by Jamie Hale
The ol’ traffic stop drug busts have long been catching random dudes in old cars, either high or dumb or unlucky. But lately, there has been a new spat of criminals: medicinal marijuana patients (who also happen to be trafficking drugs).
According to Idaho State Police, this appears to be a fresh tactic of some regional traffickers. The idea is that when the police smell weed, you simply explain that you have a medicinal card and a liiitle bit of grass in the car. No big deal, right? Unfortunately, Idaho doesn’t work that way.
Case in point: On Friday evening, ISP troopers pulled over a 1996 Lexus with California license plates for a standard “traffic violation” on I-84 near Payette County. Troopers smelled marijuana and called in the K9 unit. A passenger in the car, 54-year-old Kevin L. Bennett, of Glendale, Ore., admitted to being a medicinal marijuana patient with an official card and a small amount of marijuana. That’s all fine and well, but this ain’t Oregon, Kevin, this is Idaho. When you admit to having weed in your car in Idaho you’re getting searched.
While the ISP is generally tight-lipped about their methods, Sgt. John Burke said this much is a given. “If they admit it, then we’ll take whatevet they admit they have and we’ll more than likely search the car,” he said. We’re not talking just a poke around with a flashlight, we’re talking the K9 unit and a full-out search.
Sure enough, upon inspection of the car troopers found that small amount of marijuana along with a large duffle bag containing about seven pounds of weed, worth about $17,500. Troopers arrested Bennett and the driver for felony drug trafficking. Apparently they were headed for Pocatello.
This story isn’t new. On Feb. 7 ISP pulled over a car with Oregon plates for an equipment violation. Like Friday’s case, the driver, 50-year-old Curtis Vandevooren told the trooper he had a medicinal card and some weed in the car. Troopers looked and found about five pounds of it. He too was arrested for felony trafficking.
In the last six months, ISP District 3 troopers (that’s the southwest side of the state) have been involved in 14 cases of felony marijuana trafficking. In each case at least one pound of weed was found, the biggest catch being the 69-pound bust from last month, which ALSO featured a driver admitting to a small amount of weed, leading troopers to search the car and find much more than that.
Although that little medicinal card might get you out of a jam in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada or Montana, it’s completely useless in Idaho. In fact, admitting to possessing marijuana just gives troopers probable cause to search the car, said Burke. With federal laws that are much less friendly than state marijuana laws, you really have no argument in this state.
Even people who are legitimately carrying a small, medicinal dosage will still get a misdemeanor summons to court, said Burke. Those kinds of busts, if you can even call them that, usually involve less than a pound or a few ounces of weed, and are the most common in the state. However, even a misdemeanor charge of possession of less than three ounces can carry a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. More than three ounces can land you in jail for up to five years with a fine of up $10,000.
Drug traffickers, take note: Idaho doesn’t want marijuana anywhere NEAR the state borders.
Burke said troopers have been upping their efforts to catch interstate drug traffickers, and it looks to be paying off. “It’s just good police work,” he said. “I know we have been making more of a concerted effort to be vigilant in looking for these individuals.” While the details of that police work are under wraps, he said it involves knowing what to look for and how to catch conflicting stories from drivers. But despite their recent major busts, Burke said there is still work to be done: “You figure if we get that many there are more out there.”
Contact Jamie at JHaleTBA@gmail.com.