When one thinks of crossing the border with illegal drugs (cue the Eagles “On the Border”), the mind envisions a desert crossing by Mexican drug mules at night. Maybe even as seen through night vision goggles, with grainy footage you might find on a CNN news report. Shadowy figures, scurrying across a fence-less wasteland, to disperse into the night with their loads of contraband strapped to their backs. Or maybe it’s speed boats, under the cover of a moonless night, racing to the Florida shores, like the Pirates of old, seeking to unload their cargo of ill-gotten booty.
But since the legalization of marijuana, these scenes are being played out far from the waters of south Florida and the wide-open deserts of the southwest. They are taking place instead on the vast prairies of states like Kansas and Nebraska.
Colorado has become a tourism hot spot with the legal sale of pot, and people are flocking there for a week long vacation of bong hits with no possibility of getting arrested. It’s become a Stoner’s paradise and a Godsend to area Taco Bells.
And much like a week at Disney World, no one wants to go home empty handed. They want to bring home souvenirs for friends and family… and maybe a bit of that amazing Sour Diesel they picked up in Denver for themselves, as well. They might even grab up a few edibles, with the packaging in place, like they came straight from the gift shop on Pot Mountain. What harm could it be? It’s just a little weed, or some rice crispy treats. After a week in this pot paradise, it’s easy to forget, that shit is still illegal in most states. Especially the ones bordering Colorado.
States like Kansas may be boring, and behind the times culturally speaking, but the Police there know an easy bust when they see one. And carloads of Hippies, leaving Colorado at midnight, are like pouring blood in shark infested waters to the police. There’s gonna be a feeding frenzy.
That may sound like profiling, but Police are pretty adept at using the smallest excuse to pull someone over if they wish. It might be for something as simple as a quick lane change without signaling, or maybe it was a bad idea to stop for munchies at that truck stop, where you walked past a cop, who gives no outward sign he noticed the reek of reefer permeating the air as you passed. And let’s face it, after a week in Colorado, everything you own– clothes, luggage, your pet’s fur– probably reeks of weed smoke. That cop can simply get on the radio and notify a patrol car on the interstate to be on the lookout for an older model Chevy full of hippies, leaving a trail of smoke that ain’t a bad muffler.
Even worse still, is inviting disaster by, say, speeding. Suddenly, what would normally be a simple traffic citation stop, turns into a scene from Breaking Bad, with a dozen police officers suddenly appearing out of nowhere and surrounding the car, with guns drawn and yelling classic lines like, “Keep your hands where I can see them!” That’s great to watch on TV, but it’s never fun in real life, and will most certainly harsh your chill, big time.
Now why would the police get their shorts in a bunch over a little weed and some pot brownies? Because you just crossed the border with illegal drugs, and that is a felony. It’s even worse if you have a number of individually wrapped packages. An over zealous D.A. may decide to hit you with a distribution charge. Once you hit the level of felony, the police can seize your vehicle and your belongings as being involved in the commission of a serious crime or crimes. (See my previous blog on Seizure and Forfeiture Law.) If you happen to have any weapons in the car, as they say in New Jersey, “Fugetaboutit”.
And “Middle of Nowhere, KS” is not a place you want to walk home from.
Of course, you’re not going home. You’re going to be whisked off for a stay at the brand new county facility they just built to accommodate the expected rise in prison tourism, following the big Colorado Pot Festival concert series announcement.
Once inside this brand spanking new criminal Hilton hotel, you’re going to find, much like the Hotel California of song, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Well, you can, assuming you can afford bail. Yet, even if you are released, you still have to go to court, so now you’re racking up some major air fare bills, or learning to become a marathon long distance driver. Unfortunately, they took your car, so that might be problematic, at best.
You will get a public defender of dubious legal skills, who also doubles as a social worker Tuesdays and Thursdays, or you have the joy of sorting through the phone listings, desperately searching for any attorney with the first name, “Saul”. I mean, that guy can get me out of this, right?
They will immediately push for a plea bargain deal, like they have a menu already prepared for just such an occasion. If you don’t have an attorney you retained, chances are the PD (who also happens to belong to same bowling league as the arresting officer), is gonna push you to ‘just take the deal’. And as clean and shiny as the new concrete and metal accommodations are at the Felony Arms, you’ll probably agree to anything to be released.
If you’re lucky, they will have an agreement with the state in which you reside, to transfer whatever your penalties might be– Fines, probation, etc– which can then be served/paid through an administrator who is local for you.
Once back home, failure to follow through on the agreement is most likely going to result in a loss of any “breaks” they gave you as a condition of the plea agreement, as well as new charges being filed, and jail time.
If you violated your bail agreement by not appearing at all for your court date, you’re likely to get a visit from their version of Dog the Bounty Hunter. And either way, you’re going back to Kansas, Dorothy. Toto can stay home, though, so there’s that.
The reason I share this with you is because it actually happened to a friend of a friend, who is even now enjoying a plane ride with Marshals back to golden plains of the Midwest, and this time, there will be no bail.
This time, they’re looking at a pretty hefty legal fee for any attorney, whether named “Saul” or “Fred”, because I am sorry to say, beyond a referral to an attorney in the state the arrest occurred in, I do not practice law outside of Pennsylvania. Even if I really want to help, and have represented you in the past, there is very little I can do.
So if you do decide to take a vacation getting Mile High high, remember this tale, and if you really want to give some pot to your friends, don’t bring any back with you. Just buy a bag of illegal weed here, because it’s gonna be a helluva lot easier for me to defend you here, than a border crossing bust on the other side of the Yellow Brick Road.