You may have caught the news that on my way to the 4/20 Cannabis Cup in Denver I was arrested in Utah for marijuana and paraphernalia possession. You may rightfully ask, “why in the name of Jack Herer would a guy who contributes to HIGH TIMES and who hosts a daily radio program all about the prohibition of marijuana be taking weed TO the Cannabis Cup… especially through Utah?!?”
Well, I wouldn’t. When I travel this great country by air, rail, or car, I ride dry if I’m leaving the West Coast (I’m an Oregon medical marijuana caregiver, a California patient, and an adult in Washington). It’s not as if my status as a daily pot smoker is some secret. And what over-zealous weed-hating cop wouldn’t want to bust a high-profile legalizer? Besides, wherever I go, green state or red state, somebody’s got some herb (not always Oregon-quality, but when in Missouri, you make do.)
So, how did “Radical” Russ end up with a free ride in a cop car? A series of cascading fails that began with my approval of the idea of a road trip to Denver from Portland for the Cannabis Cup. Normally, I fly or take the train to my destinations; I haven’t owned a vehicle since 2011. But for this special 4/20 Cup I wanted to reward two of my volunteers, Brian the Red and Leftwing Larry, by bringing them along. The flight from Portland to Denver is cheap, but not so cheap I could cover three tickets.
Leftwing Larry suggested that we take his car, a late model Cadillac, load up the three of us, and road trip to Denver for the Cup. The cost of gas there and back would be about what three airline fares would cost. Having the car available while in Denver would be convenient. In the car, we’d be able to haul more gear for our booth. On the way through Idaho, we could spend the night in Boise, giving me a rare chance to visit my family. On the way through Utah into Colorado, Larry would get to visit his son in Edwards and meet his granddaughter for the first time. Driving to Denver sounded like a great idea.
Had I given it more thought, I would’ve seen the flaws in the plan. Leftwing Larry is my roommate and the medical marijuana patient Oregon for whom I’m a caregiver. He’s a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran and a retired pipefitter. He’s just moved to Oregon from Florida and drove himself cross-country, so I was confident that he and I could easily split the driving duties. What I failed to take into account is that he drives like a little old man from Florida.
The second major flaw in the road trip plan was bringing Brian the Red. He’s been my volunteer assistant for a couple of years now. He’s the registered grower for Larry, so all three of us have medical marijuana program cards that protect our marijuana possession from prosecution in Oregon. Brian doesn’t drive, but that wasn’t an issue with Larry and me splitting the drive time. The issue is that Brian is a Rastafarian with four-foot-long redhead dreads who treats various conditions with cannabis. Larry and I can make do without weed, but Brian suffers tremendous pain and indigestion if he’s not medicated.
Leaving Oregon, Larry and I are not holding, period. Brian takes no flower, but does have with him a jar of cannabis salve, a small medicine bottle of cannabis tincture, some medicated muffins, some activated cannabis capsules, and a loaded vapor pen. So, yes, dear reader, I embarked on a road trip across red states with a dreadlocked Rasta holding five forms of marijuana, the first of my series of cascading fails.
Larry has the first driving shift and right from the beginning there was the foreshadowing of what was to come. Leaving our Portland home, Larry misses the exit to catch the I-84 freeway eastbound. We continue down an alternate route. In finding the freeway, Larry hesitates at intersections, pausing to figure out what the Garmin navigator was telling him, drawing a honk or two from other drivers in traffic. Oregon’s freeway speed limit is 65 MPH and Larry takes his own sweet time coasting up to barely that speed.
We’re on the freeway for about two hours when we happened to creep up on the extended orange Chevy Suburban limousine for Magical Butter, one of our show sponsors out of Seattle. I text Magical Butter’s West Coast Manager, Jeremy, who I know will be in that limo. We agree to convoy to the next truck stop just outside Pendleton, Oregon. As we’re all hanging out in the parking lot with their bright orange limo and their new massive food truck, both vinyled and painted up with obvious marijuana flair, I joke to Jeremy, “Man, we ought to follow you guys all the way to Denver -- you’ll run point for all the cops!”
Oh, the irony. It turned out that would have been a great idea; Jeremy and the crew made it all the way to Denver without incident. But next up were the Blue Mountains and our Cadillac is faster at climbing than those two big rigs. Besides, we had planned to stay the night in Boise while Magical Butter was driving non-stop to Denver. Plus, it was my turn to drive, and I’ve driven the I-84 eastbound to Boise so many times I can make really good drive time in the mountains.
I get us across Oregon and 35 miles across into Idaho to my birthplace of Nampa. We visit my folks, and then make our way another 22 miles east to Boise where we stay with some friends of mine. The next day I elect to take the first driving shift since I know Idaho and how to get around. I had been a stoner driving around Idaho for over a decade and had never once been stopped and an Oregon license plate in Boise isn’t out-of-place. We were crossing Idaho on I-84 without a hitch… until just a few miles before the Utah border.
It’s approaching 10am. We’re on the stretch of I-84 in southeastern Idaho as it bends south toward Salt Lake. Larry is telling me he needs to take a pee break, but we’re in the middle of nowhere. I tell him I’ll find the next rest stop for him. I’m driving through some curves when I see a sign that reads “DRUG CHECKPOINT AHEAD.” Around the next bend, another sign, “DRUG DETECTING DOG IN USE.” Then a third sign, “COUNTY SHERIFFS AHEAD.”
Now, I know all about this trick. There is no “drug checkpoint”, those are unconstitutional. What there will be are officers watching the exit and the roadside after the signs to see who pulls over to dump contraband. “Larry,” I said, “you’re going to have to hold it until Utah. We’re not stopping.” In my ignorance, I assumed the “county sheriffs ahead” would be in the current Idaho County we were in, not considering that Idaho would cooperate with Utah by placing some signs for them. Consider that fail number two.
So we make it another twenty miles and cross the Utah border. “Snowville, 7 miles,” I tell Larry as I see the road sign, “we’ll gas up and pee there.” Just off the exit there is a truck stop. Now, I can’t recall if they were there when I first pulled up, and I’d like to think they weren’t or else I’d have driven on, but when I come out of the truck stop convenience store, there are three county cop cars and one unmarked car in the parking lot. None of the cops seem to be paying me any attention (I dress down for red states, no visible pot leaves, etc.), but a couple seem interested in Larry gassing up a car with Oregon plates and the others can’t help but stare at Brian and his dreadlocks as he’s coming out of the store.
Now we come to fail number three and even three days after the incident as I’m typing this, I am stunned at my massive stupidity. It was Larry’s turn to drive… and I let him. First he almost turns to go back northbound on I-84. Then, once on I-84, he begins his turtle crawl up to the speed limit of 65 MPH as we’re passing the County Sheriff K-9 SUV parked in the freeway median. Unfortunately, the speed limit there in Utah is 80 MPH. Three miles later, we’re getting pulled over by the K-9 cop.
Fail number four happens when I didn’t immediately start coaching Brian and Larry on what to do next. I was panicked myself and kept running through my head the script I’ve delivered at dozens of hempfests and in hundreds of shows: Why are you pulling us over? I don’t consent to any searches. I wish to speak to an attorney. Am I being detained or am I free to go? Maybe I figure since Brian and Larry have heard me deliver this script countless times, it might have stuck.
K-9 Officer Jensen approaches my window and motions me to roll it down. I do, but when it goes all the way down he says, “Roll it up just a bit.” I do, and he slaps on some box thing on the interior side of my window and another box against it on his side. I’m wondering if this is some sort of detector of weed smoke on a window, but it turns out to be for testing window tint shade. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” he asks.
We’re silent as he continues,“Your window tint shading is at 25% light coming through. Here in Utah, the law is 42, and I checked, in Oregon its 35, so you’re illegal back home, too.” I’m thinking, yeah, right, you spotted dark tinted windows going by at 65 MPH; it couldn’t have been the dreadlocked guy at the gas station your cop buddies called ahead for. Larry, meanwhile, explains how he had moved from Florida, where the tint was OK, beginning an unnecessary conversation with a person with a gun gathering evidence to arrest you.
“So where you headed,” asks Jensen.
“I’m going to Edwards, Colorado, to visit my son and see my baby granddaughter,” Larry offers, just so the cop can be absolutely sure this car with Oregon plates was Colorado bound on 4/20 weekend.
My stomach is turning knots as Larry continues to write every Stupid Prohibition Story segment I’ve ever done on the show about people who blab to cops. But call it my personal fail number five that I didn’t at this point take over tell Larry to shut up. Then Jensen turns his attention to me. “So what’s ‘710’ mean?”
Holy shit. I have my hat on and my “710” hat pin is right there in his face. Fail number six. “It’s a time code,” I blurt out before my training kicks in.
“A time code for what,” Jensen asks.
“Uh… look, I’m not real comfortable answering a whole bunch of questions right now without an attorney present,” I reply.
Officer Jensen takes Larry’s license and registration back to the car. While we’re sitting there, fail number seven happens as once again, I’m not coaching these guys on what to do. Part of me feels we were screwed the minute we pulled into Snowville and I began steeling myself for the eventual arrest that was going to happen.
Jensen comes back to Larry’s side this time and says, “All right, we’re going to just let you off with a warning about the window tint, Larry, get that fixed. But could you step out of the car for a second and come back and talk to me?” Now, I know that once they’ve run your ID, registration, and insurance and come back to the car, the encounter begun with the probable cause of a traffic or equipment violation is over. Right there at “…get that fixed” Officer Jensen had done everything to us he could legally do. Having out of state plates is legal. Driving 65 MPH in an 80 MPH is legal. Wearing a 710 hat pin is legal. Having a dreadlocked Rasta in your car is legal. I know that the proper response is, “wait, am I being officially detained now, or am I free to go?” because legally, that cop had no basis for detaining Larry.
The question “could you step out of the car…” begins the point in the encounter where he’s not a cop dealing with tinted windows, but merely an officer who asked, not ordered, an elderly man to have a chat. And as we’ve already learned, Larry’s more than happy to chat with cops. He gets out of the car and I sit there silently executing fail number seven by not telling Larry to stay put and taking control of the situation.
Larry’s back there for a while, sitting in the passenger side of Jensen’s SUV. Soon, there are two more county sheriff cars pulling up behind Jensen. He and a couple of the other sheriffs approach our car and Jensen tells us, “Larry has given us probable cause to search your car, so we need you to step out of the vehicle and walk about fifty feet down the road and stand over by that fence.” Later, I got to hear from Larry the part of their conversation in the SUV that turned into a search:
Jensen: You don’t have a bunch of drugs in your car, do you?
Larry: No! I cleaned out the car yesterday.
Jensen: So, if I ran my dog around your car, do you think he’d alert?
Larry: Well, yeah… I’m a patient.
I hope you just smacked your forehead as hard as I did when he related this to me. The phrase “I’m a patient” outside your medical marijuana state translates as “I am a habitual drug user. You may now search me and my stuff.”
Once the dog is out it alerts (of course) to the trunk. Cops are rummaging through the interior, including breaking the interior panels in the Cadillac. The trunk is open and the cops are pulling out bags. Jensen comes over to me to ask which bags are mine. I’m in full “answer no questions without an attorney reserve my right to remain silent” mode, but I fly frequently, so all my bags are marked with ID tags anyway. Brian goes ahead and tells him which are his bags, as does Larry.
Soon, the cops have found Brian’s things and they’re running it through the field tests. Another cop car is pulling up, the one that would wait for the tow truck while the other two cop cars haul us to jail. I’m trying to figure out how in the hell the three of us are going to bail out and get a car out of impound. Not just in time for the Cannabis Cup, but ever.
The cops began putting our bags back into the trunk and then approached Brian and me to cuff and arrest us. Both of us charged with possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia -- one for me, five for Brian, as the salve jar, tincture bottle, muffin baggie, capsule container, and vapor pen are each paraphernalia in Utah. I was not in possession of anything; I believe they’ve misidentified something from Brian’s bag as mine, but I was in STFU mode and figured I’d let my lawyer deal with it.
But we did manage to pull a little bit of luck. Larry was not under arrest and his car was not seized and impounded. The cops said he could follow them back to the county jail in Brigham City, though when they took off at 85 MPH, Larry couldn’t keep up with them and he had to eventually use GPS to find us.
A downside to getting busted just outside of Snowville is that you’re situated in the north end of Box Elder County, which happens to be the largest county in Utah, and Brigham City is on the south end. So Brian and I enjoyed a nice long trip with hands cuffed behind the back. It only gets really painful after about twenty minutes for me; for Brian having not been medicated for the day, it must have been worse.
Jail was jail; you’ve seen one cinder block room with steel doors and cement floors, you’ve seen them all. Brian was growing increasingly uncomfortable, but stayed strong. After sitting in holding for about an hour, the jail staff begins booking us. Between fingerprinting, mug shots, and paperwork we got to hang out for another four hours, during which I finally got to see that Jason Statham “Death Race” movie on the jail TV (nice touch -- a movie about a man driving a car who was unjustly convicted and is trying to escape prison.)
The jailer finally explained how I could use the phone over there to make collect calls to try to get bail. “There’s a sheet of bondmen’s numbers on the wall, but since you’re so far out of state, they might not take you.” I went to the phone to call someone for help and then realized that I haven’t memorized a phone number since the 20th Century.
“Could I just use my own debit card to pay bail?” I asked. Sure, the jailer told me as he looked up what the numbers were. “Let’s see,” he said, “you’ve got one possession and one paraphernalia, so that’s eleven sixty-six…” and my heart sunk as I recognized that wasn’t eleven dollars and sixty-six cents he meant. But I was pretty sure I had about twelve hundred in the account. He tried running the card, but it was declined. I find out later I actually had $1,169 in the account, but with the six percent “surcharge” the county charges for bailing yourself out with a card, I didn’t have enough.
“Look,” I tell the jailer, “I can round up enough money to bail me and Brian out right now, but without my Android phone, I don’t remember anyone’s number. Is there any way I can get a hold of my phone?” No, as it turns out, they didn’t have it. I had left it in Larry’s car. “Can I get a note out to Larry?” I asked. The jailer let me write my phone password and a note to Larry on whose numbers in my phone to start calling to help raise bail.
This is the point at which my nine cascading fails should still have me securely locked up in the Box Elder County Jail. After ten years in marijuana activism, I have been fortunate to become friends with both very powerful lawyers and rich people who want legalization who support what I do. After Larry made one call, my friend in Denver was able to get me bailed out. Once I was out and had the phone, I made another call and got the $3,572 needed to bail Brian out. Thus, getting arrested in Utah with a Rasta holding small amounts of non-flower marijuana only cost me 8.5 hours of freedom and almost $5,000 of debt (and I’m thanking our luck Utah’s not one of the states where the residue in the vapor pen would have been considered a felony; Utah treats concentrates the same as flower.)
So, lessons learned; no need to tell me in the comments what an idiot I was because I’m telling myself that in far more explicit and profane detail than you can possibly muster. I just hope this long tale may help someone else not go through what we went through. Learn how to deal with cop stops properly by visiting FlexYourRights.org and be prepared to take control of the situation; I know this stuff more than most people and I was too intimidated and panicked to get it 100% right.