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What Is A Drug Inspection Checkpoint And Are They Legal?

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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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  • I meant flying to Denver and returning in a rental car. Sorry!

  • We are planning a trip to Denver for some weed..plan to drive and take a rental car home. Is this a bad idea? Any hints on how to transport? Zip Locks, smelling spray which I just heard of. In the rental car? Or are we better flying back? Then of course how to carry it on the airplane – i seem to be reading carry on luggage – Zip Locked of course. May bring some editable too.

    Any help would be appreciated!

  • Steve-O Chicag-O

    We went to Denver for a week – Just got back to Illinois two days ago. We went up to Cheyenne up I-25 North and back and didn’t see a SINGLE police car the entire way there or back.

    On the way west through Iowa, we only saw two state police cars watching east bound and two or three watching the east bound traffic. They will camp out and radar spots where you go up a hill and can’t see them until the last moment, so if you do have something, definitely use cruise control and go only 2 or 3 miles over the limit and you will NOT be stopped. Through Nebraska going west we saw only a couple state police cars camping out for speeders. Heading into Colorado westward we only saw one single Colorado state police car at a rest stop. Leaving the state going eastward up to I-80 east through Nebraska, we did not see a single Colorado police car.

    I was paranoid as hell so we did not take anything with us. But to be honest, after seeing the totally normal police presence, I wish to God I would have brought back an ounce or two. If you set the cruise contro and drive carefully, you will NOT get caught. I got speeding tickets going both ways and the cops on both occasions just wanted to give me a speeding ticket. No questions at all about where we went, if we had anything, nothing.

    My end advice: Go ahead and bring back whatever you want and can afford. Seal it up and put it in your trunk. When you leave Colorado, set your cruise control for 2 or 3 miles over and do NOT speed for any reason whatsoever, even to pass slow bastards. Get home safe and enjoy that beautiful, delicious ass weed. I am so sorry I was paranoid and didn’t bring anything back.

    I’ll say it again: There was very little police presence on the highways. Try to look respectable, don’t get baked before you drive, stop as little as possible, mind your own business and DON’T speed and you will be FINE. :)

  • Fat Meech

    So if you do have some will they find it?

  • MadMex (Joe)

    If you do take some with you . This is a idea I’ve had many years ago . Invest in some gallon cans of paint just make sure it’s latex and it don’t have to be high dollar shit, buy the cheapest paint on sale. Then invest in some empty gallon cans with lids. Take one of the emptys put your stash in it. Don’t stuff it full maybe 1/16 to 1/4. Don’t forget to seal your stash tight with with water proof ziplock bags. Take the paint that you bought carefully pour it in the new can. Try not to spill it everywhere runing down the sides try to make it look like the paint hasn’t been open yet. Take lable off paint (carefully don’t rip it)and put it on your stash can and put the lid on tight . You want it to seem like it’s a average gallon of paint by weight if some one would pick it up or even open the lid it seems normal. Best of all dogs wont smell it. It seems like a lot to do but its not nothing really. It’s a hellavha lot better then going to jail .

    of a lot better

  • zalphy

    Good point. I’ve never encountered a “fake” checkpoint, but it’s important to know which states allow these “sobriety” checkpoints.

    http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/checkpoint_laws.html

    I was on my way back from Colorado and encountered a “sobriety checkpoint” in Union County, New Mexico. The west bound lanes of US87 were stopped at Raton, NM before reaching I-25 and the east bound lanes were stopped 38 miles away in Des Moines, NM.

    If you’ve ever been through this corner of New Mexico on your way back to Texas, then you know its desolate and phone service is spotty at best. Even though these checkpoints were ~40mi apart, there was virtually no way around with spotty gps and data signal. Don’t be fooled if the sobriety checkpoint is not on your side of the highway, iow… your side of the highway’s checkpoint could be coming up ahead.

    We noticed there were drug dogs present and the cops were searching people’s cars and belongings on the side of the highway at night when we passed by the checkpoint on the opposite side of the highway. We always use a popular “crowdsourced social navigation application” on our smartphones when travelling. Fortunately, a user had reported the checkpoint located further ahead and we were able to avoid it with quick thinking. Without four wheel drive and a full tank of gas, I don’t think we would have made it around unbothered. I hope these details will help others avoid such direct violations to our fourth amendment rights.

  • zalphy

    The permanent checkpoints in Texas are “Interior Border Control Checkpoints” and are present on all highways leaving the Mexican international border. If you are traveling east/west as long as you avoid El Paso, you should be fine. Most of these checkpoints are present on google maps from what I’ve seen.

  • Lou

    Any feed back on my situation… We are moving from Denver to Illinois.. Taking I-70 E, one of us is driving our vehicle with our 2 children, the other is driving the Uhaul.. I was going to take back at least a few O’s, some wax, & pieces… (Was thinking about getting a food sealer to seal the mj in, not sure about spending the $ for it though) & I wasn’t sure if we would run into anything along the way,, should we keep it in the trunk of our car.? Or the Uhaul.? Or will the Uhaul get pulled over automatically in this type of situation.? Any suggestions or anything would help..

  • Heidi

    Saw one on S 287 near Wichita Falls. In all my years of driving, I have never seen something like this. The sign read, Drug Checkpoint Ahead. As far as I know, there was not a K9 unit, but a trooper had someone pulled over.

  • Sway

    Just saw one in Kansas. Did not exit.

  • DoneThisBefore

    Just went through my second fake drug search in kansas. Fuck kansas.

  • hapless victim

    We made the mistake of taking the exit and running right into a trap. An officer on an exit to no where waiting for panicked drivers like us. We had very little and he made it clear were good if we don’t have a lot.

    Lost my glass and the bit I had. But drove away.

  • Briguy

    what about going from Cali to Arizona on the 10 E?? will be going on hallows eve need to know pleaseeee

  • SoyBoricuaPaQueTuLoSepas

    This is a terrible story I’m sorry to hear this

  • Jman

    I drive through a checkpoint on highway 281 in falfurias tx a lot since I live in fl and I go to Texas regularly and theirs no way out of south Texas without driving right through these checkpoints they use drug dogs and in my case they tell me to pull over everytime and take up atleast 2hours of my time because they say the drug dogs alerted that I had drugs in my vehicle in various occasions they have ran the X-ray truck around my vehicles and have taken their dogs into my travel trailer stating that they knew I had the trailer full of drugs and that they would be impounding my truck and trailer after they found my stash and have found nothing at the end of the search (once I went back in my travel trailer once I arrived to my destination I noticed their dog had pissed on my mattress and it was soaked )
    -What rights do I have at that checkpoint against them harassing me and stating that their dog alerted them I have drugs and have probable cause because of the dog when clearly the dog doesn’t care about my vehicles, they usually touch a car door or fender then the dog touches in the same spot right after them and they say that the dog smelled something in that area ?
    I can think of 5 specific times in 2 different vehicles that I have gotten harassed and searched and let go
    after 2 hours of “searching”

  • Kulie

    I travel this stretch four times a week and see the checkpoint with the orange sign at least once a month. Freaked me out the first time!

  • Von

    Actually, your 4th amendment rights do apply as a trucker. They would still have to proove probable cause and get a warrent, all they can do is a inspection of the rig and your paperwork, maybe weigh you. Search and seizure you are still protected under the constitution. I suggest discussing that situation with some legal council incase you come across that situation again.

  • Von

    I lived in Independence in my way younger days, it’s a rolling turd. LoL. You should visit the 907 sometime, your subjective fascination with rolling green hills, will litterially be rocked by the matnuska thunder f$&k. Plus that we have sensible laws regarding cannabis, have since 1979 and they got even better…. No need to worry about your 4th amendment rights being trampled on! ;-p

  • Radar

    Being a trucker I have seen these a lot, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Colorado to name a few.

    I carry nothing so have no concern, but my first one I saw I didn’t know. So thinking of a traffic back up And my full blatter, I hit the exit to pee. Big mistake for an 18 wheeler, 6 hours of interrogation and a full inspection, truckers do not have the same rights in a roadside inspection so they don’t need probable cause.

    I did actually end up pissing my paints, on purpose to prove a point and keep out of a police car. They are all fake, do not react, don’t slow and don’t exit!

  • ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ

    Actually that statement is objective. Kansas has green rolling hills.

  • Von

    Didn’t vote for Obama. Just because one supports ending this rediculous failure called the drug war does not mean they support dem’s. The truth is many of the dems are as retarded as most of the GOP when it comes to the drug war and the invasion of private choices that come with those laws.

  • Von

    That’s a matter of perspective, when your use to seeing mountains and glaciers!!! I love my state!!! Alaska rules!

  • Von

    That “stupid law” ???? I would say the stupid law/laws were passed many many years ago when some Prohibitionist felt they knew better than you on what you decide to put in your body. The stupid law that needs to be removed are the unconstitutional prohibition laws loosely applied via the commerce clause. If the founders of your country knew how our law makers were going to use the commerce clause, they would have been more specific about the clause. The commerce clause was put in the constitution to help pretect local markets from price fixing, to help controll monopolies from sucking the fortunes from the people. It was never intended to be used to prohibit a substance. Otherwise the constitution would have had a prohibit clause.

  • Von

    While, i do get what your saying about people transporting drugs are breaking the law, but I disagree that is okay. They have to have probable cause to search and or a search warrent. Pulling off at an exit should not be probable cause, as pulling off an exit is a legal traffic move. I also personally think that cops setting up a lie to hopefully catch a person with drugs is an example of poor integrity. Two wrongs does not make a right, comes to mind. If even just one innocent person was disrupted by this slimy technique, it then becomes a horrible violation of that persons constitutional right and everyone should be outraged by this. All for a substance that has no fatality rate!

  • NebraskansforLegalization

    Just saw those signs at the same spot and got off at the exit. There was no one there waiting. We proceeded down the highway since it went to the same destination and didn’t want to get back on immediately thinking they might be waiting there. We kept going and saw no one. We remembered we needed gas and eventually stopped to get gas and went to the bathroom. When I came back there was a state patrol on the other side of the pump on his walkie. I got in the passenger side and we pulled away. He didn’t follow us but I thought it was a little too coincidental that he was there. I wonder if they were watching with a drone or something and then radioed them down the road or something.