Federal officials have seized 1,000 bags from Boulder-based Stashlogix after identifying the product — lockable, odor-blocking containers used to store marijuana or other medications — as drug paraphernalia.
Company officials said the decision will cost them tens of thousands of dollars and force them to bring manufacturing into the U.S. to avoid customs.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, in April sent a letter to Stashlogix which said the bags could not be imported. Two weeks ago, the company received another letter stating that its most recent order had been confiscated at the Long Beach port. Stashlogix is pursuing an appeal.
Stashlogix founder Skip Stone said the bags themselves cost $15,500. The company had to forfeit an additional $18,000 worth of raw materials overseas, which also means they need to find a U.S. manufacturer, and fast.
"We have about four months of inventory on-hand (that) we can sell in order to get production started in the U.S.," Stone said. "We've laid off everybody; we're just trying to survive."
Under federal law, drug paraphernalia is defined as "any equipment, product or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance."
Marijuana is legal for medicinal or recreational use, or both, in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Jaime Ruiz, a public affairs agent with the CBP, said that because it remains illegal under federal law, importing any drug or associated products into the country is prohibited, even if it comes through a port in a state where pot is allowed.
Ruiz declined to comment on the specific case because it is ongoing.
When it comes to drugs and related products, he said, "we're enforcing (Drug Enforcement Administration) guidance. So if it looks like drug paraphernalia, they'll stop and inspect it and make the best determination."
The Stashlogix bags, at first blush, don't appear to be drug-related. Made from durable fabric in neutral colors, they resemble personal travel kits. The company's logo is the only insignia; no pot leaves or plumes of smoke adorn the bags or their contents. Inside, they are divided into compartments, much like a camera or makeup case, and include an odor-absorbing pack and ultraviolet-proof glass jars.
But Miami-based customs and international law attorney Denise Calle said the legal process for customs takes into account more than just the appearance of the product. Officers also look at instructions for use of the item, marketing materials and media accounts, and real-world examples of how it's used by customers.
"The government takes the position of, 'We don't care what you claim it as, we care what the consumer thinks it is,'" said Calle, with Diaz Trade Law. "Customs takes an entire investigative approach, (so) if somebody on Instagram posts 'This is a great place to store my stash,' they would consider that."
CBP cited reviews from Stoner Mom and The Weed Blog in its ruling, as well as comparisons to similar products on the market used to conceal or store marijuana. A link on the Stashlogix website that described the bags' Odorpax as being cannabis odor absorbers was also cited in the letters, copies of which were obtained by the Camera. (Stone disputes the website made any mention of cannabis.)
"Standing alone, the Stashlogix storage case can be viewed as a multi-purpose storage case with no association with or to controlled substances," it read. "Yet there is no evidence in the form of marketing or community usage that would dispel the finding that Stashlogix cases have a legitimate use other than to store, carry or conceal marijuana."
Stashlogix has imported a dozen orders from China in the past two years without incident. Stone said he didn't know what triggered the seizure, but previously told the Camera that concerns over a marijuana-unfriendly federal government was pushing him to look outside the U.S. for growth opportunity.
"I thought of all the things that do get through — vaporizers, bongs — we'd be one of the last to get flagged," he said. "We're not sure if it's just bad luck or a sign of things to come" under the current presidential administration.
Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said she was not aware of a recent uptick in paraphernalia seizures. The incident points to one of the many problems caused by conflicting state and national guidelines, she said.
"It's absurd, though, that packaging designed for adults to safely and responsibly store a product that is legal under state law — keeping it out of the hands of children — is being treated as drug paraphernalia."
Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, [email protected] or twitter.com/shayshinecastle
Image: Paul Aiken