License plate profiling smells fishy

Allyn Harvey
Allyn Harvey

Have you heard of license plate profiling?

It’s one of the recent spins on the marijuana story that Colorado has ignited with legalization of the stuff. Word on the street, literally, is that state troopers in surrounding states have shown undue interest in cars with Colorado license plates ever since recreational marijuana became legal here, and that many people are being pulled over simply so the trooper can, literally, sniff around.

Here’s how license plate profiling works:

1. You dust off your maps, fill up the cooler, strap on your mountain bikes and pile into the Subaru and head off to Moab for a weekend in the desert.

2. Point westward down I-70 in Glenwood Springs and begin imagining the warm desert aura filling your spirit that evening.

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3. But once you cross into Utah, your daydreams are snuffed by the state trooper who is suddenly following you.

4. Under the speed limit? Check. Both hands on the wheel? Check. Driving straight and true? Check.

5. The tail goes on, and on, and on until the trooper finally comes up with a reason to pull you over.

6. Trooper: “License and registration, please.” Sniff, sniff.

7. You: “Is there a problem officer?”

8. Trooper: “You swerved back there, sir. And you were driving over the speed limit.” Sniff, sniff. “Are you tired? You look a little tired.”

9. You: “No, it’s 10 in the morning.”

10. Trooper: “I see you’ve got some chocolate chip cookies over there. Homemade, or Chips Ahoy!?” Sniff, sniff.

11. You: “Um, Toll House. Nestle’s.”

12. Trooper: Sniff, sniff. “I’ll be back in a minute. Please stay in your automobile.”

13. Trooper, returning to the car: “I’m going to have to ticket you for going 77 miles per hour in a 75 mph zone.” Sniff, sniff. “I hope this serves as a reminder to obey the law when you’re in Utah.”

14. You: “Thank you, officer.”

15. You: “What the ….?”

There have long been allegations that cops pull over drivers who happen to be minorities in greater numbers than they do white people, ostensibly for “Driving while black,” or “Driving while Mexican.” Well, the latest in demographic profiling is Driving while Coloradan.”

Westword, Denver’s weekly alternative newspaper, has blogged extensively on the topic, helping to bring attention to an issue that deserves some.

A former Aspen mayor told this columnist that he was ticketed for going 85 mph in an 80 mile per hour zone on the interstate south of Salt Lake City. It was late at night and the cop on the side of the road apparently had nothing better to do than hit the lights and pull over a Mini Cooper with Colorado plates going a few miles over the speed limit. Mick Ireland said it felt like he was being sized up as a potential pot smoker, even though he’s never been one.

A Colorado couple was pulled over in Alabama earlier this month in a clear case of license plate profiling. Three police cars and a drug sniffing dog were involved in the traffic stop of Sandra Lenga, 65, and her 71-year-old husband. The couple, who hail from Tabernash, were separated and questioned by deputies.

According to the story in Westword, a deputy asked Sandra if she had handled any drugs recently, because the dog was acting like it smelled something.

She replied: “Well, when I was in college back in the ’60s, I did handle some marijuana, but I haven’t since.”

The Lengas were let go after Alabama troopers decided they weren’t drug smugglers after all.

Similar stories have come in from Nevada, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri and Wyoming. A federal lawsuit has been filed in connection to an incident in Idaho, where a Colorado man was pulled over and detained for more than an hour at a highway rest stop.

State patrol in many states have denied they are pulling over more cars with Colorado plates. But if they’re following the example of our home grown state troopers, they’re probably training their troopers to better identify people under the influence of marijuana. So if you do partake, it’s probably better to leave the pot brownies, ganga and vaporizers at home when you get in your car — in and outside Colorado.

And, hey, dude, pass me those Chips Ahoy!

Allyn Harvey hasn’t handled marijuana or bitten down on Chips Ahoy! since the early 1990s. Nevertheless, he sets his cruise control under the speed limit in Utah and other “border states.”

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