Are Colorado Drivers Being ‘Pot-Profiled’ Elsewhere?

Highway trooper writing ticket


While marijuana is legal in Colorado, it’s clearly not in Nebraska, where cops are reportedly enforcing that state’s laws by profiling drivers with Colorado license plates.


Cops Tell Dad What’s Up

One family – a father and his three kids – spent two hours waiting while cops in Douglas County, Neb., searched their Colorado-plated car after pulling them over for going two mph over the speed limit. 

“When we see a nice vehicle with Colorado tags, it instantly makes us start watching you,” the state trooper reportedly told the dad. “And then we noticed how young you looked, which was another red flag. You were ultimately speeding, which is why you were stopped, and those circumstantial facts are why we obtained permission from you to search.” 

The dad also reported that other “Omaha city cops” told him “when they have a slow night or they are training new officers, Colorado tags are almost always an instant, usually drug-related ticket of some sort.”

You’ve heard of racial profiling. Welcome to pot profiling.


Probable Cause Is Still King

“There has always been a strong traffic interdiction program in Kansas and plains states for vehicles heading east, funded heavily by the DEA,” confirms Matt Kumin, a lawyer on the legal committee for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “They do have specific profiles for drug traffickers and do actively try to interdict cannabis on the highways.”

Matt Kumin

But Kumin says profiling is illegal to the extent that a police officer lacks “probable cause” – a clear, articulable, legal reason – to pull someone over.

“Nothing changes the requirement for probable cause, and simply having a Colorado license plate is definitely not a legal basis to stop a vehicle,” Kumin points out.

“If a cop states in a report, ‘I stopped the car because it had Colorado plates and since I know there’s a lot of pot being smuggled through my state from Colorado, I had probable cause to make that stop,’ that would be illegal profiling,” he says.


Beware in Border States

Kumin adds that NORML is concerned that Colorado residents are “unaware of the huge risks and the huge cultural differences towards cannabis by law enforcement in the adjoining states.”

A public defender in Topeka, Kan., for instance, told a NORML listserve recently that while he wasn’t seeing a pattern of stops for Colorado plates in that state, Kansas marijuana laws are not to be trifled with.

In that state, possession of 25 grams comes with a presumption of intent to distribute, which can earn you enhanced felony penalties. If you have a prior possession charge, getting caught with any amount of marijuana – even trace amounts on paraphernalia – can result in a felony charge.


Leave Colorado, Face Trouble

And it matters not that it’s legal in Colorado.

“If someone is carrying marijuana, even a small amount, and it is by doctor’s recommendation in Colorado, and if that patient gets stopped, for whatever reason, in another state that either has no medical cannabis law or, if it does, does not have reciprocity, then the officer discovering the cannabis has the discretion to arrest that person and put them into the criminal justice process of that state,” explains Kumin.

And don’t forget federal law, despite any rumblings from the Obama administration to the contrary. “It has been and until future notice, will be, illegal to cross state lines under federal law carrying any amount of marijuana for any purpose, medical or recreational,” he warns.

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