Confusing Law Led to Marijuana Arrests In California

By Kelly Burch 01/24/19

A recent high-profile stop has led to a lawsuit by two former highway patrol officers who now operate a cannabis transportation business. 

man under arrest for marijuana

Recreational cannabis may be legal in California, but complex laws in the state mean officers are still regularly pulling people over and seizing marijuana. In fact, in 2018, California Highway Patrol officers seized more cannabis than they had any other year since 2014. 

According to The Sacramento Bee, a recent high-profile stop has led to a lawsuit by two former highway patrol officers who now operate a cannabis transportation business, Wild Rivers Transport. Rick Barry, 48, and Brian Clemann, 47, were stopped and their car was searched after a canine indicated the scent of marijuana. Although the two didn’t have cannabis in the car, they did have $257,000 in cash, which officers took and turned over to the Department of Homeland Security. 

Now Barry and Clemann are suing the highway patrol, hoping a judge will rule that local and state law enforcement can’t interfere in the legal transport of marijuana. 

“It appears the [California Highway Patrol] will stop at nothing to disrupt the lawful and legal transport of items involved in the medicinal cannabis industry,” they said in a press release. “Although all our invoices, licenses, and required paperwork were in order, the [California Highway Patrol] spent several hours trying to come up with charges for our lawful activity.”

In California, the Bureau of Cannabis Control announced Jan. 16 that marijuana deliveries and transports can take cannabis anywhere in the state, “provided that such delivery is conducted in compliance with all delivery provisions of this division.”

The specifics of California’s marijuana laws — which have the potential to influence a massive industry — have taken time to work out. 

“These approved regulations are the culmination of more than two years of hard work by California’s cannabis licensing authorities,” Bureau Chief Lori Ajax said in a press release. “Public feedback was invaluable in helping us develop clear regulations for cannabis businesses and ensuring public safety.”

Law enforcement was not pleased with the decision, according to David Swing, president of the California Police Chiefs Association.

“We are deeply concerned with the adoption of the new cannabis regulations, which allow for the delivery of cannabis anywhere in the state. We are already having trouble enforcing a new and complex industry, and this allowance will only make enforcement even more difficult,” he said.

A spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol said that agencies need to be able to stop black-market transports. 

“In order to legally transport cannabis in California for commercial purposes, a person must possess the appropriate (Bureau of Cannabis Control) license and comply with the [Bureau of Cannabis Control] administrative regulations,” the spokesperson said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.