If you happen to get pulled over, prepare for a shakedown like no other. You will need to be prepared to handle police officers, or risk going to jail.
It’s true 11 states have legalized adult-use marijuana and 47 out of 50 states maintain some medical cannabis program. But make no mistake about it, weed is still mostly illegal in the United States.
We’d like to tell you that even law enforcement in areas of prohibition is turning a blind eye to those caught in possession of marijuana, but plenty of police forces on the streets of America remain eager to take you down for using this plant. This is especially true now that more jurisdictions border legal cannabis states.
The long arm of the law may not act like they are ramping up efforts to try and control interstate drug tracking, but rest assured these cops have a hard nosed plan in place to stop as many motorists as possible from bringing cannabis products into their neck of the woods. And if you happen to be one of those that they pull over, prepare for a shakedown like no other. You will need to be prepared to handle them, or else you could end up going to jail.
It is important to understand, first off, that police do not have the right to search your vehicle for no reason. Some people think, “Well, they’re the police, they can do what they want.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Law enforcement agencies typically need a search warrant before they can rip your vehicle apart. More importantly, they cannot size someone up during a traffic stop and conduct a search based on a gut feeling telling them that something illegal is taking place. An officer must first see or smell something that establishes probable cause before he or she can perform a search and, depending on what is discovered, make an arrest. But police just can’t go sniffing around your personal property because you had a busted tail-light.
Still, they’ll try like hell to get one over on you because they know that most people aren’t aware of their rights.
One of the best methods for avoiding a search is to not give the police any reason to hassle you in the first place. So, if you and a few friends visit Colorado, where marijuana is entirely legal, and plan to drive back to Missouri with pot products onboard, it is always a smart move to obey the traffic laws. Not smoking marijuana in the vehicle during the trip is also advised. As we mentioned earlier, the odor of marijuana alone is enough in most places for a cop to search a vehicle without a warrant. Keep all drug-related items, even prescription pill bottles, out of sight. In the event of a traffic stop, we don’t want to give the officer any reason to suspect that we’re up to no good.
If you do end up getting pulled over, however, the next thing to remember is to always be calm and collected. As with any situation where one must deal with another person, being polite, courteous and respectful goes a long way. We don’t want to be ranting and raving about knowing our rights as soon as the officer shows up outside the driver’s side window. Just keep calm, but stay on your toes. Even if the cop seems nice, don’t think for a second that he’s not looking for a reason to take the traffic stop to the next level. If you’ve followed the advice from above – hiding drug paraphernalia and not smoking in the car — you should be in good shape. He shouldn’t see or smell anything suspicious. Soon, you will be on your way.
But police are notorious for asking questions in hopes of tripping people up and getting them to spill their guts about what they’ve been doing and where they’ve been. “Where you folks headed?” is one of the most common. The wrong answers could spell trouble. For example: It is probably not a good idea to tell a Kansas State trooper that you and your friend just spent a few days in Colorado to see what it was all about. Because their next question might be: “Did you guys smoke any marijuana while you were there?” Once the cop gets on the marijuana jag, there is no stopping him. So, be as vague as possible without sounding awkward. Try saying something like, “We just finished visiting some family in Boulder. It was my great grandmothers 102 birthday.” Just remember that anything you say can and will be used against you. So be careful answering questions.
Okay, let’s pretend you’ve done everything right, but the officer still persists in busting you for drugs. You’ll know when it’s time to get serious as soon as he utters the phrase “Are there any drugs, weapons or other contraband in the vehicle that I need to know about?” The correct answer in this situation, just in case you were wondering, is NO. But don’t expect the cop to take your word for it. He will likely follow up with something like, “Would you mind if I take a look for myself?” It is essential to understand that you have the right to refuse searches. It’s written in the 4th Amendment. So your response to his request should be: “Officer, I understand you’ve got a job to do, but I do not consent to searches.” The cop will not like this one bit. In fact, he may start playing dirty by suggesting that your refusal to a search means you are trying to hide something. Just keep cool. You are never required to let police search your vehicle just because they feel like it.
The cop may step up his game at this juncture and threaten to call in the K-9 unit to sniff around. Remember, as far as the cop knows, you haven’t broken any laws. He doesn’t know that you have three ounces of weed stuffed in your suitcase. We don’t want to give him the chance to find it either. Simply ask him at this point if you are free to go. “Officer, am I being detained, or am I free to go?” He may ask again to search your vehicle. Just keep following this routine:
Cop: Can I search your vehicle?
Motorist: Officer, I do not consent to searches.
Cop: Maybe you’ve got something to hide.
Motorist: Officer, am I being detained, or am I free to go?
If you are being detained for whatever reason – the cop may suspect you of a crime — it is best to keep quiet. The last words the police should hear coming from your mouth is, “I’m going to remain silent until after I speak to a lawyer.” It might seem easier to just go along with the cop’s request and endure the harassment to get back on the road faster, but your best legal protection is always to just shut up. On the other hand, if you are free to go, the officer will let you know. When all else fails, just keep repeating the above phrases until the cop moves on to an easier target.