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Be very careful when crossing the border with medication

You're on a well-deserved break south of the border with your family. On your way home from the restaurant, you step off the curb and painfully twist an ankle.

It's not broken, but even a mild sprain can considerably damper your vacation enthusiasm. A resort employee directs you to a Mexican doctor's office located next door to a pharmacy where you are able to get a month's worth of strong pain medication that would be almost impossible to obtain for the same injury back in California. It's all good, right?

International drug laws are murky

As a matter of fact, it could be the opposite of good — very bad. The problem you face is that what is perfectly legal in Mexico (or what might only earn you a slap on the wrist or a fine or bribe to local officials) could send you to prison for a long time in the United States.

Buying prescription drugs legally in Mexico doesn't preclude your arrest once you're back on California soil. In fact, depending on the quantity and the classification of the drugs in question, you could face serious felony charges for bringing your own medications across the border.

But I didn't know it was illegal

California jails are full of inmates who offered this same lame excuse to police and prosecutors upon their apprehension and prosecution. The fact remains that under both federal and state laws, ignorance of those laws is no excuse. Your actions can, and likely will, be prosecuted to the full limits the law allows if you're busted muling drugs across the border.

Defenses are available

While it might be challenging to present a credible defense to some drug trafficking charges, federal authorities are aware that some unwitting citizens are used by cartels to move drugs across international borders.

If you do have to cross the border with medications obtained in Mexico, keep all receipts from the prescribing doctor and the pharmacy. Leave the medications in their original bottles and consider asking the prescribing physician to write a short note to authorities explaining that these drugs were medically necessary for your condition.

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