Ninjasmoker and I are in the middle of one of the most epic road trips of all time. We departed from Eugene, Oregon on Wednesday, March 21 heading to Denver, Colorado. Why would we drive so far? For the 13th annual Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference of course! Oh wait, you mean why did we drive instead of fly…let’s just say that when I travel outside of Oregon, I always bring a little bit of Oregon with me. I wish I didn’t have to. If Colorado had a reciprocity agreement with Oregon, I would just fly with my mmj or purchase some mmj when I got to Denver. Is a drug inspection checkpoint legal?
However, these are not options for out of state medical marijuana cardholders that are visiting Colorado, so we had to go old school and just drive with it. The first leg of the drive was not that bad. We met up with some activists in the Reno, Nevada area which broke up the trip. It’s always fun to bring some Oregon treats to other areas that are not as fortunate as Oregon and see how people react. The look on people’s faces is priceless lol.
Everything on the trip was going well. I was driving east of Reno for the first time, and I was very excited to see Eastern Nevada and Utah. Things took a drastic turn for the worst on I-80 near Battle Mountain, Nevada. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the fine area outside of Battle Mountain, I wouldn’t be surprised. The area is very remote, there are not that many exits, and seeing anything that is alive in such a desolate desert is rare. Ninjasmoker and I had fought the urge to smoke a bowl the few hours we had been driving from Reno, but decided to sneak one in about twenty miles before Battle Mountain. After a handful of pulls off of the pipe (Rowdy Roddy Piper is it’s name), we backed off and were looking at the scenery.
As with most road trips, we saw several orange construction signs along the freeway. We saw so many of them at this point of the trip, I didn’t really look at them anymore. However, one particular orange road sign caught my eye because it was knocked over on the ground, and the text on the sign was different than my sub-conscience was used to I suppose. I was pretty sure that the sign read, ‘ Drug Inspection Checkpoint K-9 1 Mile’…to which I reacted with the comment, ‘what the f#ck was that?’ while pointing like I had just seen a dead body.
Ninjasmoker asked me why I was so worked up all of a sudden. As I was explaining to him what I thought I saw, sure enough, there were more signs lining both sides of the road that indeed read ‘ Drug Inspection Checkpoint K-9 1 Mile.’ Instantly Ninjasmoker started spraying Axe body spray like his life depended on it. I slowed down a little bit and rapidly thought in my head about what we should do. Ninjasmoker and I drive more than any other humans I have ever met. For instance, in the last two months we have driven from Oregon to Los Angeles three times, in addition to this Denver trip. Not one time, ever, have we seen or heard of a drug checkpoint. All of our mmj was in a heat sealed bag inside of a duffle bag, underneath a bunch of other bags in the trunk, but that provided little reassurance in this time of need.
We essentially had three choices as I saw it. 1) We could do an illegal, unsafe U-turn on the freeway and head back the other way. 2) We could take the next exit and turn around. 3) We could just face the music and keep driving straight. The unsafe U-turn did not seem desirable, as we were driving a small car and would probably get mangled when we went off-road. Having K-9’s walking around my car didn’t seem like a good idea either, so we decided to take the next exit…That was until we saw about 10 unmarked police trucks, 10 marked patrol cars, and 5 SUV’s. As much as I didn’t want to face the impending drug inspection checkpoint up the road, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I didn’t want to drive into that swarm of hate!
So, begrudgingly, I kept driving. I thought it was weird that there wasn’t a traffic jam as a result of bringing so many vehicles to a screeching halt on a 75 mile an hour freeway. We were going over some hills, so seeing into the distance was difficult. I expected the drug inspection checkpoint to be just over the horizon. We drove for what seemed to be a mile, discussing the legalities of such a search. Then we drove what seemed to be two miles…then three…After awhile I began to wonder what the scoop was with this K-9 roadside shakedown. ‘Did we just barely miss the checkpoint, and drive by when they were just getting ready to set up?’ I asked Ninjasmoker. We agreed that we would take the next exit into Battle Mountain, provided that there wasn’t a law enforcement convention going on like the last exit we were going to take.
After our heart rates were back to normal, we started to wrap our heads around what just happened. As with most scenarios when we need answers, we Googled ‘drug inspection checkpoint.’ What we found out was mind blowing, and VERY important for all marijuana consumers to know. Below is information provided by Flex Your Rights:
“There isn’t exactly such a thing as a drug checkpoint. In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, the Supreme Court found random drug checkpoints unconstitutional in 2000. Since then, police (particularly in the mid-west) have gotten into the habit of putting signs up warning drivers of upcoming drug checkpoints and then detaining and searching drivers who make illegal u-turns or desperately fling contraband from their vehicles. These checkpoint-like fake checkpoints serve as the functional equivalent of a checkpoint without violating the Court’s prohibition against checkpoints.
We’ve received several emails about this practice over the past couple years and we’ve mentioned it in our presentations, but perhaps this is something that deserves more attention. The prodigious Drug WarRant blogger Peter Guither encountered one of these non-checkpoints over the Thanksgiving weekend, and had some very interesting observations. Most notably, the sign warning of an upcoming drug checkpoint was located shortly before a rest area exit ramp, the intended result being that drivers wishing to avoid the checkpoint would pull in. Peter did not stop, but observed officers in the rest area parking lot using dogs to sniff approaching vehicles.
As practiced previously, the fake checkpoint tactic often took place on open stretches of highway, provoking illegal u-turns into oncoming traffic and the disposal of contraband onto the roadside…By steering alarmed motorists into a canine-infested rest area, police could circumvent the need to trigger traffic violations as a pretext for drug searches.”
Lucky for us, we made the right decision, despite the fact that it went against all of my instincts. As I stated before in the story, I was planning on taking the next exit until I saw the swarm of cops waiting. Had we not had our stuff in the trunk, maybe we would have considered throwing it out of the window. Maybe we would have made a U-turn had we been in a different car. There are a number of things that could have went different, but thanks to luck, suspicion, and quick reactions, we were fortunate. Make sure to know what to do in the event that you see one of these fake drug checkpoints. Also, make sure to tell everyone that you know what to do in such a situation. These are not common on the West Coast, but it sounds like they are common in the Mid-West. If you have seen one of these fake drug checkpoints, please leave comments below so that others can find out about their presence in certain areas.
These fake drug checkpoints are unsafe, and unproductive. Since the freeway speed limit is 75 on the stretch of I-80 that we were driving on, most people were driving a little bit over at around 80 miles per hour (even the semi trucks). It is not safe for a triple trailer to try to slow down from 80 miles an hour to a complete stop, which is what’s suggested by the fake road signs. How many cars slow down or lock up their brakes when they see these signs? I-80 is a major freeway, and causing chaos between it’s lanes is insane.
What example does that set for society? Cops can blatantly lie in order to get around the fact that their actions were found to be unconstitutional? Is that the message we should be sending children? ‘OK Sally, we are going to have to pull over up here and talk to some cops and doggies, don’t be scared…’ Two miles down the road, ‘OK Sally, sometimes cops have to tell lies in order to do their jobs. You don’t lie yourself, but just be OK with the fact that cops do.’
Does it seem crazy to anyone else that the cops are encouraging people to litter and throw drugs onto the side of the freeway? Last time I checked, inmates are the ones cleaning the sides of that freeway. I wonder how many of those inmates have found hardcore drugs on the side of the road and took them back to prison with them? Or for that matter, how many people have stopped on the side of the road to check a tire or get something out of the trunk and stumbled across some meth? I understand that cops are trying to get drugs off the street, but fake drug checkpoints literally does the opposite of that.
What if people were legitimately taking that particular exit? As I stated before it’s a desolate area, however, the exit was made for a reason. Someone lives near there. What if they were running to the store, which is a multi-hour trip from the area we were at, and when the residents came back there was a small army of cops and K-9s that had set up in the meantime? The cops are obviously out for blood, and I doubt they would believe the people when they explained that they were just heading home. I’m sure the cops would say something like, ‘Sure buddy, like we haven’t heard that before from the other people we have set up earlier today.’ It’s only after the legitimate exit users were put through a traumatic experience and nothing was found that they are then allowed to go about their lives.
How do TWB readers feel about a drug inspection checkpoint? Are you someone that likes smaller government, limited government intrusion, and using police resources in a safe, logical, constitutional way? I know I am. How many cops were taken away from their regular duties to sit along the side of the road and hope that something might happen? What if no one took the bait? That’s countless officers and K-9s that could have been out raiding meth labs, or catching chimos, or just about anything else that is worthwhile. I will never understand how it is constitutional to fake an unconstitutional act in order to achieve the same end result.
To me, this is like if someone put up a ‘whites only’ sign on their business door, but didn’t enforce it, and somehow that was found to be constitutional because the people weren’t actually discriminating, they were just pretending to do so. At the end of the day, people would be having their rights violated if they followed the instructions from the fake sign at the business, and the business owner would get the same result as if they actually enforced what the sign said. To me, it’s the same situation with the cops, and just as it’s ludicrous to think the business sign example is OK, it is also ludicrous to think that what the cops are doing with a fake drug inspection checkpoint is OK. Please, spread the word far and wide. Research this issue for yourself and add any information that you think I have missed. EVERYONE needs to know about this practice so that no one falls victim to the overzealous cops’ tactics. Below is the link to the Supreme Court case which determined that a fake drug inspection checkpoint is illegal (for all of my fellow legal nerds):