Arizona's Week in Weed: Smugglers Go All Out for Dirt Weed; DEA May Reschedule Cannabis

From the tons sold in legal medical-marijuana dispensaries to the tons imported each year from Mexico, Arizona knows its cannabis. Here's a roundup of last week's biggest pot news stories that affect the Grand Canyon State ...

Armpits and Bicycle Tubes: "Creative" Marijuana Smugglers Caught by Border Authorities
Smugglers bring low-quality marijuana into the United States from Mexico every day — apparently, there's a market for that schwag in spite of the choice buds being grown for medicinal or adult-use purposes under state-legal markets in Arizona, California, Colorado, and elsewhere.

Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that its officers thwarted "creative smuggling tactics."

Monday, June 13, began with an interesting twist on the power lunch: a pound of crystal meth disguised as tamales, carried by a suspect through the Morley Pedestrian Gate in Nogales.

Later in the day, a man tried to drive his pickup through the Dennis DeConcini port of entry in Nogales with a load of gray brick pavers. After a drug-detection dog noticed the pavers' smell, agents cut them open and found marijuana inside carefully wrapped packages, for a total of 264 pounds.

Even with a high markup on Mexican marijuana, you have to smuggle in a lot of of it to make serious coin. Border officials routinely process cases involving hundreds or thousands of pounds. Much of it goes around the official ports of entry and through Arizona's desert, as in the May 23 photo below of seven Mexican suspects standing next to about 300 pounds of marijuana not far from the tiny town of Sentinel:

More rarely, people are caught at the border smuggling relatively minuscule amounts of weed. CBP reported four of these cases in the past few weeks. Officials didn't release the names of the people arrested, so it's unclear whether they were taking pot from Mexico for personal use or trying to make some quick money. But it's interesting to see smugglers treat low-grade Mexican sativa like heroin or meth:

This 27-year-old Douglas woman was arrested on May 6 after a drug-sniffing dog targeted her at the Raul Hector Castro Port of Entry. That's more than three pounds of pot taped to her upper torso. Looks like it even provides back support.

Another Douglas resident with three pounds of marijuana strapped under his armpits was caught at the Raul Hector Castro Port of Entry in Douglas on May 16.

CBP released photos to New Times of bicycles that two suspects rode through the Port of San Luis in Tucson in mid-April. After a K9 alert, authorities found a total of three pounds of marijuana hidden in the bike frames.

Rob Daniels, spokesman for the CBP, also released undated photos to New Times of two other recent marijuana busts involving bicycles:

Wouldn't a medical-marijuana card be easier than going through all this trouble — and the cannabis much better?

Legalization Campaign's Father's Day Billboard Is a Hit
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol unveiled its latest billboard last week in its push to convince voters to end zero-tolerance felony prohibition in Arizona. This one was Father's Day-themed, following up on the group's successful Mother's Day billboard in May

The new billboard urges regulation to help keep marijuana out of the hands of kids. If voters approve the CRMLA measure in November, medical-marijuana dispensary companies and a few other entrepreneurs will be licensed to sell cannabis products to any adults 21 and older. Up to an ounce of marijuana will be legal.

Though not receiving as much attention as the Mother's Day ad, which scored a mention by Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, the ad was blasted by the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group led by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

DEA to Announce decision on Marijuana's Official Status on July 1
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has rejected rescheduling marijuana at least three times in the past, but the agency could announce on July 1 that it's downgrading the plant's highly illegal status.

Observers of cannabis policy are keenly anticipating the upcoming announcement, and not without some trepidation. Marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no medicinal purpose and is considered a scourge of society like heroin.

The DEA is expected to respond on July 1 to a five-year-old petition to reschedule cannabis. In theory, the agency could de-schedule marijuana, making it legal and subject to regulation like alcohol. Or it could downgrade cannabis to Schedule 2 or Schedule 3, a move that some say might throw a wrench into the modern medical-marijuana industry.

Suddenly, marijuana could be prescribed much more widely than it is today for a host of ailments. But cannabis products would require a prescription and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, making operations next to impossible for the current dispensary market, which is based on relatively informal doctor recommendations for marijuana. Combined with a growing recreational-cannabis market, rescheduling could mean better medicinal products for patients in the long run and minimal disruption of the present industry, Colorado regulatory attorney Tom Downey wrote in the Denver Post last week.

An article published in the Santa Monica Observer on Sunday that says the DEA is preparing to designate marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug on August 1 is being blasted by critics.

Observer reporter Stan Greene cites his source as a DEA lawyer who told him of the plan.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern