SIERRA BLANCA, Texas — Nestled among the few remaining businesses that dot a rundown highway in this dusty West Texas town stands what’s become a surprise destination for marijuana-toting celebrities: the Hudspeth County Jail.
Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and actor Armie Hammer have been among the thousands of people busted for possession at a Border Patrol checkpoint outside town in recent years, bringing a bit of notoriety to one of Texas’ most sparsely populated counties.
“Once I was in Arizona, and when I said where I was from, they said, ‘That’s where Willie Nelson was busted,’” said Louise Barantley, manager at the Coyote Sunset souvenir shop in Sierra Blanca.
Hudspeth County cameos aren’t only for outlaws: action movie star Steven Seagal, who’s already deputized in Louisiana and Arizona for his reality show “Steven Seagal Lawman” on A&E, has signed on to become a county officer.
Locals already have found ways to rub shoulders with their celebrity guests.
Deputies posed for pictures with Snoop Dogg after authorities said they found several joints on his bus earlier this month. When Nelson was busted here in 2010, the county’s lead prosecutor suggested the singer settle his marijuana charges by performing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for the court.
The once-thriving town of Sierra Blanca began to shrink to its current 1,000-person population after the construction of nearby Interstate 10 — a main artery linking cities from California to Florida — offered an easy way to bypass the community.
Now the highway is sending thousands of drug bust cases Sierra Blanca’s way, courtesy of a Border Patrol checkpoint just outside of town where drug-sniffing dogs inspect more than 17,000 trucks, travelers — and tour buses — daily for contraband.
Border Patrol agents say people busted with small amounts of pot often say they have medical marijuana licenses from California, Arizona or New Mexico — three states along I-10 that, unlike Texas, allow for medicinal pot prescriptions — and claim to believe the licenses were valid nationwide.
Nelson’s publicists declined to co-County authorities have not yet decided whether to prosecute or issue a citation for Hammer, who starred in the 2010 film “The Social Network.”