Hash-Tagging in the American Midwest

By: Emma Livingston, Staff Writer

Back in 2012 when I voted, alongside a solid majority of my fellow citizens, to legalize recreational marijuana in my home state of Colorado, I figured the positives outweighed the negatives.  Legalizing weed would reduce the number of people being held in Colorado jails and prisons for petty drug offenses, Colorado government could benefit from tax revenues collected from the legal sale of pot, and Colorado businesses would benefit from all the tourists flocking to the state to enjoy the special high you can only get (legally) in Colorado.

I could not predict the personal consequences my state’s newly lax pot laws would have on me as a Colorado citizen with Colorado license plates.  These consequences became clear this winter break when on a road trip around the Midwestern states of Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, I became aware of a new type of profiling perpetrated by police in America’s heartland: ‘Pot State Profiling’.

I was pulled over by police officers THREE TIMES during my week-long trip through the Midwest. Twice because I had a busted headlight (mea culpa, I should have gotten that fixed after the first time they pulled me over), and once because I didn’t merge into the left lane when there was an emergency vehicle (aka, an Iowa state trooper) on the shoulder of the road.

But it wasn’t just being pulled over that made me feel like I was being profiled (I was in the wrong all three times after all). It was the way the officers grilled me during each and every traffic stop, as though they were already convinced I’d done something wrong.

I’ve been stopped by police before (four times, in fact, my entire driving career before embarking on this epic winter journey). The conversation usually goes something like this: Cop: Do you know the speed limit here? Me: Isn’t it 35? Cop: Do you know you were going 45? Me: Really? Oh, no! I didn’t realize I was going that fast… Cop: I’m going to give you a warning. Just go slower next time, okay? Me: Thank you, officer.

THIS time, however, the cops were not so accommodating. They wanted to know where I was going, who I was visiting, why I was driving around these here parts. They asked me if I had drugs in the car, if I had alcohol, if I’d been drinking.  They shined their flashlights around the backseat of my car and asked if my tea canister contained alcohol. They asked me the names of the friends I was visiting and repeated the names suspiciously when I told them. I gave them my registration and they told me they couldn’t find my car in their system. They asked me where I’d purchased the car and when. They asked how much luggage I’d brought with me. Was it all in the trunk? At one point in Michigan City, Indiana (a city I recommend you avoid, if you can) I had three cop cars lined up behind me, emergency lights flashing while the officers huddled together to discuss what was to be done with me.

This is total speculation on my part, but I think that these traffic stops were not a coincidence. I believe that these officers were profiling me because of my Colorado plates and trying to find evidence that I was smuggling vast quantities of THC to the good citizens of their Midwestern states.

There is a key lesson we can take away from my road trip experience: Having a Colorado license plate is akin to having a giant green pot plant flag flying out your car window. You’re just asking for trouble.


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