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As California Legalizes Pot, Laws Collide At US Checkpoints

Cars wait to enter the United States from Tijuana through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Dec. 3, 2014.
Gregory Bull / Associated Press
Cars wait to enter the United States from Tijuana through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Dec. 3, 2014.
As California Legalizes Pot, Laws Collide At US Checkpoints
What To Expect For The Beginning Of The Cannabis Business In San Diego GUEST:Alex Kreit, professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

I am Maureen Cavanaugh it is Wednesday, December 27. At the California voters approved prop 64 last year, the wait began for the start of retail cannabis sales in the state. On January 1, the wait is over. But even with state regulations now in place, the first few months of legal recreational use of marijuana sales in California may not be all smooth sailing. Joining me as Alex Cripe Professor at the Alex Jefferson school of Law and former chair of the city of San Diego's medical marijuana task force. Welcome back Alex. Remind us why the state wanted a year to prepare for recreational cannabis sales. >> This is a typical timeline that we have seen in most states that past legalization ballot measures. It takes a long time to get the regulations in place, to go through the process of putting that together. It is important to remember that these ballot measures include a lot of details. They leave a lot of it open for regulators to get into and fine-tune after-the-fact. This is really the same timeline that for example Colorado had after they passed their legalization ballot measure. >>> What happens January 1. Will stores be open? >> I think they will. The question is how many will be open and where were they be open. SAN DIEGO it looks like we will have stores open. That I think is a really impressive thing when you dig about what the experience was here with Meracle desk medical marijuana. SAN DIEGO was behind the ball and getting regulations in place. It made it hard to to do. We were the last big cities to have regulations of medical marijuana dispensaries. As a result, there were tons of unlicensed stores operating, it created a logistical nightmare. Here, we are ahead of the curve. There are other big cities, San Francisco, Los Angeles, I think will not have stores open the day of because locally they have not got the local regulations in place . >> we have the first in the state licensed recreational cannabis store Torey holistic. They are apparently six other cannabis retail stores that have temporary licenses. Those stores conceivably will be open January 1. How expensive is the retail cannabis expected to be? >> I think the expectation is is that it will be fairly expensive at the outset based on how things were played out in other states that have legalized. Generally, at the beginning, when these markets open up under legalization, you see a period, a few months maybe a little bit more than that where it is fairly pricey because the reality is there are fewer stores that outset and people are still waiting to get their licenses. Some places that get licenses cannot open right away for one reason or another. And then, you have the reality of the supply chain where there is just this delay in ramping up Manufacture cultivation in legal marketplaces to meet with the demand is. I would imagine that you will see a period of time where there is higher prices, maybe even substantially higher prices in the legal market than the illegal market. And where there is perhaps even shortages where stores will run out. That is always a temporary thing. The reality is six months to a year in the market adjusts and everyone catches up. And then the supplies meet the demand and start to undercut the prices in the black market. >>> Could a recreational shortage lead to a possible shortage for medical marijuana? >> There is a possibility there. even though medical marijuana specialized as far as the strains, at the end of the day you are talking about the same product. If the price of that product is going to rise in the recreation marketplace, there is no reason to think that that dynamic was Bill over to the miracle -- medical marijuana site. >>> When it comes to prices and how much the city will make on taxing recreational marijuana, the San Diego's financial staff easily revised prospective revenues from taxing marijuana down from 5.5 million to 13.7 million in 2026. That is a very different number than we heard last year from the city's budget analyst projecting 22 to $85 million in marijuana sales tax revenues. How soon do you think we will have a clear idea of where we stand in all of this and how much SAN DIEGO really is poised to make. >> I think probably a couple of months and we will get a better idea. One of the question marks is not just retail but all of the other businesses that are involved in the marketplace. And to what extent are those businesses going to end up being housed in San Diego. Other businesses in the supply chain don't necessarily need to be in any one location. So to what extent are localities going to be desirable for businesses that are not retail to locate their. I think that is one of the question marks as far as what the impacts will be. >>> And looming over this entire question is U.S. Attorney General Jeff sessions who is very opposed to legal cannabis. How likely is a federal crackdown? >> I would say it is -- I hate to get into the prediction business. If I had to guess, I would say pretty unlikely especially at this point. The reality is that the longer that session waits, the harder it would be to do any thing. If they wanted to come in and try to interfere with state marijuana markets, the time to do that would've been early on where people would have been upset but they would've said well this is what we expected from them. At the longer things go on where they don't do anything and they allow this to continue, the more it upsets the status quo if they come in and start to interfere. It is not to say that there will not be a tightening. I could easily imagine the Department of Justice starting to get a little more stricter and more active in prosecuting entities that they think are out of compliance with state law perhaps even relatively minimal compliance issues. It is not hard for me to imagine some like that. But to come in an attempt to shut these markets down, I think it is pretty unlikely at this point. >>> I've been speaking with Alex Cripe Professor with the school of all dusk allow former chair of the marijuana task force thank you so much. >> Thank you for having me.

California legalizes marijuana for recreational use Monday, but that won't stop federal agents from seizing the drug — even in tiny amounts — on busy freeways and backcountry highways.

Marijuana possession still will be prohibited at eight Border Patrol checkpoints in California, a reminder that state and federal laws collide when it comes to pot. The U.S. government classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.

"Prior to Jan. 1, it's going to be the same after Jan. 1, because nothing changed on our end," said Ryan Yamasaki, an assistant chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector. "If you're a federal law enforcement agency, you uphold federal laws."


The checkpoints, located up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Mexico, are considered a final line of defense against immigrants who elude agents at the border. They also have been a trap for U.S. citizens carrying drugs, even tiny bags of marijuana.

RELATED: San Diego Gains Early Lead In Cannabis Retail Licenses

About 40 percent of pot seizures at Border Patrol checkpoints from fiscal years 2013 to 2016 were an ounce (28 grams) or less from U.S. citizens, according to a Government Accountability Office report last month. California's new law allows anyone 21 and over to carry up to an ounce.

The Border Patrol operates 34 permanent checkpoints along the Mexican border and an additional 103 "tactical" stops, typically cones and signs that appear for brief periods.

Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of parent agency Customs and Border Protection, called drug seizures an "ancillary effect" of enforcing immigration laws. Motorists typically are released after being photographed and fingerprinted. They generally aren't charged with a crime because prosecutors consider them low priority.


The clash between state and federal marijuana laws played out on a smaller scale near the Canadian border in Washington after that state legalized marijuana in 2014. California is a far busier route for illegal crossings with many more agents.

State and federal marijuana laws have conflicted since California became the first to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996. Next week, California will be among seven states and Washington, D.C., with legal recreational pot.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of legalization, said last month that he was taking a close look at federal enforcement, suggesting a tougher stance than President Barack Obama's administration.

At highway checkpoints, Border Patrol agents look for signs of nervous drivers, like clutching steering wheels and avoiding eye contact and interrupting when passengers are asked to state citizenship. Some panicked drivers make a U-turn when they spot the checkpoint, a dead giveaway.

RELATED: San Diego Gears Up For Permitting Cannabis Supply Chain

One recent morning on westbound Interstate 8 about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of San Diego, an agent standing outside a booth under a large white canopy stopped drivers for a few seconds to ask their citizenship or waved them through after peering inside.

In about an hour, three raised enough suspicion to be ordered aside for a thorough vehicle search.

A dog discovered a marijuana stash about the size of a thumbprint inside the pickup truck of a man with Arizona license plates who was taking his elderly uncle to a hospital appointment. It would have taken up to an hour to process the arrest, so agents released him after seizing the pot and warning it was illegal.

"I didn't know that, sorry," the driver said, walking to his truck after waiting on a bench a few minutes while the dog searched.

The animal sniffed something in another car but found nothing in the seats or trunk. The apologetic driver said she smoked marijuana a week earlier, implying the odor lingered.

The Pine Valley checkpoint, amid oak- and chaparral-covered mountains on the main route from Arizona to San Diego, gets busy with drivers returning from weekend getaways but is less traveled than others.

Agents say a checkpoint on Interstate 5 between San Diego and Los Angeles can cause a 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) backup in 90 seconds during peak hours.

The government faces pushback over checkpoints. Some residents complain about delays and trespassers trying to circumvent checkpoints — some even dying from heat and exhaustion. Motorists who consider them a privacy invasion steadfastly refuse to answer questions and post their test encounters on YouTube.

Border Patrol officials insist they are effective. Without them, Vitiello said, smugglers would have open passage to cities like Phoenix and Albuquerque, New Mexico, once past the border.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that agents can question people at checkpoints even without reason to believe anyone in the vehicle is in the country illegally and don't need a search warrant.

Michael Chernis, an attorney who represents people charged with marijuana crimes, believes checkpoint seizures are a waste of resources but acknowledged the government is empowered.

"The bottom line is, there's absolutely no protection against federal interaction when it comes to adult use," he said.