Geography and Reasonable Suspicion in Auto Stops
28 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2021
Date Written: August 19, 2021
In metaphor and reality, hitting the open road has long figured in the American way of life. Well before Bruce Springsteen’s paean to the open road “Born to Run” topped the charts, Americans used their cars to explore the nation’s expanses and to secure a better life. The diversity of state normative views they encountered in their travels has been and remains a hallmark of the nation’s decentralized federalist system.
Decentralized political communities, however, can cause stresses, one of which this essay addresses. Today, eighteen states have legalized the purchase, possession and recreational use of marijuana, and another thirty-six have legalized its medical use. Aggregated, the population of the legalization states alone constitutes a significant proportion of the U.S. population.
Whatever one’s views on the legalization issue, the disagreement is now playing out in a problematic way on the nation’s roadways. Police in non-legalization states are detaining vehicles with license plates from legalization states, claiming that the vehicles’ geographic origin is suggestive of marijuana being onboard. This essay, part of a symposium concerning legal and policy issues arising with drug decriminalization, urges that the practice should not be permitted to continue.
Keywords: decriminalization, marijuana, Fourth Amendment, policing, geography, automobiles
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