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Colorado plates: a target in other states?

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials in states bordering Colorado have expressed concerns about medical and recreational marijuana entering their state. The attorney general in both Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year to force the end of legalized marijuana. The Court declined to hear the case in March, but some believe these concerned states are pressing the issue by aggressively stopping Colorado drivers for the purpose of catching the pot traffickers Law enforcement officials say there is little evidence officers are profiling Colorado plates.A 2015 study ìThe Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impactî by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area showed that interdictions, or traffic stops with the seizure of marijuana or other contraband, went up almost 600 percent between 2009 and 2014. Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project said the question is whether the jump is related to increased traffic stops on Colorado drivers in general, or is there much more marijuana on the roads.ìLaw enforcement will say ‘look at how many more people are being stopped for marijuana related DUIs and possession,íî Lindsey said. ìThe implication being that more people are driving impaired and this is an impending crisis. My organization and many others say it’s because law enforcement is paying more attention to something that is going on already.îLaw enforcement officials in the Rocky Mountain region say the theory that drivers from Colorado are more likely to be pulled over is not supported by statistics. ìPeople think they are being profiled, but there is no data to back it up,î said Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. ìI get a lot of the bulletins when highway patrol departments find Colorado marijuana. Rather than Colorado residents being stopped, it’s people who are coming in from their own states or even farther away and getting their marijuana and taking it back out. It’s not like Colorado people are using their cars to drive it out.îSince statistics on total traffic stops by state license plate are not recorded, it is difficult to say whether Colorado cars are more likely to be pulled over now that the state passed Amendment 64. ìIt would be hard to quantify,î Lindsey said. A criminal defense attorney before working for the marijuana project as a legislative analyst, Lindsey added, ìI know the criteria law enforcement officers use, but they don’t tend to talk about it because then it makes it easier for people to avoid things on the list.îProving license plate or tourism profiling would be difficult, since it would be based on anecdotal evidence or time-consuming research into local court cases related to traffic stops, Lindsey said. Some level of profiling is legal. If intercepting Colorado marijuana is an area of focus for a department, there will be more traffic stops on cars likely to hold marijuana.ìA prudent law enforcement officer may say to themselves they developed a criteria that someone with a ìdeadhead stickerî and a Colorado plate are more likely to have marijuana; then, they may pay more attention and heighten scrutiny,î Lindsey said. ìLaw enforcement is entitled to make the call where they put their resources.îìI’ve looked at it too, and wondered if this was happening,î Gorman said. He said his ìnon-scientific reviewî suggests Colorado residents are not using their own cars to drive marijuana to other states anyway. ìIt’s probably a majority of out-of-state plates of people coming here and bringing it back out, and probably 15 to 20 percent rental cars,î Gorman said. Colorado residents are, in general, trying to illegally use parcel carriers like UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service to ship marijuana out of state, rather than drive it out, he said.The best advice to avoid being stopped for a traffic violation in other states is to not violate traffic laws, Gorman said. ìIf you’re speeding, you’ll get a speeding ticket,î Gorman said. ìBut if you obey the traffic law, you have nothing to worry about.î

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