Despite Legalization, Las Vegas Marijuana Laws Still Full of Legal Loopholes – C. Imani Williams
With over forty million visitors annually, Las Vegas is where the world comes to play. For many, playtime includes cannabis consumption. There are dispensaries throughout the city offering a wide variety of strains, products, and prices. If you don’t feel like driving, there are even cannabis delivery services that can be summoned by simply texting.
Nevada legalized private recreational marijuana use in 2018, however, many still get caught up in the legal system because they find the laws confusing, and police are actively employing deceptive tactics to justify stops, citations, and arrests. Where and how you consume or possess could be the difference between having a good time, receiving a criminal charge, or thousands in fines and other legal costs that can ruin your visit or even your life.
No states allow marijuana consumption inside vehicles unless you’re parked with the key out of the ignition. Megan McDaniel, a 23-year old cannabis rights activist learned about these nuances the hard way.
Last year, a goodwill and welcome home gesture to a sister-friend went totally left after McDaniel picked up her friend from the airport. Before she left for the airport she’d placed a rolled joint into the ashtray, as a welcome home gift for her buddy who has anxiety when flying. On the way home, she was pulled over by a Las Vegas PD motorcycle officer.
Even though she did not consume, according to the police the smell of cannabis in her car was enough for her to be arrested, her vehicle to be impounded, and for her to be issued a host of fees, in addition to multiple court dates.
McDaniel is a self-described “stoner hippie”, but still feels strongly that her stop and detention was unjust. She felt her stop was a result of profiling by the officer, combined with lax laws that allow officers to use the excuse of smelling marijuana to justify stops. McDaniel is a petite woman who can still pass for a teenager. She felt that her colorful hair and natural hippie vibe – not to mention her California license plate – were contributing factors to her stop and arrest. “The cop originally said I was being stopped for going six miles over the speed limit, but since he smelled marijuana, he asked me to get out of the car,” she shared.
McDaniel was then asked to conduct multiple field sobriety tests. “I walked the line, did the finger to the eye test, was asked to stand on one leg and count. When I finished, he handcuffed me and told me to take a seat on the curb. He said I failed the test and threatened to search my car if I didn’t submit to a blood test. I’m a stoner, I didn’t know what he would find”, McDaniel said. So she took the test.
However, it takes a minimum of 30 days for a heavy cannabis consumer to clear their system. McDaniel didn’t stand a chance of passing the test, whether she was tested that day, or later in the week. She was in a no-win situation.
McDaniel refuted the charge that she was driving under the influence, and felt she was wrongly stopped, arrested and ticketed. She claimed she wasn’t speeding and felt the officer only used marijuana smell as a precursor to arrest her because it is such a difficult charge to refute, and an easy way to justify searching her car.
This wouldn’t be the first time police officers have used the “I smell marijuana” excuse to justify conducting what would otherwise be an illegal search. Some judges across the country are wising up to the tactic. In July of last year, a judge in the state of New York called on judges across the state and country to stop letting police officers get away with the lie.
In a scathing opinion, Judge April Newbauer said, “The time has come to reject the canard of marijuana emanating from nearly every vehicle subject to a traffic stop.” According to the New York Times, at least five other judges concluded that officers likely lied about smelling marijuana to justify searches. No nationwide studies have been conducted to know how widespread the practice is, but activists have long suspected that the problem is systemic and widespread.
McDaniel openly shares her story because she hopes others will be educated about the tactics police use to entrap young unsuspecting marijuana users and the severe long term consequences at stake. She is facing over $7,000 in legal fees to both clear her name, and to be able to drive again. Her driver’s license suspension has also affected her ability to work, as it is required by her employer. She’s started a Go Fund Me Account and others who agree with her plight are sending what they can to help.
Her message to those who consume marijuana is to employ discretion and understand how easy it is to catch charges if the scent of weed is in your vehicle. While you don’t have to consent to a car search, the alternative can still be costly if you test positive.