Do police in Colorado check for marijuana at DUI checkpoints?

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Do-police-in-Colorado-check-for-marijuana-at-DUI-checkpointsThis is an easy answer: The police absolutely check for marijuana at DUI checkpoints.

Even though Colorado now has laws that allow for recreational use of marijuana, there are other laws that say how much a person can have, how it should be transported, and even where it can be consumed. Tripping up on any of those rules can give a police officer just the excuse he or she needs to detain a driver and conduct searches that otherwise would not happen.

Marijuana Basics

Since the amendment to Colorado’s constitution that allows consumption of marijuana for adults 21 years and older was passed, there has been a flurry of activity by legislators on how to deal with this. What was once a crime is now legal, and with that comes regulations and rules on how marijuana should be handled, sold, kept, and consumed. Though you probably already know much of this, here are some bullet points:

  • Colorado adults, 21 years of age and older, are allowed to purchase and possess one ounce of marijuana for personal use.
  • Non-residents of Colorado can purchase up to 1/4 ounce at a time.
  • Only licensed businesses are allowed to sell marijuana.
  • Public consumption of marijuana is illegal, under the rules it must be consumed in private.
  • Drivers can have marijuana in their car, but it cannot be in an open container (much like the alcohol rules).
  • Of course, driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal.

These are just a few of the basics, but you can see that new rule and regulations can be confusing, providing law enforcement with an opportunity to pounce on rule breakers. But, since the laws are so new, it gives people the opportunity to fight back if charged with breaking them. For example, it is not quite clear yet what it means open container means. Can marijuana be in a sealed bag? A prescription bottle? It will take time for all of the questions to be sorted out. What is clear at this point is that the police will be on look out at DUI checkpoints, and elsewhere, for violations.

Colorado DUI Checkpoints

Particularly around the holidays, Colorado law enforcement is known to use DUI checkpoints to trap drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The scene is a familiar one to drivers: there is a checkpoint on the road, the police ask a driver to pull over, and then the police officer proceeds to ‘investigate’ the situation by asking for proof of insurance, registration, and by smelling and looking around. All of this happens without a driver ever breaking a law.

While their legality under the state and national constitutions have been doubted, the Colorado Supreme Court stated that DUI checkpoints are permissible under both in the case of Orr v. People, 803 P.2d 509 (Colo. 1990). Government officials call these checkpoints “sobriety checkpoints,” and the primary reason they are legal is because the Supreme Court feels they are a reasonable tool to further the State’s interest in preventing driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Be aware that because these checkpoints are legal, they give the police an opportunity to do several things during a stop. The police will question a driver about marijuana use, and all too often drivers slip up and admit to breaking a law. The police will also look around for signs of drug use like bloodshot watery eyes, open marijuana containers, and other evidence of recent drug use. The police will also smell, or have their dogs smell, to see if they can catch a driver in one way or another. As you can see, it is important to stay vigilant because the police are out there trying to catch people breaking the law any way they can.

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