Mar 252012
 March 25, 2012

drug inspection checkpoint k-9Do You Know What To Do If You See A Sign On The Road That Says ‘Drug Inspection Checkpoint’?

Ninjasmoker and I are in the middle of one of the most epic road trips of all time. We departed from Eugene, Oregon on Wednesday, March 21 heading to Denver, Colorado. Why would we drive so far? For the 13th annual Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference of course! Oh wait, you mean why did we drive instead of fly…let’s just say that when I travel outside of Oregon, I always bring a little bit of Oregon with me. I wish I didn’t have to. If Colorado had a reciprocity agreement with Oregon, I would just fly with my mmj or purchase some mmj when I got to Denver.

However, these are not options for out of state medical marijuana cardholders that are visiting Colorado, so we had to go old school and just drive with it. The first leg of the drive was not that bad. We met up with some activists in the Reno, Nevada area which broke up the trip. It’s always fun to bring some Oregon treats to other areas that are not as fortunate as Oregon and see how people react. The look on people’s faces is priceless lol.

Everything on the trip was going well. I was driving east of Reno for the first time, and I was very excited to see Eastern Nevada and Utah. Things took a drastic turn for the worst on I-80 near Battle Mountain, Nevada. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the fine area outside of Battle Mountain, I wouldn’t be surprised. The area is very remote, there are not that many exits, and seeing anything that is alive in such a desolate desert is rare. Ninjasmoker and I had fought the urge to smoke a bowl the few hours we had been driving from Reno, but decided to sneak one in about twenty miles before Battle Mountain. After a handful of pulls off of the pipe (Rowdy Roddy Piper is it’s name), we backed off and were looking at the scenery.

As with most road trips, we saw several orange construction signs along the freeway. We saw so many of them at this point of the trip, I didn’t really look at them anymore. However, one particular orange road sign caught my eye because it was knocked over on the ground, and the text on the sign was different than my sub-conscience was used to I suppose. I was pretty sure that the sign read, ‘Drug Inspection Checkpoint K-9 1 Mile’…to which I reacted with the comment, ‘what the f#ck was that?’ while pointing like I had just seen a dead body.

Ninjasmoker asked me why I was so worked up all of a sudden. As I was explaining to him what I thought I saw, sure enough, there were more signs lining both sides of the road that indeed read ‘Drug Inspection Checkpoint K-9 1 Mile.’ Instantly Ninjasmoker started spraying Axe body spray like his life depended on it. I slowed down a little bit and rapidly thought in my head about what we should do. Ninjasmoker and I drive more than any other humans I have ever met. For instance, in the last two months we have driven from Oregon to Los Angeles three times, in addition to this Denver trip. Not one time, ever, have we seen or heard of a drug checkpoint. All of our mmj was in a heat sealed bag inside of a duffle bag, underneath a bunch of other bags in the trunk, but that provided little reassurance in this time of need.

We essentially had three choices as I saw it. 1) We could do an illegal, unsafe U-turn on the freeway and head back the other way. 2) We could take the next exit and turn around. 3) We could just face the music and keep driving straight. The unsafe U-turn did not seem desirable, as we were driving a small car and would probably get mangled when we went off-road. Having K-9’s walking around my car didn’t seem like a good idea either, so we decided to take the next exit…That was until we saw about 10 unmarked police trucks, 10 marked patrol cars, and 5 SUV’s. As much as I didn’t want to face the impending drug inspection point up the road, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I didn’t want to drive into that swarm of hate!

So, begrudgingly, I kept driving. I thought it was weird that there wasn’t a traffic jam as a result of bringing so many vehicles to a screeching halt on a 75 mile an hour freeway. We were going over some hills, so seeing into the distance was difficult. I expected the drug inspection point to be just over the horizon. We drove for what seemed to be a mile, discussing the legalities of such a search. Then we drove what seemed to be two miles…then three…After awhile I began to wonder what the scoop was with this K-9 roadside shakedown. ‘Did we just barely miss the checkpoint, and drive by when they were just getting ready to set up?’ I asked Ninjasmoker. We agreed that we would take the next exit into Battle Mountain, provided that there wasn’t a law enforcement convention going on like the last exit we were going to take.

After our heart rates were back to normal, we started to wrap our heads around what just happened. As with most scenarios when we need answers, we Googled ‘drug inspection checkpoint.’ What we found out was mind blowing, and VERY important for all marijuana consumers to know. Below is information provided by Flex Your Rights:

“There isn’t exactly such a thing as a drug checkpoint. In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, the Supreme Court found random drug checkpoints unconstitutional in 2000. Since then, police (particularly in the mid-west) have gotten into the habit of putting signs up warning drivers of upcoming drug checkpoints and then detaining and searching drivers who make illegal u-turns or desperately fling contraband from their vehicles. These checkpoint-like fake checkpoints serve as the functional equivalent of a checkpoint without violating the Court’s prohibition against checkpoints.

We’ve received several emails about this practice over the past couple years and we’ve mentioned it in our presentations, but perhaps this is something that deserves more attention. The prodigious Drug WarRant blogger Peter Guither encountered one of these non-checkpoints over the Thanksgiving weekend, and had some very interesting observations. Most notably, the sign warning of an upcoming drug checkpoint was located shortly before a rest area exit ramp, the intended result being that drivers wishing to avoid the checkpoint would pull in. Peter did not stop, but observed officers in the rest area parking lot using dogs to sniff approaching vehicles.

As practiced previously, the fake checkpoint tactic often took place on open stretches of highway, provoking illegal u-turns into oncoming traffic and the disposal of contraband onto the roadside…By steering alarmed motorists into a canine-infested rest area, police could circumvent the need to trigger traffic violations as a pretext for drug searches.”

Lucky for us, we made the right decision, despite the fact that it went against all of my instincts. As I stated before in the story, I was planning on taking the next exit until I saw the swarm of cops waiting. Had we not had our stuff in the trunk, maybe we would have considered throwing it out of the window. Maybe we would have made a U-turn had we been in a different car. There are a number of things that could have went different, but thanks to luck, suspicion, and quick reactions, we were fortunate. Make sure to know what to do in the event that you see one of these fake drug checkpoints. Also, make sure to tell everyone that you know what to do in such a situation. These are not common on the West Coast, but it sounds like they are common in the Mid-West. If you have seen one of these fake drug checkpoints, please leave comments below so that others can find out about their presence in certain areas.

These fake drug checkpoints are unsafe, and unproductive. Since the freeway speed limit is 75 on the stretch of I-80 that we were driving on, most people were driving a little bit over at around 80 miles per hour (even the semi trucks). It is not safe for a triple trailer to try to slow down from 80 miles an hour to a complete stop, which is what’s suggested by the fake road signs. How many cars slow down or lock up their brakes when they see these signs? I-80 is a major freeway, and causing chaos between it’s lanes is insane.

What example does that set for society? Cops can blatantly lie in order to get around the fact that their actions were found to be unconstitutional? Is that the message we should be sending children? ‘OK Sally, we are going to have to pull over up here and talk to some cops and doggies, don’t be scared…’ Two miles down the road, ‘OK Sally, sometimes cops have to tell lies in order to do their jobs. You don’t lie yourself, but just be OK with the fact that cops do.’

Does it seem crazy to anyone else that the cops are encouraging people to litter and throw drugs onto the side of the freeway? Last time I checked, inmates are the ones cleaning the sides of that freeway. I wonder how many of those inmates have found hardcore drugs on the side of the road and took them back to prison with them? Or for that matter, how many people have stopped on the side of the road to check a tire or get something out of the trunk and stumbled across some meth? I understand that cops are trying to get drugs off the street, but fake drug checkpoints literally does the opposite of that.

What if people were legitimately taking that particular exit? As I stated before it’s a desolate area, however, the exit was made for a reason. Someone lives near there. What if they were running to the store, which is a multi-hour trip from the area we were at, and when the residents came back there was a small army of cops and K-9s that had set up in the meantime? The cops are obviously out for blood, and I doubt they would believe the people when they explained that they were just heading home. I’m sure the cops would say something like, ‘Sure buddy, like we haven’t heard that before from the other people we have set up earlier today.’ It’s only after the legitimate exit users were put through a traumatic experience and nothing was found that they are then allowed to go about their lives.

How do TWB readers feel about this? Are you someone that likes smaller government, limited government intrusion, and using police resources in a safe, logical, constitutional way? I know I am. How many cops were taken away from their regular duties to sit along the side of the road and hope that something might happen? What if no one took the bait? That’s countless officers and K-9s that could have been out raiding meth labs, or catching chimos, or just about anything else that is worthwhile. I will never understand how it is constitutional to fake an unconstitutional act in order to achieve the same end result.

To me, this is like if someone put up a ‘whites only’ sign on their business door, but didn’t enforce it, and somehow that was found to be constitutional because the people weren’t actually discriminating, they were just pretending to do so. At the end of the day, people would be having their rights violated if they followed the instructions from the fake sign at the business, and the business owner would get the same result as if they actually enforced what the sign said. To me, it’s the same situation with the cops, and just as it’s ludicrous to think the business sign example is OK, it is also ludicrous to think that what the cops are doing with fake drug checkpoints is OK. Please, spread the word far and wide. Research this issue for yourself and add any information that you think I have missed. EVERYONE needs to know about this practice so that no one falls victim to the overzealous cops’ tactics. Below is the link to the Supreme Court case which determined that fake drug checkpoints are illegal (for all of my fellow legal nerds):

http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_1030

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About Johnny Green

Johnny Green is a marijuana activist from Oregon. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Public Policy. Follow Johnny Green on Facebook and Twitter. Also, feel free to email any concerns.
  • Nick

    What a bunch of mofos. Cops fuckin suck.

  • Alan Berry

    After driving over a million miles over 13 years as a long haul trucker, I can tell you about this practice. The police and state patrol and sheriff are hoping that when we see that “drug checkpoint ahead” sign, we citizens will decide to take the next exit to avoid it… because that is precisely where they are waiting to search you and your vehicle.

  • Raz Lemons

    While I deplore that tactics used by LE against us I have just as big a problem with you nonchalant attitude about toking & driving, Drinking nor Toking while driving is OK .

    • paul80033

      Oh, shut the fuck up. if you even smoke you know there is NO problem driving while high. The ONLY issue you might have is with being tired as a result of being high. Get the fuck off your high horse and smoke a bowl.

      • Slappy

        paul you should shut the fuck up…obviously youve never smoked anything decent or you wouldnt post this! Try not to kill anyone moron!

    • Eko Carpenter

      It is ok.

  • Nicoline Smits

    That’s you guys’ problem with all these friggin’ states. Seriously. Gay people can get married in some states, but not in others. It used to be you couldn’t drink from the same water fountain based on skin color. That took legislation at the federal level also.

    • Eko Carpenter

      It helps keep the .gov in check. It just has some side effects.

  • YehudaPa

    Just remember to say, ” I don’t consent to searches”. Ask permission to leave. Don’t answer any questions. Say Officer I’d like be on my way so if you are not detaining me I’d like to be dismissed. Thank you.

  • YehudaPa

    And be careful for G-d’s sake. Don’t be a fool. Wait until you are somewhere safe. Also vaporizers don’t smell and smoke up the car nearly as much if at all.

  • feminoz

    Kansas.. 1-70 east bound..RIGHT BEFORE Manhattan Kansas .. .TRAIL RIDGE ROAD.About 3 to 5 miles west of the fake truck stop… .Fake scare you off the road drug check point.. always on a weekend..Ive seen it MANY times.. always in the daylight.. fake signs .. drug canine in use. be prepared to stop.. ample opportunity to make turn a rounds on legal pavement..at least 3 of them. only ONE off ramp.. over the hill and down.. cant see them unless you DO take the ramp or after you pass the ramp. plenty of cops to watch who turns around and heads back west.. that is what they are waiting on. Never Ever is there a checkpoint that brings the 75 mile and hour hwy to a stop.

    • AngelaO

      Thanks for the heads up!

    • Stuck

      Was there 6 days ago. Took the Tallgrass exit off 70E (about 40 miles west of Topeka) after the drug search sign. I’m thinking the people who stopped me weren’t real cops. They made me dump $840 worth of edibles in the grass and let me go. Never saw a badge, never asked for my license or registration. They told me to dump the wrappers at a gas station, and then told me the back roads to avoid the search ahead.

      • Slappy

        I call bullshit!

  • Doober

    BEWARE TRAVELING ON I 10 EAST THROUGH TEXAS! There is a checkpoint near Sierra Blanca you can not avoid it , the interstate goes right through it, no where on turn, armed police, drug dogs, This is where Willie Nelsom, Snoop Dog and Fiona Apple all have been busted. Avoid this

    • Mitch

      What about I 10 east starting in East Texas and going to gulf shores Alabama? I hear there’s a popular checkpoint near El Paso but what about east Texas and alabama?

      • Hurricane

        Gulf Shores Alabama today, an electronic drug check point sign just
        before the bridge on 59 as you’re leaving the beach, claims K-9’s are
        being used. No checkpoint, no dogs, just jerks in police cars waiting
        for you to panic and screw up. Interestingly, the police actually
        advertised that there would be this drug checkpoint before they set it
        up. Can’t quite figure that one out.

    • Eko Carpenter

      I bet a couple IEDs would discourage such tyrrany.

    • AngelaO

      Thanks for letting us know!

    • gracierr12

      It’s true, this is the most insidious snare of all. I was stopped there coming from Cali and spent a hellish 36 hrs. among those people. They are smug and horrible and seemingly take a sordid pleasure in announcing loudly that a California recommendation is not legal there. Additionally, know that in Texas, if you have an edible that contains hash, they charge you with the aggregate amount of the entire edible regardless of the amount of hash actually in it. One year and $15,000.00 in legal fees later, I could “breathe easy” with only a misdemeanor on my record…..all because I forgot that I had a few first time patient freebies (under 1/2 oz.) stashed in my trunk (where you are supposed to put it when traveling in California).

  • Robert Alan Sronce

    Just passed through western Kansas two days ago and sure enough there were the checkpoint/K-9 signage. Seen them in Illinois for years and got the heads up about this practice the hard way by experiencing the trauma of an anticipated police action. Realized then and now it’s a form of entrapment. Earlier this year coming back from Colorado was stopped in Kansas for no other reason than (I was told) my license plate did not register on the officers computer. He took my papers and went back to his SUV and sat back there for about ten minutes..figured he was waiting for K -9 which never showed up. Cop didn’t see nothing, didn’t smell anything..he was powerless. Cop was pretty nice and let me go with a thank you. Lucky me. I realize Kansas and a lot of less progressive states still have draconian laws on the books and many see these laws as bread and butter for financial gain. Just don’t do it..it isn’t legal there and they’re going out of their way to enforce it. It’s just not worth it. I wish they had never passed that stupid law in Colorado..it’s done nothing but brought heat on the rest of us. Thanks for nothin.

  • Missy

    In the late 90’s I ran into an actual checkpoint going to WVa. Thank God I had an amount I could eat.

  • RoadNinja

    I ran into one of these fake drug checkpoints in Southern Illinois on Sunday 5-18-14 along Interstate 57

  • larry

    There’s always sobriety checkpoints. An easy manipulation to find other drugs on you.

  • Wolftato

    Yo came in through Kansas and ran into one of them. I’m a retired vet with PTSD and had three eights. I panicked and took the exit where they were waiting. They nailed me but had me dump my bud and let me go because I was a vet. After they let me go I continued driving to find out there was no checkpoint. Just keep driving stay calm do the speed limit and give them no reason to pull you over and you’ll be straight. Best of luck to all of you and smoke on.

  • Geo

    We just passed by the sign on I 70 and were very worried for half an hour. There was an accident and lots of cops pulled over a couple miles up the road, and we thought for sure that was it. But nope, we’ve passed through Topeka and still no drug check

  • Hurricane

    Gulf Shores Alabama today, an electronic drug check point sign just before the bridge on 59 as you’re leaving the beach, claims K-9’s are being used. No checkpoint, no dogs, just jerks in police cars waiting for you to panic and screw up. Interestingly, the police actually advertised that there would be this drug checkpoint before they set it up. Can’t quite figure that one out.

    • Hurricane

      This is a highway with businesses etc., not a high speed interstate, but it’s on a section that would make it really obvious you were trying to avoid the checkpoint.

      • Janeen

        I saw this on the news today. Did they actually stop people on the bridge or beyond to inspect their vehicles? It was all fake?

        • Hurricane

          Yep, stopped a bunch of people, made 12 arrests including one for an outstanding felony warrant and a gun violation. I’m assuming the other 10 were for drugs. Yes, all fake. They just wait to see who panics and throws stuff out or tries to turn around then bust them for littering or making an illegal U-turn and search their cars during that bust. I still think there are some probable cause issues with searching your car for making an illegal turn.

          • Hurricane

            Anyway, they can’t legally put up a drug checkpoint for no reason. Has to be an actual border patrol (like they have in Texas or California) checkpoint that’s real purpose is checking for illegal aliens. DON’T take drugs through one of those!!! So if you see a sign like the ones discussed here, just keep calm and keep driving. There won’t be a checkpoint ahead unless it’s a Border Patrol one and all Border Patrol checkpoints I’ve gone through are identified as such. And they have those well into the states. There’s a checkpoint on I-15 in CA, north of Mexico by…mmmmm…100 miles?

  • Karebear

    Me and my boyfriend took a road trip a couple weeks ago to colorado from Indiana and on the way back from Colorado on I-80 in York, Nebraska we seen the signs. We thought about taking the next exit but thankfully we didn’t and just said f*** it and kept driving. There was a lot of cops flicking people for speeding but no check point. Just don’t speed or take any exits.

  • Fisher

    Idaho uses these phony drug checkpoint tactics on I 84 coming into the state from Utah. They have cops hiding using binoculars to watch for people throwing out things or turning around

  • Fisher

    Do not pull in unless you pass a regulatory sign ( black lettering on a white background) the orange triangular signs are warning only and not enforceable. See the manuel on uniform traffic control devices.