During a recent interview with Westword, Smart Approaches to Marijuana President and CEO Kevin Sabet, one of America's most influential critics of cannabis legalization, offered an unexpected observation about his visits to Denver. According to Sabet, a number of vehicles provided to him by Denver International Airport rental-car businesses over the past few years have smelled strongly of pot. He added that he's had to exchange rentals multiple times at DIA before he's been given one that didn't reek of weed, giving him numerous opportunities to "educate" personnel at the agencies about the scope of a problem he views as positively chronic.
An informal survey of folks known to yours truly who've rented cars in the area of late failed to produce similar tales, and representatives of major car-rental companies operating out of DIA either say they've had no complaints about experiences such as Sabet's or decline to address the subject, period. But this isn't the first time reports have linked marijuana to cars rented in Colorado.
In July 2014, we published an item headlined "DIA Rental-Car Employee Fringe Benefit: Customers Giving Away Pot," based on claims that "marijuana tourists are routinely — as in multiple times per day — giving away extra pot to staffers rather than trying to sneak it through security at the airport."
Employees at major DIA rental agencies, speaking anonymously and with their identities obscured, told CBS4's Brian Maass that recreational customers frequently offered them weed, presumably because they knew that trying to take it back home with them was verboten.
At the time of the broadcast, DIA had public notices aplenty warning travelers that being caught with marijuana in their possession could result in a fine of up to $999. Not that the airport had narced on anyone up to that point. According to spokeswoman Stacey Stegman, sixteen people had been caught with pot since January 1 of 2014, when recreational shops opened their doors, but none had been cited. Instead, they were simply asked to discard their stash.
A similar line was offered by the rental-car staffers who spoke with CBS4: They insisted that they simply threw away the marijuana they were given. However, one said employees at the front end of the operation had taken to scouring vehicles to make sure no ganja was left behind — because if the guys charged with washing the cars found it, they would definitely keep it.
Just under a year later, in June 2015, we revisited the topic in "Doug Moxon Crosses Two State Lines, Then Discovers Pot in His Rental Car." Moxon and his family reportedly drove a Colorado rental car to Missouri, only to discover upon their arrival that 3.5 grams of marijuana had been in the vehicle the whole time, stuffed into the pocket built into a seat.
Why might that have been a problem? Because Moxon said he was almost pulled over by state troopers in Missouri — and during the drive to his destination and back, he saw at least six cars that had been stopped by the authorities.
This assertion jibed with previous Westword stories suggesting that law enforcers from neighboring states had been targeting rental vehicles with Colorado plates under the theory that the drivers might well be using the rides to transport ganja across state lines.
How did rental-car reps react to Sabet's tale of marijuana-scented rentals? Alice Pereira, communicating via email on behalf of Avis and Budget, sent boilerplate language about smoking anything in the firm's cars. The text reads:
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All vehicles in our North America fleet are designated as non-smoking cars. A cleaning fee of up to $250 may be applied to the cost of a rental, should this policy be violated.
To avoid paying the fee, we encourage customers to refrain from smoking in or near the vehicle at all times. Rental vehicles should be thoroughly inspected by the customer prior to leaving the rental location. Customers should check the car for body or interior damage, soil or dirt, and to ensure that it is smoke-free. If at the time of vehicle check-out the vehicle is not to the customer's satisfaction, we recommend that the customer speak with an agent before leaving our facility. The customer will be provided with another vehicle, if one is available.
Laura Bryant of Enterprise Holdings, parent company of Enterprise, Alamo and National, was less forthcoming. "We don’t have any information about this and, as a result, we don’t have anything to add to the news story," she wrote in an email.
And then there was Hertz's media-relations wing, which weighed in with this anonymous response: "Thanks for reaching out. We will not be able to participate in your story."
That reaction has a certain scent to it....