Dope Smokers Get Free Pass in West Texas

Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West is refusing to take any more marijuana bust cases originating from the Sierra Blanca Border Patrol checkpoint on I-10 in west Texas.  West’s refusal has nothing to do with politics, ideology, Texas law, or the moving trend towards legalization of marijuana.  Rather, West is facing budgetary restraints that make taking the 20 to 30 busts a day an intolerable burden and also take up jail space that the County otherwise rents out for $45 a day.  NPR has the straight dope.

A federal inspection station on Interstate 10 in the West Texas desert earned the nickname “checkpoint of the starsfor all the entertainers who kept getting busted there. In the past six years, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Fiona Apple were all arrested for possession of marijuana.

These days, though, after a decision by a local lawman, everyone from personal pot smokers to medium-size marijuana traffickers can avoid jail.

The Sierra Blanca Border Patrol checkpoint was once the bane of pot smokers driving from Los Angeles to Texas. Green-suited federal agents and their uncanny drug dogs would make 20 to 30 busts a day.

But for the past year, Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West has refused to take any more “checkpoint cases,” even those involving commercial quantities of marijuana worth thousands of dollars.

“I don’t have a problem whatsoever going out there and arresting them,” West says. “I just have a problem making my local taxpayers foot the bill for America’s problem. I’m not gonna do the federal government’s job.”

The checkpoint dispute is not about justice, it’s about money. The sheriff says there were so many checkpoint cases they occupied two of his full-time deputies and a fourth of the space in his county jail. This was OK as long as he was getting federal criminal justice grants, but those have dried up.

“When I occupy one of those beds it takes away from a paying customer back there,” the sheriff says.

His jail is a moneymaker. Like a lot of poor Texas counties, Hudspeth built an oversize jail so it can rent out excess space to other counties at $45 a night per prisoner.

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