Cannabis seizures at border checkpoints persist despite intervention by governor

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May 22—Even after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham raised a stink with a high-level official in the Biden administration about cannabis seizures from state-licensed distributors at border checkpoints, federal agents have continued to detain industry employees and have confiscated an additional $108,500 worth of marijuana.

"We have yet to receive a good explanation from the federal government as to why New Mexico is being singled out," Lujan Grisham said in a statement Wednesday.

"It is unacceptable that legitimate New Mexico businesses are being penalized when those in other states are not," she said. "New Mexico deserves better."

Documents obtained under a public records request show at least three other cannabis seizures at border checkpoints in the southern part of the state since the governor aired her grievances to an unidentified federal official during a secretly recorded telephone call later shared on social media.

Lujan Grisham previously had taken her concerns about the federal government's crackdown on New Mexico's licensed cannabis industry directly to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and expressed outrage over his response during the phone call.

"The secretary said to me, just so you know: 'Oh, who cares? They make a lot of money,' " she said.

"Well, first of all, it's patients' medicine," she added, referring to medical marijuana. "So I was really offended by that. Shame on him."

The Governor's Office has said Lujan Grisham told Mayorkas border states that have legalized cannabis appear to be facing greater scrutiny by U.S. Customs and Border Protection than non-border states where cannabis is also legal.

The federal government describes U.S. Customs and Border Protection as the nation's first line of defense in preventing the illegal importation of narcotics, including marijuana.

"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, given the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance," a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman wrote in an email last month.

While the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is proposing to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug, the change is unlikely to stop seizures from state-licensed distributors because cannabis would remain a criminalized substance, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Cannabis providers in New Mexico have reported 10 separate seizures at border checkpoints along Interstate 25, Interstate 10 and U.S. 70 since the state Cannabis Control Division created an online questionnaire for reporting purposes. The vast majority have occurred on I-25.

About $363,000 worth of marijuana has been confiscated in those seizures, ranging from $8,640 during an April 18 stop to $130,000 during a stop on Valentine's Day, documents show.

The most recent seizure occurred May 15 along U.S. 70.

The Baked Chicken Farm, which describes itself as a family-owned and operated cannabis grow facility in Southern New Mexico, reported a seizure of $15,100 worth of product and said its driver was detained for four hours, documents show. The company's general manager did not return a message seeking comment.

Andrea Brown, a spokeswoman for the state Regulation and Licensing Department, which includes the Cannabis Control Division, said cannabis companies are being advised to report seizures.

"The seizure of licensed cannabis shipments at federal checkpoints in New Mexico is an issue that is creating widespread confusion across our state's legal cannabis industry," she said in a statement. "To help stay up to date on this issue, we ask that licensees report all data related to a seizure to the Cannabis Control Division within 24 hours of the incident."

Brown noted the division created the online questionnaire "to simplify the reporting process and encourage licensees to report lost product."

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.