On Friday, a 40-year-old man was sentenced to 90 days in prison by a federal court for smuggling illegal pesticides into the United States from Mexico. Authorities suggested that the substances were en route to an illegal cannabis grow operation — and that the stuff poses a serious risk for wildlife and marijuana consumers themselves.
“This individual not only disregarded the hazards associated with improperly handling these types of chemicals, he attempted to smuggle the chemicals into the U.S., which is a very serious crime,” said Cardell T. Morant, a San Diego ICE special agent in a press statement.
Felix Gutierrez was caught with 48 undeclared pesticides including Furadan (the US trade name for carbofuran), Monitor, Bayfolan, Biomec, Ridomil Gold, Kanemite, and Rodentox. Two of them contain substances that are not allowed to be sold in the US.
Furadan, for example, was pulled from US shelves in 2008 — sadly, the super-lethal pesticide continues to be used, and has alarmed US Fish and Wildlife Service authorities with the high incidence of avian murder for which it is responsible.
And it’s not just bad for the birds. One study showed that the pesticide transfer rate to cannabis users via a glass smoking pipe could be as high as nearly 70 percent.
Gutierrez was also sentenced to 100 hours of community service, fined $2,500, and ordered to pay $8,807 for the cost of destroying the pesticides. He confessed to hiring another person to smuggle cultivation pesticides even after Gutierrez was arrested for the crime in April.
He is not the first person to get nabbed on pesticide or fertilizer charges at the border. In March, a woman from Menifee, California was reportedly sentenced to 70 days in prison and a $20,079 fine when she pled guilty to smuggling illegal cultivation substances.
In addition to being motivated by wildlife and human safety, the pesticide busts also took place during an enthusiastic campaign to restrict unlicensed cannabis cultivation in California.
Five years after Proposition 64 legalized adult-use cannabis in the state, California officials say illegal sales are still handicapping legal businesses looking for financial sustainability. Recently, the state’s government announced $100 million in funds to help businesses transition from unlicensed to licensed (critics have suggested that lowering sky-high tax rates and licensing fees would be a better solution, however.)
Cannabis from unlicensed California grows have recently been blamed for the struggles of the legal cannabis industry as far away as Illinois, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
US law enforcement officials looked to underline the gravity of the crime, comparing it to smuggling illegal drugs themselves.
“Trafficking in illegal pesticides is big business, and we are aggressively prosecuting many of these smuggling cases in order to protect the public,” US Attorney Randy Grossman said. “The toxic chemicals are extremely dangerous, with the power to poison people, wildlife, water sources and soil. Smugglers like this defendant are attempting to sneak banned pesticides across the border as if they are illicit narcotics, and they are getting caught and going to prison. That’s how serious these offenses are.”