This Infamous Border Checkpoint is Done With Small-Time Drug Busts

“It’s a dollar issue.”  

By Emily DonahueSeptember 14, 2015 11:05 am

It’s been called the checkpoint of the stars; Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Fiona Apple are just some of the celebrities who’ve been snagged at the Sierra Blanca Border patrol checkpoint.

Musicians and other celebrities have been booked and charged for marijuana possession by Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West. But West now seems to be saying his days of cracking down on every joint and baggie may be over.

NPR Southwest Correspondent John Burnett just returned to Austin from West Texas, where he checked out the Sierra Blanca border patrol checkpoint.

“I wasn’t holding. They passed me right through,” Burnett says, for the record.

But what if Burnett had been carrying a personal amount of marijuana?

“The federal government would have confiscated it from me – they would have wagged their finger at me and they would have sent me down the road.,” he says. “What’s changed in the past year is that the sheriff of Hudspeth County, Arvin West, has said ‘I’m not taking anymore federal cases.'”

The checkpoint is responsible for more than a dozen federal arrests on marijuana charges per day. But the reason West isn’t picking up those cases anymore, Burnett says, is purely economic.

“[The cases] fill up his jail and he rents that jail-space for profit to other paying counties,” he says. “He doesn’t want to put a whole bunch of low-level marijuana federal defendants in his jail and do their business.”

It’s a story Burnett will be fleshing out for NPR soon. Keep listening.

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.