Pot profiling: Are Kansas cops targeting rental vehicles with Colorado license plates?

For more than a year, we've been reporting on the subject of pot profiling -- claims that drivers in vehicles with Colorado license plates are regularly being stopped in other states on a variety of shaky pretexts for marijuana searches.

Our latest story comes from a man who was stopped in Kansas while driving a rental truck because his registration supposedly didn't match his Colorado license plate -- except that it did. Is this a new strategy? There's conflicting information about that.

Daniel Huling tells us that he and a friend were driving from Ohio to Kansas last November in an Enterprise rental truck towing a trailer when "I started seeing all these cops on the side of the road. I was wondering what was happening and thought it might be related to what I'd heard was happening with Colorado license plates.

"They were obviously radioing each other, because a cop pulled in front of me two miles down the road," Huling continues. "It was a 75 zone and they were going 55. So I slowed down for a while behind them, then decided to pass them -- but I definitely wasn't speeding when I did. I was only going about 65."

Nonetheless, Huling was pulled over, with the Kansas officer informing him "that the plates didn't match the registration," he recalls. "My immediate response was to get upset about the rental company giving us a truck that didn't have matching plates -- but I was also suspicious about being pulled over, since I didn't do anything wrong. So I called 911."

After telling the dispatcher what was happening, "she told me the plates didn't match the registration, and they were doing a routine stop," Huling maintains. "She said they randomly run plates on the highway all the time."

In the meantime, officers on the scene brought out a drug-sniffing dog. One cop subsequently claimed that the dog had alerted to the vehicle, so it would have to be searched.

The search took approximately half an hour. During that time, an officer asked Huling to join him at his cruiser -- and after Huling declined, he could hear the law enforcers talking among themselves about how uncooperative he was being. But the search turned up no marijuana, as Huling knew it wouldn't -- neither he nor his friend had any -- and the pair were eventually allowed to go on their way.

Afterward, Huling says he called Enterprise, and the person with whom he spoke "confirmed that the paperwork was fine and everything matched. And they said they'd been getting a lot of calls like mine -- calls from furious customers from Kansas and a couple of other states where the police were doing the same thing. They were saying the license plates didn't match the rental car registration even when they did. And the cars always seemed to have Colorado license plates."

We contacted Laura Bryant, spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, to find out if this is a systemic issue. Via e-mail, she writes that she reached out to numerous general managers, but none of them was aware of the problem.

Whatever the case, Huling was shaken by the experience.

"It felt pretty militaristic," he says. "The guy was gung-ho, all amped up like an ex-military guy. The whole thing felt like we were in another country. We were just driving down the road, obeying every traffic rule, so to be stopped like that was pretty violating.

"People say, 'If you don't have anything, you have nothing to worry about.' But even talking about it now feels traumatic. It felt like all powers were taken away and you have no rights for anything."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Pot profiling: Do Alabama cops think everyone from Colorado looks like a drug smuggler?"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts