HELP! CBP Seized My Tobacco Products as Drug Paraphernalia, What Now?
Our office has increasingly received requests for guidance on importation of marijuana paraphernalia products to the U.S. where twenty-six (26) states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes and/or personal consumption such as California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada. The purpose of this article is to dispel the confusion as to why paraphernalia products (grinders, storage containers, rolling paper, pipes, vape pens, etc.) are continuously being seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), even when such products may be used by tobacco smokers. It is important to address the realities between federal and state laws regulating drug paraphernalia products so importers can avoid CBP’s enforcement of U.S. Laws.
Why Does CBP Stop Drug Paraphernalia?
- CBP secures America’s borders at and between ports of entry by stopping inadmissible people and illicit goods. The Tariff Act of 1789 provides one of CBP’s core functions: to act as the leading federal agency in determining the admissibility of goods that may enter the Commerce of the United States. Even though each State has internally legalized marijuana either for medical or recreational purposes, CBP still has the express power to authorize or not any merchandise that comes into the U.S. Thus, CBP can detain and seize “drug paraphernalia” even if you did not intend to use the product that purpose pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c) stating a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 863.
What Constitutes Drug Paraphernalia?
In 2014, a smoke shop owner imported different merchandise from China described as “glass hookahs and parts”. The Central District of California considered these products, which were valued at $82,933.64 as drug paraphernalia and thus detained and seized the merchandise pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c) for violations of 21 U.S.C. § 863. The U.S. sued the shop owner and the Court concluded that “despite…[the] erroneous characterization of the merchandise as ‘hookah pipes’…they are bongs, and are therefore barred from entry into the United States.”
To determine whether the product is drug paraphernalia, the Court will not only consider the Code, but also other relevant factors such as the existence and scope of legitimate uses of the product in the community and expert testimony concerning its use. Under 21 U.S.C. Section 863(e), the following items are used to determine if a product is drug paraphernalia:
(1) instructions, oral or written, provided with the item concerning its use;
(2) descriptive materials accompanying the item which explain or depict its use;
(3) national and local advertising concerning its use;
(4) the manner in which the item is displayed for sale;
(5) whether the owner, or anyone in control of the item, is a legitimate supplier of like or related items to the community, such as a licensed distributor or dealer of tobacco products;
(6) direct or circumstantial evidence of the ratio of sales of the item(s) to the total sales of the business enterprise;
(7) the existence and scope of legitimate uses of the item in the community; and
(8) expert testimony concerning its use.
There is no requirement that the violator had specific knowledge that the merchandise constituted drug paraphernalia. United States v. 160 Cartons of Glass Water Pipes, Case No. CV 12-8965- BRO (VBKx) (C.D. Cal. Mar. 10, 2014).
What Must You Refrain From Doing?
- Sell or offer to sell drug paraphernalia
- Mail drug paraphernalia or transport it through interstate commerce
- Import or Export drug paraphernalia
REMEMBER: CBP is the federal agency that has control over everything that is imported and exported to/from the U.S. and therefore, they have the power to detain and seize your products when it constitutes drug paraphernalia. This will continue to happen until Congress decides to enact a Federal Law that allows marijuana consumption on a federal level or drug paraphernalia within the U.S.
What Do You Do if CBP Detains and/or Seizes Your Merchandise?
CBP has the power to detain persons or merchandise and make admissibility decisions. If CBP believes merchandise should be detained, it is required to send a Notice of Detention no later than five (5) business days from the day of examination. Often, the Notice of Detention does not specify the circumstances of the detention or is not even issued. It is important during this detention phase to communicate with CBP to discuss why your merchandise should not constitute drug paraphernalia and should be released.
CBP also has the ability to seize your merchandise if it is contrary to law and CBP will send a Seizure Notice, which you will have 30 days to respond, and typically we respond in the form of a Petition. Seizure cases are complicated, it is best to hire an expert who knows the policies, internal procedures and practices of U.S. Customs. Most importantly, getting involved early in the detention process is the best way to tackle this issue.
Want to Know if Your Product Will be Considered Drug Paraphernalia Prior to Importing?
Prior to importing your product, we recommend you review your product with an expert and determine whether to request a Binding Ruling from CBP. In CBP Ruling HQ H150766, an importer inquired on whether its hookah and hookah components constituted drug paraphernalia. The major issue CBP decided was whether the hookahs are “primarily intended” for use with drugs since it is considered a multiple-use item. CBP ruled that hookahs are admissible merchandise into the United States and held that they are not considered drug paraphernalia based on the weight of the evidence addressing the 8 criteria as set forth in 21 U.S.C. § 863, specifically its intended use for tobacco and not drugs.
If you have questions on whether or not your product constitutes drug paraphernalia and are interested in requesting a binding ruling, or if CBP has detained or seized your product, contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (305) 456-3830 for assistance.