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Remembering Fiona Apple’s Cannabis Arrest at the “Checkpoint of No Return”

September 13, 2016

In September 2012, Fiona Apple was feeling like a criminal. While traveling for her Idler Wheel Tour, her tour bus was stopped at the infamous Sierra Blanca U.S. border patrol narcotics checkpoint. During the stop, a drug dog alerted authorities to a backpack inside the bus that contained four grams of cannabis and four grams of hashish.

The Checkpoint of No Return

Sierra Blanca, Texas is just across the northeast border from Mexico. Known as “the checkpoint of no return,” it lies on Interstate 10 and is the main route that connects Texas from west to east, which means that all travelers are subject to inspections by the U.S. Border Patrol whether or not they are entering the country from Mexico.

2012 was a busy year for celebrity drug busts at that border checkpoint. Earlier that same year, in June 2012, Snoop Dogg was headed to San Antonio to see his son play at the East Youth All-American Bowl at the Alamodome when he was stopped at the same checkpoint and arrested with .13 pounds (about 59 grams) of cannabis. Four months later, in October 2012, officials found a grand total of 10 pounds of cannabis aboard rapper Nelly’s tour bus, along with *ahem* a few other prohibited items. Nelly was not charged at the time, although a member of his entourage was.

Even Willie Nelson has fallen prey to the dreaded Sierra Blanca checkpoint. In 2010, the Red-Headed Stranger was passing through Texas, traveling from Austin to California for Thanksgiving, when he was detained by Hudspeth County officials who discovered six ounces of cannabis on his bus. When authorities took Willie’s comparatively small stash to the mountains of cannabis in the evidence room, he exclaimed, “Whoa! Y’all got a whole lot of shit here. You don’t need mine, give it back!”

For those who are unfamiliar with Texas cannabis laws, possession of more than four ounces of cannabis is a felony charge punishable by up to two years’ incarceration, and possession of more than a gram of hash is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The one saving grace? Although Sierra Blanca’s U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint may send the county thousands of drug cases per year, the county is unable to prosecute the majority of the cases, as the federal government no longer funds such activities.

Apple’s Arrest and the Ensuing Aftermath

Fiona Apple, despite only carrying four grams of cannabis, was facing up to 10 years in a West Texas prison for the possession of four grams of hashish. She spent a night in jail, but posted $10,000 bail and was released on her own recognizance.

Later, she criticized the Hudspeth County police department for her treatment, mentioning four officers in particular during a post-arrest diatribe onstage at her concert in Houston. “I want you to know that I heard everything [the officers] did,” she told fans, saying that she was keeping her West Texas jailhouse secrets locked up tight in two boxes she called “‘holding cell one’ and ‘holding cell two.’” Her rant about the officers continued with, “Unless you’re interested in being a celebrity, I’ll make you fucking famous any time you ask and I’ll open those boxes.” She punctuated her outburst by snapping, “So why don’t you stay in your fucking holding cell?”

Her speech set off a chain reaction, prompting an unofficial response from Rusty Fleming, a Public Information Officer for the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office, who told Apple that although he’s sure she’s “an awesome and talented young woman,” she ought to take his advice and “shut up and sing.”

Apple apologized at the House of Blues in New Orleans later on in the tour, lamenting that the arrest had overshadowed her new album and touring schedule. “All the work we did is being overshadowed by this bullshit.” She also admitted that the “lockbox” rant was just that – a rant, and nothing more.

The arrest continued to cause reverberations through Apple’s public and personal life. Tabloids speculated on her emotional and physical well-being, with so-called “experts” offering their speculative opinions on her weight and mental health. Apple was reasonably frustrated, eventually giving away her laptop to avoid the negative press about her circulating the web. “I’m not on any drugs,” she expressed in exasperation. “I’m losing weight because I’m having trouble digesting food because your gut is connected to your brain and I have a lot of stress in my brain.”

Apple has largely remained out of the spotlight in the years since, preferring to maintain a low profile despite her talents as a musician that includes a stirring cover of “Across the Universe.”

Lest you think her harrowing arrest will “change her world,” so to speak, remember what she said during her memorable acceptance speech at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards:

“See, Maya Angelou said that we as human beings at our best can only create opportunities. And I’m going to use this opportunity the way that I want to use it. So what I want to say is, everybody out there that’s watching this world? This world is bullshit. And you shouldn’t model your life about what you think we think is cool, what we’re wearing, and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself. Go with yourself.”

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Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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