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Federal Courts Say Plates from a Legal Cannabis State are Not Grounds for Search and Stop


In the years since medical marijuana legalization first began, police have been using the premise that they have the right to pull over drivers with out-of-state plates when those plates come from legal cannabis states as they could be traffickers. Sometimes they would wait for signs of suspicion or for the driver to go a couple miles over the speed limit or even change lanes too soon after signaling – but the eventual outcome was always a stop and search, often yielding little to no result.

Back in 2012, a driver from Colorado was stopped and searched simply on the grounds that Colorado is a “a drug source area,” and that the interstate he had been on (I-70) was “a known drug corridor”. Peter Vasquez felt he had no choice but to do as the state troopers said – but in the end, he decided he was going to take them to court over their unlawful search. Four years later, Judge Carlos Lucero of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has made his ruling in favor of Vasquez.

“It is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate,” Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in his majority decision.

The idea that Colorado is an epicenter for cannabis trafficking has only increased ever since they passed Amendment 64 in 2012 – in most cases it appears that they were targeting rental cars with Colorado plates. The good news is, this kind of excuse is no longer a good enough reason for police to put someone through a stop and search on the highway – which no one should have to go through just because of their residency or where they rented their car.

After all, the way the courts put it, with medical marijuana legal in 25 states and Washington D.C., following this guideline would put half of the country on a list of people to potentially pull over when out of state. However, even though this case clearly proves that some police were using this system to target drivers – and others have told of similar experiences – the Kansas Highway Patrol claims that this ruling will not affect the way they do their jobs.

“It’s not affecting what we do on the road, we’re not out there just stopping cars from Colorado,” Winters said. “If that was the case, we wouldn’t be getting anything done.”

The truth is, enough people have come forward with stories just like Peter Vasquez – he was just the only one who decided to take it to court. This ruling may not make much of a difference in the short term – but in the end, this is definitely a win for citizens who have been wrongfully stopped and searched merely for the origin of their car’s license plate.