Our holiday plans are taking many of us across state lines, and depending on what state you’re entering, it could feel like entering the belly of the beast. If your holiday travels take you through a prohibition state, it’s in your best interest to research state laws and decide how badly you need to carry marijuana on you. I recently discovered firsthand what happens when you get busted in a prohibition state.
The Mormon faith calls Utah Zion, a name for the “New Jerusalem.” Utah’s mostly conservative-leaning laws, beginning with state liquor laws, are often called the Zion Curtain. Utah beer is specially made at 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (4 percent by volume) and anything stronger is treated as liquor. Utah has famously gone the extra mile to ban clove cigarettes, mini-bottles, and various other peculiar prohibitions. According to Gallup, Utah is the fourth most conservative state in the union, closely following Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. The Utah/Idaho Wasatch Belt is one of the most conservative regional areas after the Bible Belt.
My Thanksgiving holiday travels took me, my husband, my brother, and niece through the state of Utah. Near Cedar City, the Utah Highway Patrol stopped my car for speeding. My husband was driving five miles over the speed limit, and although that’s fine in many states, it will land you a ticket in Utah.
Image via Ben Adams
When the police officer approached us, they said, “I smell the scent of marijuana. Step out of the vehicle.” At first, my brother didn’t give the police permission to search the vehicle. The cops looked at each other, grinned, and quipped, “Oh, we don’t have permission?” gently placing their hands on their batons. We quickly decided to give them permission to search the vehicle rather than make things worse. One officer called in backup and proceeded to search the vehicle with a K9.
Before we go any further, I should explain something.
I am a bona fide medical marijuana patient. I’ve been HIV-positive for nearly six years. Medical marijuana is the only thing that completely restores my appetite; it also calms my nausea and helps reduce virus-related inflammation. Wasting syndrome, a loss of appetite and at least 10 percent of your body weight (especially muscle), is a condition of AIDS that can lead to infections, dementia, and death. Even prohibitionists would agree that marijuana causes an appetite increase. I need the munchies. I need my anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea medicine. I need marijuana.
The K9 found half of the marijuana I had stored in the car, about two to three grams of flowers. My husband assumed the blame for my stash of marijuana. I didn’t open my mouth because the police officer would likely have given us both tickets for possession. The cop did give me a paraphernalia ticket for my grinder.
Image via Ben Adams
In the car, in addition to medical marijuana, I had my HIV medication, which causes constant, profound hallucinations, and prescription anabolic steroids, which can cause rage, impotence, and heart failure. The Utah Highway Patrol only cared about the marijuana.
Utah’s punishment for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a $1,000 fine—10 times the amount of California’s former fine for the possession of marijuana. Possession of paraphernalia can result in a $1,000 fine as well. So, the total as-yet-undetermined damage, minus the speeding ticket, could be as much as $2,000 in fines for possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia. I’ve called the prosecutor, who said that the fines may be reduced, but a less severe punishment doesn’t minimize the experience of being cited for possessing the medicine that you vitally need.
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To be fair, a fierce liberal movement does exist in Utah. For instance, Utahns elected a lesbian mayor for their capital and a passionate movement to legalize medical marijuana has attracted some Mormons to switch sides. Some Utah parents have opted to treat their children illegally with medical marijuana, despite running the risk of neighbors dropping a dime on them.
The Utah Highway Patrol spends a dread deal of time screening drivers on the I-15 for marijuana coming in from legal states, which surround Utah on multiple sides. Utah users can get high-quality marijuana across the border in Colorado or Nevada.
The time spent on catching marijuana smokers could be better spent going after real criminals. While marijuana smokers are getting busted, Utah’s painkiller epidemic is creating a generation of heroin addicts. The Utah Highway Patrol couldn’t care any less if you have a qualifying illness or not. It’s irrelevant.
It’s easy to forget that the freedoms we enjoy in states like Colorado and California are meaningless once you cross state lines, but it’s important to remember that patients are not treated the same everywhere. Always know the laws of the state you’re entering, consider your needs and the consequences for carrying, and adjust accordingly to ensure that your time there is not marred by prohibition policing.