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Suit: Ban border-area medical pot seizures

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

FOR THE RECORD: Naturopath Hilda Chavez does not prescribe medical marijuana, as reported in this story. Chavez consults with patients who are interested in obtaining medical cannabis cards and educates them on the proper uses of cannabis.

LAS CRUCES – A Deming man is asking a federal court to bar the U.S. Border Patrol from seizing medical marijuana at highway checkpoints near the southern border.

Raymundo Marrufo, a 50-year-old medical marijuana patient, is seeking a permanent injunction against the Border Patrol in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces that would order border agents to “cease questioning U.S. citizens regarding medical cannabis in any states where the use of medical cannabis has been approved.”

In a statement, a Border Patrol spokesman said that the agency does not comment on pending litigation but added, “Checkpoints are a critical enforcement tool for carrying out the mission of securing our nation’s borders against transnational threats.”

There are no medical marijuana dispensaries in Deming. Marrufo – who uses medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and depression – drives to Las Cruces to fill his prescription, according to the complaint.

On his way home, he must pass through a Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 10 heading west, where agents inquire after motorists’ citizenship. They often have a drug-sniffing dog.

A stipulation known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment included in last year’s federal spending bill prohibits the use of federal funds to enforce laws that interfere with the implementation of “state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Marrufo argues in the complaint that the Border Patrol’s enforcement of federal drug law at checkpoints constitutes a violation of that amendment.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Should a border agent ask a medical marijuana patient like Marrufo if he is carrying illegal drugs, the complaint says, a “yes” answer could subject him to federal indictment for drug smuggling, a felony, while a “no” could subject him to prosecution for lying to a federal agent, also a felony.

“This is the collision that has been years in the making,” said Marrufo’s Denver-based attorney, Jason Flores-Williams. “We knew this was coming.”

Although the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment offers medical cannabis dispensaries and patients in Albuquerque and northern New Mexico some security against federal prosecution, it hasn’t made it easier for growers and consumers in the southern part of the state.

The Border Patrol operates permanent and temporary checkpoints south of Truth or Consequences on Interstates 25 and 10 and state highways near the border.

“Many patients are afraid to go through the checkpoint, for fear of being harassed and having their very expensive medicine confiscated,” said Hilda Chavez, who has a traditional naturopathic practice in Las Cruces and prescribes medical marijuana to treat depression, PTSD and other conditions.

Flores-Williams said part of the problem is that the New Mexico Department of Health has not licensed enough medical marijuana dispensaries in southern New Mexico so that patients don’t have to cross Border Patrol checkpoints to fill their prescriptions.

Border agents seized more than 2.4 million pounds of marijuana in fiscal 2013 between ports of entry and at interior checkpoints. The agency doesn’t keep data on seizures of state-sanctioned medical marijuana.