California Medical Marijuana Patients Harassed By US Border Patrol [FEATURE]

Medical marijuana is legal in California, and the US Department of Justice has made it policy to not go after patients and providers in compliance with state law, but California medical marijuana patients who live or travel within 75 miles of the Mexican border are encountering another problem with the feds: the Border Patrol. Under US law, the Border Patrol is allowed to set up what amounts to a "Fourth Amendment-free zone" within that 75-mile perimeter, subjecting any and all comers to warrantless searches in its bid to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Border Patrol checkpoint with drug dog
Patients and advocacy groups are complaining that the border area checkpoints operated by the Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security, are sweeping up patients, detaining them, seizing their medicine, and sometimes arresting them on federal drug possession charges.

Retired Fresno fire-fighter Charles Berg is a case in point. Forced to quit working after being injured in a chemical fire, Berg relocated to the border town of Calexico on his physician's advice in order to take advantage of the dry, warm desert climate.

"Because of my remote location, I need to travel to see the medical specialists that treat me, so that I can live in a healthier climate," he wrote in a letter to California NORML seeking assistance. As a border resident, Berg became accustomed to going through Border Patrol checkpoints, but in August 2007 he had the misfortune of encountering one where drug-sniffing dogs were being employed.

"The K-9 was searching vehicles four to five back from the front of the line, but when it got to me the dog and agent stayed with my vehicle and upon reaching the front I was stopped," Berg related. "The agent directing traffic told me to pull over to the side, I started to inquire as to what was going on but was interrupted with a sharp command to, 'PULL OVER NOW!!' I complied immediately and was followed by the K-9 and handler. I was told to get out of the vehicle and to present my ID, all of which I did immediately.  Every time I asked what was wrong I would be interrupted with shouts of 'shut up' or commands to 'sit down.' When agents began to search the vehicle and the dog jumped into my car, I stood up and said, 'Wait a minute, do you have a warrant to do that?' I was immediately restrained and handcuffed. Agents explained to me that I was under arrest because the K-9 had alerted to my vehicle and they were searching for what it alerted to. I was taken inside and bodily searched; my clothing was checked and I was patted down. I was left inside, handcuffed to a chair while my vehicle was searched for over an hour. I was finally released without charges after several hours, having been in custody, searched and arrested, and was then sent on my way with no explanation as to what they were looking for or what they had done. Every time I attempted to ask a question I was told to leave or they would arrest me for trespassing."

While Berg was not prosecuted, he did have his medical marijuana seized, and, to add insult to injury, the Border Patrol also seized his prescription pain medications. But that was not the end of Berg's adventures with the Border Patrol.

In December 2007, while traveling on Interstate 8 on his way to visit a cancer specialist in Phoenix, Berg encountered another Border Patrol checkpoint with a drug-sniffing dog. Again, he was arrested and his medications seized. This time he was stuck in jail for three days. Determined to take a stand, Berg refused his public defender's entreaties to cop a plea. His trial is still pending.

militarized US-Mexico border
"In the last few months since my trial was postponed the situation has gotten worse," Berg wrote. "I still live in Calexico, and have medical needs that require me to travel. I still need to travel to Palm Springs and San Diego at least twice a month. Because I know that my medication will be taken by the Border Patrol, I can no longer go on extended stays. It is an extreme burden to drive the 300-mile round trip, but if I don't do it this way I end up going days without any of my prescriptions and the Border Patrol takes them. My doctor says that pain meds are often excreted through sweat, and that the dogs will alert on that. Unfortunately, I can do nothing about the scents that are left behind. Despite the fact that I have been forced to travel without my meds, I am still stopped and searched by the Border Patrol."

Berg enlisted the help of the Fresno Firefighters union, but they also got nowhere with the Border Patrol. In fact, investigators for the union reported to Berg that they had spoken with an Agent V. Vega, regional Southern California Border Patrol supervisor, who told them: "It would be best if Mr. Berg moved out of the area. The Border Patrol's mission in California is to stop illegal immigration and enforce federal marijuana laws despite California legislation."

Earlier this week, the Chronicle contacted a Border Patrol public information officer for that region, who instead of answering questions asked that they be emailed to him. He has yet to reply to the emails. Calls to Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington have not been returned.

Berg is not alone. "Over the past year, we've received multiple reports of people being stopped by the Border Patrol," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access. "We've had two or three incidents where people were stopped for compliance checks in San Diego County to see if everyone had proper documentation. In those cases, the Border Patrol found medical marijuana, seized the medication, then cited them federally for possession."

San Diego County resident Jim Lacy, 60, didn't get arrested, but he has repeatedly had his medical marijuana seized by the Border Patrol. "I got my card in 2003," said Lacy, who was disabled after being hit by a train. "I almost died, I lost my spleen, I had ribs going through my lung, it left me crippled for life," he said. "The Border Patrol was smaller back then and not so uptight," Lacy said. "They didn't know anything about the California law, they were all fascinated. I showed them my paperwork, and they said just make sure you have the legal amount."

But it didn't quite work out that way, Lacy continued. "I tried it with a joint, I had the paperwork and everything. They found it and took it, and after about 40 minutes of being paraded around they let me go. The next time I tried it with a gram," he added. "They took it and tested it and said it wasn't pot, but they kept it. It was pot! I grew it myself. One agent said he would take it every time," Lacy recalled bitterly.

"The Border Patrol told me they would change their policy if Obama would write a letter like the Department of Justice," Lacy said. [Editor's Note: It was not President Obama, but Attorney General Holder who wrote the memorandum last year instructing the department to not go after patients and providers acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. But the Border Patrol is a division of the Dept. of Homeland Security, not DOJ.] "The Department of Justice doesn't control Homeland Security. I've written to all the political leaders, but nothing happens," he said.

"If you're going to have a zero tolerance policy, don't trick people," said Lacy. "People think they're safe in California, but if someone comes from some other county and comes down here, they'll never leave here with their medicine."

The problem has worsened as the Bush and Obama administrations have beefed up staffing for the Border Patrol in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and, more recently, in response to the uproar over illegal immigration and prohibition-related violence just across the border. The number of agents nearly doubled, from 11,000 in 2000 to 20,000 now, and just this week, Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill that will add another 1,250 agents. (See related story here.)

"I wish they'd stop it," bemoaned Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "It just shows what a hydra-headed beast we have to deal with. It's not just DEA and the Department of Justice, but also Homeland Security on the border and Treasury with regard to the ability of dispensaries to get bank accounts, also with the Veterans Administration, which appears to be at least partially cleared up, also HUD with the public housing, also about Department of Transportation drug testing rules, there's just an enormous amount of work to be done at the federal level. We're not going to be out of a job anytime soon."

"Our view is that the federal government should have a clear, uniform policy on medical marijuana," said Hermes. "It's not acceptable that this issue be divided into different policies among the different federal agencies. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to get to work on a comprehensive federal policy on medical marijuana," he said. "The Justice Department has made its position clear with its memorandum last October, and the VA has more recently issued a policy that recognizes medical use," Hermes noted. "Instead of this piecemeal process and selective enforcement, we should be dealing with this uniformly."

ASA wants to hear from patients being hassled by the Border Patrol, Hermes said. "We have a legal hotline where patients can report these incidents. We have not yet taken legal action to address the behavior of the Border Patrol, but we may consider that in the future."

United States
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Border Patrol WAY TOO BIG!!!

I sometimes travel to and from San Diego and Arizona to see relatives and the border patrol has just gotten out of control! It wasn't like this even two years ago. Within a 200 mile stretch of highway on I-8 there is at least 4 huge border patrol checks day and night. I'm not a medical mj patient and I don't ever transport weed and even I feel threatened. Usually I just roll right on trough them and confirm that I am indeed a white person with a friendly, but conservative nod and that's it. But, now they're asking me bullshit questions, like where I'm coming from and why I was there and if I have narcotics in the car. Who's going to say "Why yes officer, now that you mention it, I have a kilo of pressed hashish in my trunk that I was going to sell to all the fine rich honkies in suburbia. Is that going to be a problem with that?" There's no need for 4-5 border patrol checks on that section of highway, when there's only one border you're going through.

undrgrndgirl's picture


looking for south american boarder jumpers (aka illegals)'s been a while since i've had to go through one of those border patrol stations...i felt violated as a u.s. citizen; i remember when we used to brag that we didn't need to carry id, as we were told citizens in soviet russia had to carry id all the time...we've learned so much from them...sigh...


but for anyone to expect to travel outside a "cannabis safe zone," with their cannabis, even with a medical justification, is at naive and...well...stupid...and when crossing state lines amounts to trafficking...

Disgusting, period.

I remember traveling on I-8 for the first time in 2007 and being shocked that there were Border Patrol roadblocks many miles away from the border in several locations. It seemed far too akin to Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany's "papers please" environment. Lo and behold, today I read that the BP is using force and imprisonment to actively violate state law, confiscating prescribed medication and ruining Americans' lives. The Border Patrol is not acting in the best interest of Americans in general and Californians in particular. Rather, it is behaving like an invading army- ignoring state laws and harassing its residents. Here's a thought: those officers could be put to much better use along the *border*, you know, like in the agency's own name! If we continue to allow these individuals to violate state law, much less our natural freedoms, they will continue to do so.

Comprehensive Federal Policy

"Our view is that the federal government should have a clear, uniform policy on medical marijuana," said Hermes. "It's not acceptable that this issue be divided into different policies among the different federal agencies. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to get to work on a comprehensive federal policy on medical marijuana," he said. "The Justice Department has made its position clear with its memorandum last October, and the VA has more recently issued a policy that recognizes medical use," Hermes noted. "Instead of this piecemeal process and selective enforcement, we should be dealing with this uniformly."


And with recent national polls illustrating 75 percent of Americans support medical access to cannabis -- and this number has been steadily increasing --  it is time for that change Obama promised.

The Federal Government cannot

The Federal Government cannot be sued but individual employees of the Federal Government can be for over stepping the boundaries of Title 18 authority and acting in a zealous and aggressive manner when dealing with any American citizen.

Obama sells out to the right again

Both parties seem to care more about re-election than anything else.  In this case, pandering to the Republicans has not won Obama any GOP votes.  All he is doing is alienating a liberal base that may well stay home next time round.  

Stopping illegal immigration is easy.  They are here for the jobs.  You bust employers who hire illegals, fine them heavily so that immigration enforcement is a full cost recovery program, and the flow stops.  

Of course, a BigMac would cost $40, you'd have to save up money to buy a salad, construction costs would skyrocket, and the U.S. birth rate would trend towards dangerously low replacement fertility rates (you need young people to take care of old people).  

On a positive note, no more Mexican weed.  No offense.  

Shutz Staffel in the U.S.

Border Patrol = Shutz Staffel. Is it any surprise they seem to use the same kind of dogs the Nazis used?

I may be wrong.....

I am pretty sure I saw a video from a lawyer claiming these checkpoints are not legal and he had videos of him basiclly telling them they had no right to pull him over and he just kinda drove away.


I would imagine (if this is not Blue Dream making this memory up) that a "dog hit" would negate the ability to drive away unmolested. But do a google search, Im pretty sure this guy did it multiple times. Made it look pretty possible.

Border Patrol

My younger brother is a Border Patrol Agent. He works up on the North side near Malta MT. The fact is I am proud of what he's done, in spite of the way he's treated me. I am disabled and have MMJ. I don't see him very often, but he happened to be traveling through one time. I told him that I use MMJ, and showed him a container of medicine in a prescription bottle. He said "Get that shit away from me!" He went back to his supervisor, and told the man what had happened. The supervisor (I call him the stupidvisor) said that he was not to speak to me ever again. This message was relayed to me via a family member. Since then, I had invited him to come to a Scorpions concert that was happening this summer via email. He refused, and told me that "They didn't give him very many days off." Also that message relayed to me through a family member. I live within a 3 hour drive of him. I come to find out later that he was able to visit my cousins who live two states over from me. It's pretty nice when your own brother loves your cousins from your mom's side more than you. I got him a birthday present this year, and I'm going to mail it to him, but I doubt I'll ever hear back from him. At this point, with the way he's treated me, I really wouldn't care if he did contact me. It's lucky that I got him a trip to the hospital when he was 6 years old (our mom flew from Chicago to Colorado-risking her flight-attendant job). My dad didn't want to "Spend money on doctors." I practically saved his life and this is it? Thanks a lot Jonathan. Call me-this is my FINAL attempt to reach out to you. If I don't hear from you-I don't want to ever hear from you again.

Yep - the dogs really do

Yep - the dogs really do their job. Just spent four hours this week at a California Border Patrol Station. Dog smelled it in a tool box on the back of my work truck . Even though I got my truck searched, and was briefly handcuffed and searched, then finger printed and photographed, then had my medical marijuana confiscated (5 grams), I was released. but it was quite suspenseful, not knowing if I was going to be imprisoned or have my vehicle impounded. Either way, I kept my mouth shut, except to finally say that I have medical marijuana on board once they found it (to protect my passenger).  I could have fessed up once the dogs were on the scent, but after so many years of prohibition, It's just hard for the words to come out of my mouth. They said they would not have detained me if I would have answered truthfully from the beginning, but you can't trust cops. They're not your friends and their not you priest, so you don't have to confess to them. They lie and coerce, and really it's all up to them whether you go to jail or not, and not much I can do, so I just sat there and said very little, and was mentally prepared for their judgement. They did not beat me up, and  they were fairly polite. I did not resist nor was I violent or rude, but they told my friend I had a bad attitude. (Attitude test very important to cops).  It's their war on drugs, and for a few hours I was their POW. I just wonder if any major trafickers went through while I kept the dog tied up for an hour smelling out my truck. I was never arrested or charged with an offense. When I asked if I was under arrest they said was being detained for questioning and investigation. I was able to use the rest room, sat on a bench uncuffed in front of their counter. The holding cell (where the toilet was located) was clean and sanitary. All in all , I had a good time. And at the age of 38, I can still say that I have never been arrested.

What road were you traveling

What road were you traveling on when you were stopped and in what direction?

420 harassment

yesterday  afternoon, may 15,Hwy 86 outside of the brawley, Westmorland ca. within 75 miles of mexicali mx on my way to los angeles

As far as the dog goes - some

As far as the dog goes - some previous comments made some disparraging remarks about Nazis and German Shepherds. This dog looked more like a rescue mutt from the pound. Maybe part pit bull. Anyway, anybody have any thoughts on what kind of a federal record I have on me now? Information they now have: SS#, home address, Commercial driver's license, VIN and License plate on vehicle. I was not charged with a crime or arrested. 5 grams of medical marijuana confiscated.

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