(MintPress) – Since marijuana is not legal federally, even for medical reasons, medicinal users in states where the drug is legal for medical use are finding themselves stuck between conflicting laws when crossing U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints on busy highways. Justin Sevey, 22, is a medical marijuana patient from New Mexico. He told a local Texas news […]
(MintPress) – Since marijuana is not legal federally, even for medical reasons, medicinal users in states where the drug is legal for medical use are finding themselves stuck between conflicting laws when crossing U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints on busy highways.
Justin Sevey, 22, is a medical marijuana patient from New Mexico. He told a local Texas news station that when he goes on long road trips and knows he has to go through a checkpoint, he won’t bring any marijuana with him, but says his palms still get sweaty and his heartbeat increases.
“I don’t know why I even feel this. I should have nothing to be afraid of,” Sevey said.
But since the U.S. government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — meaning at least in the federal government’s eyes, the drug has a high potential for abuse; there is no accepted medical use for the drug; and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug even under medical supervision — medical users like Sevey could face large fines and time in jail if marijuana is found in their possession.
“It is federal jurisdiction not state jurisdiction,” said New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who inherited the medical marijuana program from her predecessor. “And so the Border Patrol, if they find that marijuana, are able to do what they please because they don’t enforce state law they enforce federal law.”
Just because you have a card doesn’t mean you’re covered
George, a medical marijuana user who didn’t want to give his last name, said going back and forth through the checkpoints was really stressful. “If you’re caught federally, what’s going to happen? You just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
A former insurance adjuster, George said he had to travel through the checkpoints on a regular basis. Like many other patients, George has limited and changed his routes to avoid checkpoints.
“I think everybody who has a card knows it’s a checkerboard, now you’re covered; now you’re not,” said Rich, who also declined to provide his full name.
Sevey says one time he was pulled over at a checkpoint after a dog supposedly hit on his car. He told the Border Patrol agent he was a patient in the medical marijuana program, but says the agent didn’t want to see his card.
“He said ‘show me the weed’ essentially and if I didn’t hand it to him, he was going to take me to jail,” Sevey said. Fortunately, Sevey was allowed to leave the checkpoint after agents searched his vehicle and did not find anything.
In 2009, a U.S. Department of Justice memo sent to U.S. Attorneys encouraged federal prosecutors to focus on “significant marijuana traffickers” rather than “individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses that use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen,” but the same memo reaffirmed that the Department of Justice is “committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States.”
Even celebrities like Fiona Apple, Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson have faced charges after traveling through a checkpoint in Sierra Blanca dubbed “the checkpoint to the stars,” which Sevey said worries him. So in an effort to maintain a low profile, Sevey said he never carries marijuana with him through checkpoints and has also cut his hair.
Trouble at the checkpoint
But for those medical users unfamiliar with the Border Patrol checkpoints, the experience can be quite traumatizing. “Meaghn,” a medical user from Oregon wrote about her experience at a checkpoint in Ehrenberg, Ariz., three miles from the California border. “Cars were all slowed down to a near or complete stop while [Border Patrol] agents wove drug dogs around all the cars. There were about 3 ounces of medicine in the car.
“I looked up to see an agent and his dog running after my car. I slowed down and was ordered off the road to ‘secondary’ where the agent asked if we were U.S. citizens (we are), and if he could put the dog in the car because it was alerting and he wanted to search for concealed humans and narcotics. I did not consent. Another agent ordered us out of the car. When I asked why, he would not answer my question, just repeated that he was TELLING me, not asking, and that I had to get out.
“At this point there were approximately 15 armed officers and two large dogs swarming around the car. We got out and I locked the car. We were told to go away from the car. They came over to us and said that the request to search my vehicle was a ‘courtesy’ and that the dog alert at a federal checkpoint was ‘probable cause’ and that they would be searching my vehicle. They ordered my keys. I didn’t want any of the 15 armed officers to escalate the situation so I relinquished my keys. At this point, my boyfriend told an officer that we were medical marijuana patients, since the dog and officers were tearing the car apart, it was in a bag with all of his clothes, for all we knew they had it already.
“Due to a traveling mishap, neither of us had our medical paperwork but in Oregon that’s never a problem … They told us ‘No permit, no good,’ but also that any marijuana possession is a crime in [Arizona] and they don’t honor out-of-state cards … Plus, we were told that we had been stopped by federal agents who don’t recognize medical marijuana at all. However, our citations (they charged us with attempted possession of marijuana/attempted possession of paraphernalia, both misdemeanors) were actually from the Le Paz County Sheriff Department, which was milling around with BP (Border Patrol).”