If you choose to use cannabis (and why wouldn’t you?), there are a few ways to minimize the chances of your becoming one of the 700,000-plus people who will be arrested for it this year.
The best way of avoiding getting busted for pot, of course, is to change the damn marijuana laws already.
But short of that, it’s a matter of using your common sense and knowing your rights.
• Dude, you reek: The distinctive, tell-tale odor of both raw marijuana and burning cannabis are the reasons many people get arrested for pot each year. The smell alone is reason enough for law enforcement to do a “probable cause” search of your home or vehicle, so it is in your best interest to minimize that danky odor.
You can do this with blow tubes (a common method is stuffing dryer sheets into a toilet paper roll), incense, air spray, ionizers, and exhaust fans (if they don’t blow into public places like sidewalks).
Now, did I do all these things before I became a legal smoker? No, I didn’t; I chose to go without taking corrective measures about the smell. But I also got busted seven times over the years for marijuana possession.
These two things are not unrelated… So you might want to be a little more careful than I’ve been.
• Don’t leave smoking paraphernalia in plain view: Do not leave bongs, pipes, scales, rolling papers, or especially marijuana in the open, even if you’re at home.
Any of these things will be viewed as “probable cause” for a more extensive search by pot-hating law enforcement if they happen to spot them when they knock on your door for any reason.
And as cool as they are, weed-related posters and books can also arouse suspicion.
Yes, I know it sucks to have to worry about that. As I said, change the fucking laws and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.
• Don’t consent to a search. In the absence of a search warrant or of probable cause like the smell of marijuana or incriminating evidence in plain view, police must ask you to waive your Fourth Amendment rights and consent to a search of your home or car.
As a rule, officers do not ask for consent to search unless they don’t have probable cause – because if they did have probable cause, they wouldn’t need permission. Either way, you are in a better legal position if any search is done without your consent.
Many people are unaware that it’s perfectly OK to say “No” to such a law enforcement request. If you do not consent, police will have to respect your privacy in the absence of a warrant or probable cause. Things will not “go easier” on you if you consent, no matter what the officer tells you; they will, on the other hand, go much easier for the police.
If you refuse to consent to a search – in general, your line should be “I do not consent to the search” – but the officer searches you anyway, a lawyer can easily get the marijuana suppressed from evidence.
• Smoke at home. Avoid smoking in public. And your car is “public”: You never know who’s cool with you smoking pot, and who might be calling the police with their cellphone.
Exercise basic courtesy, especially around older people or families with children.
Smoking in heavy traffic – like I used to do on the freeway in Los Angeles, coming home from work every day – is a decidedly bad idea.
You’re playing a numbers game, and eventually somebody who spots you toking will be willing or even eager to call the police.
• Don’t even look like a dealer: “Intent to sell” can get you a stiffer penalty, even if you’ve never sold a nickel bag in your life.
Having lots of baggies and scales on hand can be enough to get charged with “distribution.”
Law enforcement also seems to really hate for pot users to have any guns on hand. That can add 15 years to your sentence.
• Know your laws and be aware of your surroundings. Mandatory minimum sentences can double your punishment just because you happen to live or get arrested within, say, 1,000 feet of a public school or playground.
And let me repeat the thing about firearms: they can add 15 years to your sentence. That’s a long time in a cage.
If you are breaking the law, you should at least be very aware of the potential consequences.
• Don’t put incriminating items into your trash. As totalitarian and 1984-ish as it seems, various courts have unfortunately ruled that law enforcement officers may rummage through curbside trash bags without a warrant.
If they find a few seeds, stems, or roach papers, those can be used as a basis for getting a search warrant for your home.
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Editor’s note: The Busted DVD produced by Flex Your Rights (www.flexyourrights.org) is highly recommended, as is the Never Get Busted series (www.nevergetbusted.com) from former narcotics cop Barry Cooper.