Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

For someone new getting into the cannabis playing field, particularly as a micro producer, you are most likely a mom-and-pop operation. You have navigated the difficult application process, got your license to legally grow cannabis for sale, begged, borrowed and used all your savings to have the investment money needed to grow cannabis on the family farm down in the Land of Enchantment South. You’ve crossed your fingers, eyes and toes that the business would fly and finally you have a crop to sell. Then it all goes up in smoke.

“It’s Legal” state laws (and meaningful social equity regulations meant to ensure rural New Mexicans aren’t priced out of the new cannabis economy) mean nothing if you try to ship your product north and have to go through a federal border patrol checkpoint. It belongs to the Feds then, and you can kiss your dreams goodbye if stopped.

The Land of Enchantment North away from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection interior checkpoints is the place to grow weed in New Mexico as checkpoints can be located up to 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The checkpoints effectively limit the ability of residents near the border to tap into the growing profitable industry up north. Unless you’re beyond the reach of the checkpoints, the state’s legalization equity goals and legal possession laws are meaningless if the Feds catch you with any amount of cannabis as you head north, even with a medical card.

In the south, communities of color and those most affected by the country’s war on drugs live in a part of the state that isn’t allowed the freedom the rest of the state has. The Border checkpoints in the state stop vehicles headed north on I-25 and west on I-10. Anyone stopped faces the potential of a $1,000 civil penalty, and exposure to local criminal prosecution.

With recreational cannabis sales starting in April, New Mexico is getting ready to “Rock and Roll with Mary Jane.” The Rolling Paper. spoke with several producers to get their feedback on the issue.

David White, founder of Organtica, told The Rolling Paper. the company has dispensaries spread throughout the state; however, their grow facilities are in Albuquerque.

“It’s going to be a problem in terms of equity for anybody down south who wants to grow. They’re going to have difficulty as they can’t move it north. The way that the market is shifting in New Mexico we’ve got a lot of revenue producers [among] dispensaries, growers and manufacturers in the south. In April, people from Arizona will be able to come over on that side of the state and people from Texas will be able to come over on that side of the state and purchase cannabis. As far as the checkpoints, it’s going to be a problem,” White explained.

“Until there’s a federal program, whatever that may be, there are just going to have to be acceptable losses. if I was looking at manufacturing, growing down south, I would really want to make sure that my product was going to be able to find its way into a legal business without having to go past checkpoints,” White said.

Other roads of course exist. however, several already have checkpoints and a “tactical checkpoint” could be set up anywhere at any time. As cannabis is illegal at the federal level, businesses that are operating legally within New Mexico can be stopped while transporting their product or the income from sales through any federally-run checkpoints. They can legally take whatever you have grown or have in your possession.

“Cannabis companies from outside the state are eyeing New Mexican companies that have overburdened themselves with complex logistics in terms of money flow and trying to transport products around the state. They’re saying, ‘I’m sure these people are sick of this. I bet if we gave them a pretty penny, they’ll be willing to sell,’” Max Griego, operations manager of Seven Clover, told The Rolling Paper. “And that’s absolutely what’s going to happen. Until the United States as a whole has a comprehensive legal cannabis program, you’re going to see problems like this in every state,” Griego said.

Under Pres. Barack Obama, the Cole Memorandum was issued by the Justice Department in 2013, directing U.S. attorneys not to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug except in cases where non-enforcement would undermine other priorities. That order was rescinded by Pres. Donald Trump, and the DEA became more aggressive in its enforcement against marijuana in states where it had been legalized. The Biden administration has not yet weighed in on the issue so the Trump era orders are still in effect.

“Until there’s legislative change at the federal level, if you’re growing in southern New Mexico, to be safe you’ll have to sell to southern stores and southern facilities. The South is so attractive because real estate’s cheaper and it seems water rights are easier down there. Some of the best flowers are coming out of the south. I’d hate to see all of us up north unable to get it,” said Kent Little, general manager of the Sacred Garden.

Little believes it comes down to a state’s rights issue. “There needs to be some kind of certification or badge or some kind of identification program for either courier services or some kind of a delivery business.”

Because there’s so much cultivation capacity in the South, it could create a real price war for the wholesalers and the micro-producers. If you build a business plan on $2,000 a pound and all of a sudden all you’re getting is $1,000 in any business, that presents a huge challenge,” Little told The Rolling Paper.

So far there are no federal checkpoints at any state mile marker 420.