In writing about the marijuana-possession arrest of Brighton's Brian Unbehaun last month, we explored claims that cars with Colorado plates are being profiled in other states because of our marijuana laws. Since then, more profiling anecdotes have rolled in amid related reports, like a TV station piece about an alleged drug pipeline between Colorado and Nebraska. Now, however, we've got the best evidence yet that such profiling is a thing thanks to Westworder Britt Chester, who was stopped and hassled not once but twice, in two separate states, during a cross-country trip last week.
Chester is well-known to readers of our Backbeat blog for his concert reviews and photography, and he's occasionally ventured into The Latest Word, too, as in a December post about his arrest for skateboarding -- a dust-up that resulted in him posing for one of the sweetest-ever mug shots under his given name, Jonathan Chester.
Despite his love for Colorado, though, Chester recently decided to move back to his home state of North Carolina to be closer to his family, among other things -- and last week, he and a pal set out for the journey in a truck with Colorado license plates. But they didn't get far before they ran afoul of the law.
"We were about halfway through Kansas when a state trooper pulled us over," Chester says.
On what pretext?
"Driving in the left lane," he replies. "I didn't even know that was a law, but the trooper said that in the past couple of years, they've made driving in the left lane illegal unless you're passing. We weren't speeding -- we were just driving in the left lane."
Not that this appears to have been the real reason Chester captured the trooper's attention.
"He was really nice -- one of the nicest law-enforcement officers I've ever met," he notes. "And he said, 'Hey, listen, a lot of people are trafficking marijuana out of Colorado. Some of it's for medical purposes, some of it's for profit. Do you mind if I look in your truck?'"
As the mug shot above indicates, Chester has had some experience interacting with the authorities, and he understood that he didn't have to allow his truck to be searched. But while he's been known to enjoy the occasional bud, "I knew we didn't have anything on us," he says. "We had some rolling papers, but there was no pot, no paraphernalia. So we said, 'Okay.'"
The trooper looked around, and when he didn't see anything untoward, he allowed Chester and friend to be on their way. But the failure to catch them riding dirty wouldn't dissuade him from using the same technique in the future.
"He said they were keeping their eye out for Colorado plates," Chester recalls.
His brethren further east were doing likewise, as Chester discovered upon hitting Tennessee.
Continue for more of Britt Chester's account of marijuana profiling. Upon his arrival in the Volunteer State, Chester was pulled over again, and this time, the trooper doing the deed wasn't as polite as his Kansas colleague.
"He sounded pretty aggressive," Chester points out. "He introduced himself and said, 'Do you know why I pulled you over?' I said, 'No,' and he said, 'You were going 75 in a seventy zone.'"
Understandably, Chester was flabbergasted by this explanation. "My first thought was, 'There were cars passing me.'" But it didn't take long to discover that the trooper had something else in mind than an extraordinarily minor speeding violation.
"The next questions were, 'Do you have any marijuana? Do you have any paraphernalia? What do you have in your car?' I said we didn't have anything, but he asked me to step out of the car, and when I did, he questioned me some more: 'Do you have any syringes? Do you have any needles? Do you have any marijuana, meth, heroin?' Basic interrogation questions. I said, 'No,' and he said, 'Do you mind if I search the vehicle?'"
Because of the officer's tone, Chester thought twice about granting permission this time around. "I said, 'It's not my car, so I can't make that decision.' And he said, 'You're the driver. You can.' Then he pulled my friend out of the car, asked him the same questions to see if our stories matched up" -- they did -- "and threatened to call the K-9 unit. He said, 'If you just go ahead and admit you've got marijuana in your car, we'll write you up a ticket and you can be on your way.'"
Doubtful, Chester thought. "I figured they'd give me five-to-ten if I said that -- so finally, I said, 'Go ahead and search.'"
The trooper did so, in a big way. The aforementioned K-9 unit arrived, and the dog allegedly indicated the presence of drugs inside the truck -- although Chester has his doubts. "I saw the K-9 guy tap the back of the truck, and that's when he jumped up," he says.
At any rate, officers went through all of Chester's belongings, most of them packed in luggage and stored in the truck's covered bed. "It took about an hour and fifteen minutes," he says. "They pulled out all my clothes, even my tax forms and files that I had in a safe box that wasn't locked at the time. They went through all of it and really didn't do anything in regard to packing it back up. They just stuffed it back in, so it took us another fifteen or twenty minutes to repack everything."
The officers did find a few other items that struck them as suspicious, including a friend's torch and several Doob Tubes -- plastic joint holders created and marketed by Westword's medical marijuana critic, William Breathes. At first, the trooper tried to argue that the latter constituted paraphernalia, but since Chester points out "they're just plastic tubes with some writing printed on them," he soon gave up the ghost. "There was no citation given," Chester says -- but no apology, either.
Fortunately, Chester and his friend made it the rest of the way to North Carolina without further incident.
What advice would he give to other young, long-haired, bearded drivers of Colorado-plated vehicles traveling outside the state?
"Don't go one mile per hour over the speed limit," he says, "and don't give them any reason whatsoever to pull you over. And if you do get pulled over, don't give them any lip -- and get educated about what your rights as a driver are."
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These are important things to keep in mind, Chester believes -- because "if you've got plates that say 'Colorado,' you're just targeted."
More from our Mug Shots archive: "I went to jail for skateboarding, and all I got was this sweet mug shot."