For well over a year, we've shared claims of pot profiling from drivers who say they were pulled over on bogus pretenses in other states simply because their vehicle had Colorado license plates and local cops wanted an excuse to search it for marijuana. Note the story of a 65-year-old who was told she fit the profile of a drug smuggler because she didn't fit the profile of a drug smuggler and a trooper who said a rental car's records were inaccurate when they were actually just fine.
Now, 7News has collected data that suggests such reports aren't simply anecdotal -- especially in one Nebraska county, where Colorado drivers are stopped more often than ones from that state, whether it's for pot or any other reason.
The station collected traffic-related figures in Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska, with some of it dating back to 2008 -- around the time the marijuana boom in Colorado began in earnest. And the results are eye-opening.
For instance, there were 294 marijuana-related incidents on Interstate 25 in Wyoming between 2008 and February 2014. Here are the top three states represented by the digits:
Wyoming Drivers= 130 marijuana-related incidents
Colorado Drivers= 92 marijuana-related incidents
Montana Drivers = 25 marijuana-related incidents
Presumably, the volume of Wyoming cars driving in the state dwarfs the number with Colorado plates. Hence, the relative closeness of the totals seems more than coincidental.
More telling info is summarized in the following graphic:
That Colby, Kansas is a hotbed for Colorado marijuana stops is no surprise. Back in March 2013, we spoke to Colby attorney Cal Williams, who said such incidents were so common that a billboard should be erected at the state line reading, "'Stop and get rid of this. Don't come into Kansas with it. You can go to prison on less than an ounce.'"
He's not exaggerating. "As little as 25 grams can be a felony in Kansas," Williams told us. "There's a range from 25 grams to 450 grams, and even for someone with no record, a conviction could carry 46 to 51 months in a penitentiary."
Moreover, wrist slaps aren't common in these cases, whether or not an individual had previously steered clear of wrongdoing. "It is presumptive prison," Williams said, "with 49 months being the middle range; that's likely what it would be. And based on the fact that an ounce is 28.35 grams, less than an ounce is enough to send you to prison."
Even so, pot profiling in Colby appears to pale in comparison with what's going on in a certain Nebraska county.
Laws in Nebraska aren't nearly as harsh as those in Kansas. Here's a Marijuana Policy Project overview of the state's pot regulations.
Nebraska is one of the 15 states that fine, instead of jail, individuals found in possession of a small amount of cannabis. First offense possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is a civil infraction punishable under Nebraska law by a $300 fine (and a possible drug education course) instead of jail time, and is a citation as opposed to an arrest. Second offense possession of up to an ounce carries a $400 fine and up to five days in jail, and third offense possession is punishable by up to a week in jail and a fine of $500. Second and third offense possession are misdemeanors, but are only citable, and not arrestable, offenses.
As such, marijuana busts appear to be attractive revenue generators for Nebraska municipalities, as the bean counters in Deuel County undoubtedly understand.
Here are the 7News numbers for marijuana busts in the county, using statistics about stops by Nebraska State Troopers there between January 2011 and March 2014.
Total offenses: 131
Offenses involving Colorado drivers: 37
Offenses involving Nebraska drivers: 19
The overall stats from the Nebraska State Patrol over the same period show a similar pattern even as they demonstrate that even Colorado drivers with no cannabis are more likely than ones from Nebraska to earn some kind of punishment in Deuel County:
Nebraska State Patrol Citations & Warnings/Violations Issued in Deuel County:
2,400 citations total, 7,481 warnings/violations total
Colorado drivers: 577 citations, 1858 warnings/violations
Nebraska drivers: 490 citations, 1742 warnings/violations
These are not misprints. Over a three-year period, more Colorado drivers have been cited or warned in Deuel County than ones from Nebraska, period.
Regarding the reasons for being pulled over, they can be minor in the extreme. One example highlighted by 7News: A man was stopped because the word "Colorado" on the bottom of his license was partially blocked because the plate wasn't perfectly centered within its frame, as seen in this image:
This is not even a ticketable offense; It earned a "courtesy citation" only. But it gave a law enforcer the excuse to search the man's car, and he did indeed discover some pot.
That kind of score may inspire troopers in bordering states and beyond to keep pulling over Colorado cars whether there's a good reason for it or not.
Here's the 7News report.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Follow That Story archive circa March 2013: "Marijuana profiling: Coloradans should ditch weed before state line, says Kansas attorney."