US Border Patrol Spends Most of Its Time Busting Americans Over Tiny Amounts of Weed
75 percent of all recent drug seizures at the border involved Americans citizens with weed, and 69 percent of these seizures were for under an ounce.
Published on June 13, 2022

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The US Border Patrol busts more Americans for bringing small amounts of pot across the border than smugglers with huge shipments of cocaine or fentanyl, federal data says. 

Between 2016 and 2020, border police made 17,960 separate drug seizures at border checkpoints, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The agency reports that 91 percent of all seizures involved American citizens, and 75 percent of these seizures were just for cannabis alone. And out of all Americans busted for weed at the border, 69 percent were caught with less than an ounce of bud.

The GAO notes that “about half of checkpoint events in which Border Patrol seized drugs from US citizens (8,098 of 16,315) included the seizure of a personal use quantity of marijuana and no other drugs.” Further, the agency found that border cops “did not consistently document seizures of trace amounts of marijuana, such as marijuana residue found on paraphernalia.” Nearly 2,000 seized items containing pot residue or other trace amounts of weed were “incorrectly documented.”

But although border police are still wasting their time busting people over roaches, the total amount of weed seized has declined by more than half over those five years. In 2016, the Border Patrol seized just over 70,000 pounds of weed, but that figure dropped to nearly 31,000 pounds by 2020. During that same time period, meth seizures doubled from nearly 6,000 pounds to over 12,000, and fentanyl seizures grew eightfold from 52 to 405 pounds.

Many Americans who got nabbed at the border were caught bringing weed into a state where adult-use cannabis is actually legal. Thanks to federal prohibition, border police still reserve the right to bust anyone for weed, even if they are transporting it from Canada to an adult-use state like New York. Thankfully, border police generally avoid charging people with federal cannabis crimes, at least in the case of smaller pot busts.

“Border Patrol officials from all selected checkpoints we met with told us that U.S. Attorney’s offices in their sector generally do not prosecute people for possessing personal use quantities of marijuana,” the GAO report explains. “In such cases, people from whom marijuana is seized may be (1) referred to state or local authorities for criminal investigation or (2) released.”

Even so, Border Patrol agents in New Mexico have still threatened to bust people for weed even though the state began selling adult-use cannabis this April. And thanks to a grim new Supreme Court ruling, Border Patrol agents technically have the right to make cannabis arrests without warrants in most adult-use states. The new ruling allows Border Patrol agents to freely violate the 4th Amendment rights of any American living within 100 miles of the border.

So far, the federal government has taken a hands-off approach to enforcing federal prohibition laws against legal-weed states. Most adult-use states are on the US border, though, so the court's new ruling technically allows border cops to arrest people for weed at traffic checkpoints in California, New York, and nearly every other adult-use state.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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