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US (NM): Inside the federal crackdown on local growers

Drug cartels and human traffickers aren't the only people dodging border patrol officers these days in southern New Mexico. The state's cannabis businesses — which operate legally under state law — are also desperately trying to evade border checkpoints.

That's because U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have seized more than $300,000 of state-licensed cannabis in New Mexico in the last two months. These seizures occurred at border patrol checkpoints, some of which lie as far as 80 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

The crackdown has created tension between the Biden administration and Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham — who championed cannabis legalization and touted it as an economic boon for the state. The enforcement actions are occurring as the Justice Department is preparing to loosen federal restrictions on cannabis, which would mark the biggest liberalization of drug policy in more than half a century. "It doesn't feel like this really has anything to do with what their role is," said Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. "They're supposed to detain people entering the country illegally, and then detain narcotics and other dangerous items also entering the country illegally."

Cannabis growers and producers residing south of the checkpoints are now scrambling to find ways to get their product north. Some have discussed moving their operations north to Albuquerque, the state's largest city. Others are using tactics to bypass checkpoints that originate in a time when the cannabis world was still entirely off the books. And still others are looking to the skies: considering drone transport for small amounts of product.


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