Pot profiling: Do Alabama cops think everyone from Colorado looks like a drug smuggler?

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

After our latest post about marijuana profiling, we were contacted by plenty of folks who say law enforcers in other states conducted traffic stops and searches that appear to have been based solely on their Colorado license plates. Among the most memorable tales comes from 65-year-old Sandra Lenga, who was told by an Alabama officer that she and her husband, 71, fit the profile of drug smugglers because they didn't fit the profile of drug smugglers -- which presumably means every other Colorado driver matches, too.

Here's how Lenga tells the story.

"We live in Tabernash, Colorado, in Grand County, and we were headed for St. Augustine, Florida, where we were going to spend two months," she says. "It was the very end of January, maybe the 28th or 29th, and we were still on the road. We spent one night in Dysersburg, Tennessee, and we were in northeast Alabama, driving toward Birmingham on a small highway.

"As we were driving, we saw two blue police vehicles with blue lights flashing up ahead on the side of the road," Lenga continues. "We were in the right lane, so my husband moved over to the left lane. We passed the vehicles -- the first one had two deputies and the other one was a sheriff -- and then one of them drove out and pulled us over."

Why were they stopped?

"They said to my husband, 'We pulled you over because you changed lanes slowly,'" she replies.

Yes, you read right. The lane change was supposedly too slow -- although not so egregiously tardy that it begged for a citation.

"They said, 'We're not going to write you a ticket for that, but we have drug-sniffing dogs with us, and we're going to walk them around the car,'" Lenga goes on.

After making a circuit, the officers told the Lengas that the dog had "alerted" to their gas cap -- and as a result, they needed to search the entire vehicle.

Doing so was time-consuming. After all, the Lengas's car was packed with enough clothing and possessions to last them for the two months they planned to stay in Florida. But the officers eagerly tackled the task, stacking bags and boxes on the side of the highway and going through them one by one.

Meanwhile, Sandra and her husband were separated. "They told my husband to go to the back of the car and I had to go to the front of the car," she remembers. Once she was on her own, "a deputy said to me, 'You're not going to get in trouble. Just let me know if you've handled drugs recently, because we're trying to figure out why the dog is alerting.' And I said, 'Well, when I was in college back in the '60s, I did handle some marijuana, but I haven't since.'"

Continue for more of Sandra Lenga's story about marijuana profiling. Presumably, the marijuana scent on Sandra's hands hadn't lingered for 45 years, leaving the Lengas to wonder if the person who'd filled up at the gas station immediately before her husband handled the dispenser was the culprit.

"We weren't being sassy," Sandra stresses. "We just wanted to get on the road."

Some time after that, the Lengas were allowed to wait together while the search was completed. During that time, a deputy told Sandra that she and her husband matched the profile of drug smugglers.

Sandra was dumbfounded. "We don't look like drug people," she says. But the deputy explained that criminals have started using "people they think don't match the profile of drug traffickers," including "more and more older people like us."

This theory didn't result in a big bust, however. "The dog went inside the car, they looked under the hood and crawled under the car several times, and they went through everything -- my purse, our pockets, every square inch of our possessions. But they didn't find anything."

At that point, the deputies repacked the boxes and bags and put them back into the car -- and they did a good job, Sandra notes. But two months later, when the Lengas were driving back to Colorado after winding up their stay in Florida, they rejiggered their route accordingly.

In Sandra's words, "we wanted to spend as little time in Alabama as we could."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Darian Roseen's lawsuit claims cars with Colorado plates are being profiled for pot."

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.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.