officials in New Mexico are apparently targeting state-licensed marijuana companies at border checkpoints and seizing regulated cannabis products, according to media reports. 

New Mexico legalized medical marijuana in 2019, followed by the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 2021. Regulated sales of recreational weed began in the state on April 1, 2022, just under a year after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the legalization bill into law.

Since then, New Mexico’s licensed cannabis businesses have seen little interference from federal authorities, much like other weed-legal states over the last several years. The situation has changed recently, however, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seizing regulated cannabis products at least a dozen times over the last two weeks, according to Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce. Although 12 such seizures have been reported, the actual number could be even higher.

“There still is a lot of stigma and a lot of fear so I imagine this is underreported,” Lewinger told KRQE 13 television news. “It’s hurting small businesses. It’s hurting all of us because of the loss of tax revenue.”

CBP officers are permitted to establish immigration checkpoints to help stem smuggling and human trafficking within 100 miles of the international border with Mexico. In states with legal weed, these checkpoints are generally navigated without incident by licensed cannabis companies moving products within the state. But recently that has changed, although seemingly only in New Mexico. Lewinger said he believes the state’s cannabis businesses are being targeted by federal officials in the state and called on the Biden administration to step in.

“Our brothers and sisters in California and Arizona, which also share a border with Mexico, they’re not seeing this kind of same increased activity. It seems like this is a situation that is particular to New Mexico and I think what needs to happen is The White House needs to direct the Department of Homeland Security to stop wasting resources on a product that poses no threat,” Lewinger said. “It’s just clearly outside of the scope of Customs and Border Patrol.”

Nick Spoor, operations manager at Top Crop Cannabis Co., told reporters that the company has regularly transported cannabis products through CBP checkpoints successfully.

“Normally they don’t have dogs, usually it’s just a, ‘are you a U.S. citizen, yes’ and then they wave you through,” said Spoor.

But that changed when CBP agents seized products from one of the company’s vehicles at a checkpoint on Valentine’s Day.

“We’ve been going through that checkpoint for over a year, no questions asked, so obviously we’re doing everything compliantly. It was manifested product,” said Top Crop Cannabis Co. CEO Matt Chadwick. “So, I was shocked, a little blown away and taken back.”

Ethan Ramsey, an employee with Las Cruces cannabis producer Head Space Alchemy, was arrested by the CBP last week while attempting to go through an immigration checkpoint, according to a report from The Paper. The driver had been stopped at a checkpoint on Interstate 25, about 25 miles north of Las Cruces while delivering samples to a cannabis lab in Santa Fe. 

Rob Duran, a managing partner of Head Space Alchemy, was following in another vehicle. The Paper obtained an audio recording of the interaction with CBP officials. 

“We’ve been instructed to seize all cannabis—all illegal products,” the CBP officer can be heard saying. “It’s still federally illegal.”

When Duran asked how the company and CBP could reach a solution to the situation, he was told that he could talk to a supervisor or contact the regional office. 

“I can’t tell you anything that they [haven’t] already told you,” the officer says on the recording. “Or I can’t go above what they’re telling you … Everything’s going to get seized.”

When Duran asks about Ramsey, he is told that the employee has been arrested.

“He’s under arrest,” the agent says. “That’s what happens when someone gets placed under arrest. You’re trying to get a definitive answer out of me. I don’t know where we’re at. We’ve just started this process. We’ve just started this case, so I can’t give you a definitive answer.”

Between last week’s seizure by CBP and an earlier one, Duran says the company has lost about $20,000 in product. More significantly, his workers now have a record with the federal government because of the interactions.

“In both cases, [employees] have had their pictures taken and been fingerprinted, and have also been told that their names are going to now be in a federal database as being caught at a federal inspection checkpoint with cannabis,” Duran says.

When contacted by local media, a CBP spokesperson denied allegations that officers in New Mexico are targeting licensed cannabis businesses.

“Although legal for medical and/or recreational use in many states, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Therefore, U.S. Border Patrol agents will continue to take appropriate enforcement action against those who are encountered in possession of marijuana anywhere in the United States.”

Chadwick of Top Crop Cannabis Co. said that his business can handle the loss from CBP interference. But he says that other companies could be irreparably harmed by the product seizures.

“People’s lives are at stake here. Businesses are at stake here. And it can affect some people with, like I said, very dire circumstances and they could lose everything they’ve had,” said Chadwick. “They’ve put their hearts and souls into their businesses and it’s not fair.”

The post Customs and Border Protection Targeting Licensed New Mexico Weed Businesses appeared first on High Times.


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