What happens if I got pulled over by a cop…and I am a little high. Will I be arrested?
— Dazed Driver
This is an important question, and one that everyone who uses cannabis (and drives) should know the answer to. The laws are different depending on the state you’re in, so, to start, you should review your specific state’s particulars—not now, but right now. While details differ depending upon where you are, we can look at the general things you should know in both legal states and ones where cannabis is not yet legal.
The first thing to note is that it doesn’t matter if cannabis is legal in your state or not: DO NOT USE WEED AND DRIVE!! Aside from refraining from use when you’re going to be behind the wheel of a car, I would also avoid having cannabis accessories in your car, and limit the amount of cannabis you drive with.
The following suggestions work for folks who live in any state, regardless of marijuana’s legal status:
Remember that police need probable cause to ask you to do things like open your trunk, have you step out of the car, etc. This means the officer needs an actual reason to search you or the car (and no, speeding isn’t a reason). Do not give them one! For goodness sake, do not smoke in your car! Keep your stash sealed and out of sight. Use Visine and spray that odor neutralizer I know you keep on hand. What constitutes probable cause is different in every state, so make sure to find out what the laws are by you.
Keep your hands visible at all times. The ideal spot is on the steering wheel at 10 and 2.
Be cooperative. Answer the officer, be polite, but don’t feel the need to offer more than a short answer. Don’t offer up documents or reach for anything before asked. There’s no need to incriminate yourself!
Do not consent to a search without a warrant. If you’re asked to step out of your car, roll up the windows, take your keys, and lock the car so there is no confusion that you are allowing a search.
Ask the officer if they’re detaining you or if you’re free to go after they run your paperwork.
In states with legal cannabis, there are still things to keep in mind. If you are driving, you cannot have any cannabis on you. It should be in a sealed container inaccessible to you and your passengers (in the trunk or the glove compartment, for instance). And, make sure to know what the maximum amount is for legal possession in your state, as well as what amount changes the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony.
If you smoked before you drove and have no cannabis on you, it’s likely that you’ll be totally fine. Just don’t freak out. Seriously, the main thing to do is remain calm. Odds are you won’t even draw the suspicion of the officer, so tell that paranoia to chillax.
It should be noted that based on trends in our policing and judicial systems, all of this information can differ significantly if you are a person of color. As anyone not being willfully ignorant knows, simply “driving while black” has proven to be very real and potentially deadly.