California may have legalized marijuana for recreational use on Monday but federal agents will continue seizing the drug on busy freeways and backcountry highways. Even marijuana in small amounts will not be spared.
As far as Border Patrol is concerned, marijuana possession remains prohibited in their eight checkpoints in California regardless of the new law governing the drug the state passed. It is a reminder that state and federal laws collide and will continue to be in conflict when it comes to pot. The U.S. government has always been clear- it classifies marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin and LSD.
Ryan Yamasaki, assistant chief of the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector articulated the agency’s stance and policy. He said: “Prior to January 1, it’s going to be the same after January 1, because nothing changed on our end. If you’re a federal law enforcement agency, you uphold federal laws.”
The checkpoints are crucial for Border Patrol as far as security defense and law enforcement are concerned. Located up to 100 miles from Mexico, the checkpoints are considered a final line of defense against illegal immigrants who managed to elude agents at the border. The checkpoints have also been a conventional trap for U.S. citizens carrying drugs, even small bags of marijuana.
The Border Patrol operates 34 permanent checkpoints along the Mexican border and also 103 additional “tactical” stops.
State and federal marijuana laws have been in conflict since California became the first to legalize marijuana for medical use more than 20 years ago in 1996. Next week, California will be included among seven states and Washington, D.C. with legal recreational pot.
But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to vehemently oppose legalization of the said drug. He also said last month that he was taking a close look at federal enforcement, hinting a tougher stance than Democrat former president Barack Obama’s administration.
According to a Government Accountability Office report last month, about 40 percent of pot seizures at Border Patrol checkpoints from fiscal years 2013 to 2016 was an ounce (28 grams) or less from U.S. citizens. California ‘s new law permits anyone 21 and over to carry up to an ounce.
It is hard to understand the Federal Governments hardball stance on marijuana. To an ordinary citizen like myself, the insistence that marijuana should continue to be scheduled in the same class as harmful drugs that kill thousands (like heroin), is just bizzare.
I know that the issues are much deeper than what is apparent on the surface. It is also very difficult to effect meaningful change in institutions. The red tape is nightmarish to consider and probably too big for anyone to take on without enormous resources both politically and financially.
It is sad when the power play between venerable bodies like the State of California and the US Federal Government have detrimental consequences for confused and largely powerless individual citizens.