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Originally published Friday, October 4, 2013 at 3:58 PM

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Guest: Beware when crossing state’s borders after marijuana legalization

It seems that my license plate and legalization of marijuana in Washington state got us pulled over in Idaho, writes guest columnist Matt Ironside.

Special to The Times

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WHILE government agencies in Washington, Colorado and in D.C. ponder the impact of legalizing marijuana, a patchwork of changes are likely already in motion in the bordering states where rules didn’t change. A recent trip to Idaho left me with little doubt of that.

On Aug. 24, my wife and I were on Interstate 86 just outside of Pocatello, when an Idaho State Police vehicle pulled us over. It had been following us for roughly two miles.

When I saw the cruiser’s rollers light up behind me, I ran through the mental checklist: Speeding? Not even close. Taillight out? I checked them the night before. The tabs were up to date, so I was puzzled as to what it could be about. I had hesitated a bit on the lane change I’d just made, but it was so slight — a brief moment of indecision that caused my tire to cross the lane line. As it turns out, that’s all a curious trooper needs.

The officer’s first question was if I were driving impaired. The remainder of the conversation had to do with one thing and one thing only: marijuana.

I was asked questions such as: Was I in possession of a Washington state medical-marijuana card? Was I aware of Washington state marijuana laws? I was even asked, “Have you ever used marijuana?” (Because what I did on weekends when I was 22 would have a great deal of impact on my driving decades later.)

At a glance, I don’t fit the stereotypical profile of someone who might be exporting pot.

I was not asked about alcohol, even though it is most likely still the main intoxicant of choice for impaired drivers. I was not asked about prescription meds, which — according to Teresa Baker, a public-information officer for the Idaho State Police — is the fastest-growing segment of impaired drivers.

It seems that my license plate and changes in Washington’s marijuana laws had us on the side of the road.

Our state’s changes are bound to have a ripple effect across the wide variety of law-enforcement bodies and jurisdictions where pot is still illegal. Each body has to decide a policy or leave it up to their officers.

Baker says Idaho’s state officers are aware of the many intoxicants they have to deal with, but stopped short of saying they put an emphasis on marijuana coming from Washington, even though the action of their officer during my stop suggested otherwise. Seizure of marijuana from Washington was trending slightly lower, according to Baker.

Still, Washingtonians on tour — whether they’re driving, flying or taking another mode of transportation — need to be aware of the possibility of profiling.

No one likes being profiled. Profiling, even when drawn from a purpose with good intent, generally betrays that goodness. It becomes a prejudice in action, the most basic discrimination.

The cost of that was low for someone like me. But there are people in our state for whom the burden of additional profiling might be greater.

It is what Washingtonians will have to risk when crossing out of their corner of the country, into Idaho, Oregon and Canada. It is part of the price we pay for being first to test the waters of a new idea.

Matt Ironside is senior producer for operations at The Seattle Times. Email: mironside@seattletimes.com


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