Feds Still Will Seize Pot at California Border Checkpoints

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California’s legalization of marijuana for recreational use won’t stop federal agents from seizing the drug — even in tiny amounts — on busy freeways and backcountry highways, reports the Associated Press. Marijuana possession still will be prohibited at eight Border Patrol checkpoints in California, a reminder that state and federal laws collide when it comes to pot. The U.S. classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD. “Prior to Jan. 1, it’s going to be the same after Jan. 1, because nothing changed on our end,” said Ryan Yamasaki of the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector. “If you’re a federal law enforcement agency, you uphold federal laws.” The checkpoints, located up to 100 miles from Mexico, are a final line of defense against immigrants who elude agents at the border. They also have been a trap for U.S. citizens carrying drugs, even tiny bags of marijuana.

About 40 percent of pot seizures at Border Patrol checkpoints from fiscal years 2013 to 2016 were an ounce or less from U.S. citizens. California’s new law allows anyone 21 and over to carry up to an ounce. The Border Patrol operates 34 permanent checkpoints along the Mexican border and an additional 103 “tactical” stops, typically cones and signs that appear for brief periods. Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection agency, called drug seizures an “ancillary effect” of enforcing immigration laws. Motorists typically are released after being photographed and fingerprinted. They generally aren’t charged with a crime because prosecutors consider them low priority. State and federal marijuana laws have conflicted since California became the first to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996. California now is among seven states and Washington, D.C., with legal recreational pot.

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