Head of US Border Patrol in Maine warns that marijuana legalization won't halt seizures

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he top U.S. Border Patrol agent in Maine cautioned residents Monday that officers will still confiscate marijuana when they encounter it and that even family connections to the cannabis industry can disqualify someone from federal employment.

Chief Daniel Hiebert, who heads the Houlton sector of the Border Patrol, said Maine voters’ legalization of recreational marijuana last November and the state’s well-established medical marijuana program do not change his agents’ obligation to follow federal law.

And while Hiebert said Maine’s Border Patrol agents are not actively searching for marijuana, they won’t ignore the drug if they encounter it while carrying out their security responsibilities along Maine’s more than 600-mile border with Canada.

So Hiebert has a message to Mainers legally possessing marijuana – either medical or recreational – near the border.

“Be careful,” he said. “If they want to keep their marijuana, don’t do anything that is going to get our agents’ attention.”

Hiebert also said marijuana usage – or even connections to the state’s growing cannabis industry – could prevent Mainers from getting a job with the Border Patrol and some other federal agencies. Like many Border Patrol offices across the country, the Houlton sector is currently understaffed and facing a shortage of qualified applicants for open positions.

At least one recent applicant for a job with the Border Patrol in Maine was rejected because an immediate family member or close associate worked in the legal medical marijuana industry, he said.

“If someone is thinking about a career in the federal government, they need to think about what they are doing with medical marijuana and recreational marijuana,” Hiebert said during a discussion with reporters at Bangor International Airport.

Maine is one of eight states, plus the District of Columbia, where it is legal for adults to possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes and was one of the first states to allow medical cannabis. Maine law allows adults age 21 and over to possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana and to grow up to six adult marijuana plants. It remains illegal to sell recreational marijuana in Maine until a regulatory and licensing system is established, likely sometime next year.

Yet cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, leading to confusion among law enforcement, marijuana users and the business involved in the exploding industry. And while the Obama administration maintained a largely hands-off approach toward marijuana – as long as states tightly regulated its use and sale – the Trump administration has sent mixed messages about the drug.

Since 2012, Border Patrol agents in Maine have confiscated roughly 720 pounds of marijuana during 117 seizures, according to statistics supplied by the Houlton sector. Those seizures resulted in zero prosecutions, however, a decision that Hiebert said is made by both his office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland.

There have been 19 marijuana seizures so far this year by Border Patrol agents. Those figures do not include any drugs seized at official border stations – such as those in Houlton and Calais – that are operated by a different division of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Hiebert said the Border Patrol has not received any specific instructions on marijuana but said the Trump administration wants agents to enforce federal laws, in general.

The Houlton Sector currently has just 183 agents, well short of the 212 that are supposed to police the Maine-Canada border. Hiebert said the agency’s primary mission is to secure the border against such serious issues as human trafficking, drug trafficking and the entrance of individuals with ties to terrorist organizations.

While marijuana is the top drug seized by border agents in Maine and nationwide, it’s not a top priority for his agents.

“I don’t have the staff we are supposed to have to do our regular work,” Hiebert said. “So border agents are being told that if you encounter marijuana, go ahead and seize it. But don’t go looking for it because that is not part of our primary mission.”

Those involved in the legal marijuana industry in Maine and across the country are closely watching events in Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who sets the tone at the U.S. Department of Justice, is a vocal opponent of legalization. Earlier this year, Sessions announced that the Justice Department was reviewing the so-called “Cole memorandum,” named for Obama administration Deputy Attorney General James Cole, that guided federal prosecutors’ handling of marijuana in legalization states.

The Cole memo stated that federal enforcement would, among other things, focus on preventing: marijuana distribution to minors, diversion of the drug from legalized states to non-legalized states, or marijuana revenues from flowing to organized crime or gangs.

“That has not changed,” said Donald Clark with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland. “The priority of the United States (Justice Department) is set forth in the Cole memorandum.”

But Clark said the review ordered by Sessions could affect those priorities.

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Source: 420 Intel – United States

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