Since shortly after the 2012 passage of Amendment 64, which permitted limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, we've reported about alleged pot profiling. Over the years, multiple drivers have said they were pulled over for little or no reason while driving a car with Colorado license plates by state troopers in bordering states on the lookout for cannabis, with Kansas among the most frequently mentioned problem jurisdictions. Now, just over a year since a federal court ordered that pot profiling in Kansas end, a Denver-area resident tells us she's recently been stopped three times in the state by law enforcers who apparently became interested in her the second they saw that her plate represented a legal-pot state.
The woman asked not to be named in this post because she travels frequently out of state and doesn't want to become more of a target than she already is.
She believes she was profiled in Wyoming last year for driving a car with Colorado plates. "I got pulled over twice," she recalls, "and one of the times, they gave the person who was with me a ticket for having an inappropriate seat belt, because she had the lap belt on but not the shoulder belt. They ended up throwing that one out."
More recently, the woman drove into Kansas in a Colorado-plated car en route to a family visit in Illinois and was pulled over for allegedly driving at a speed of 101 miles per hour. That didn't make any sense to her, since she had the cruise control on her vehicle set at a much lower level — and she was unsettled by the trooper's decision to search her car, even though he insisted that "this is just routine." In the end, though, "I didn't even argue about the ticket" despite its hefty cost, $257.
The next time she entered Kansas from Colorado, mere days ago, she was in a rental car with California license plates — but since Cali has now okayed recreational marijuana sales, she found herself on the law enforcement hook again. "Apparently, they also look out for California license plates," she says, "because why else would you be driving from California through Colorado into Kansas unless you were trafficking marijuana?"
On this occassion, she goes on, the profiling was especially overt. "I got off the turnpike to get some gas," she recalls, "and I saw him on the ramp. He sat there and waited for me to get back on the ramp, and then he pulled me over and said I was doing 81" in a 75 miles per hour zone.
Having learned from her previous experience, the driver didn't simply accept the trooper's word for her speed. "I'd locked in my cruise control at 75, and I told him that. But I also said, 'Do what you need to do.'"
The trooper asked for the woman's license, registration and rental-car agreement, and after checking them out, "he said, 'I'm going to give you a warning this time,' and I said, 'Fine.' But then he said, 'Can I ask you some questions?' Now, I have officers in my family, so I try my best to respect them. But I had a water bottle, and he said, 'I see you have a water bottle. What's in it?' And I was like, 'Excuse me? Water. That's what's in it.' But he picked it up and shook it anyway. Then he saw that I had two cell phones, and he asked, 'Why do you have two cell phones?' I said, 'One's for work and one's personal' — and he asked, 'What kind of work do you do?' I said, 'Why are you asking me all these questions?' And he said, 'I just want to know why you didn't fly instead of drive.'"
At that point, the woman was on the verge of exasperation. "I told him, 'I like to drive and listen to music — and by the way, I want to let you know that everybody in Colorado isn't getting high.'"
In response, the trooper said, "Okay" and walked away after leaving her with the warning, which referred generically to excessive speed without any mention of the alleged 81 miles-per-hour rate. But the driver's ordeal wasn't over.
"Twenty miles up the road, I see another trooper," she allows. "This time, I was doing 70 and the speed limit was 75. But he pulled me over anyway and said, 'You were speeding slightly.' I said, 'No, I wasn't.' Then he said, 'I didn't see your seat belt.'"
Since she'd heard that excuse in Wyoming last year, the woman wasn't caught off-guard. "I said, 'You're the second cop to pull me over in the last thirty minutes. What do you want?' And this time, he said, 'You were swaying on the road and I thought you were tired. Can I see your license?' And as I was getting it, he saw the warning and said, 'Why did you get it?' I told him, and he said, 'I've got you over the limit by a certain amount, too' — but he never said what the amount was."
Perhaps because he realized he'd given multiple reasons for the stop, the trooper didn't bother issuing the woman a warning, and she thinks standing up for herself was the key.
As she was driving home, she made sure she wasn't speeding — not that it mattered. In her words, "I noticed that there weren't any troopers watching in the direction to Colorado. But in the direction to St. Louis, they were all lined up. They were pulling over people right and left."
The woman reveals that she's made a formal complaint to the Kansas State Patrol about her experiences. But she doubts anything will change. "I was talking to one guy at a stop," she notes, "and he said, 'They're murder on Colorado license plates.' And I said, 'Yes, they are.'"
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.