I was driving through Sterling, Colorado when the city sheriff pulled me over. I’d forgotten to turn on my headlights. I thought he was going to issue a warning and let me pass, but then he said, “Have you been smoking marijuana this evening? I can smell it in your car.” I should’ve denied it. I should’ve lied. But I was in Colorado and, besides, I wasn’t breaking the law. “I smoked about an hour ago,” I said. “But I waited until I felt okay to drive.”
He asked me to step out of the car for a sobriety test. The bitter, icy wind bit at my skin and my body shivered. Still, I passed . . . or so I thought. But before I knew it, I was slammed against a police car and handcuffed as another police officer recited my Miranda rights. I was mute with shock. Hadn’t I passed the test? All I did was shiver! I was dragged to the jail and was read a list of consequences that made no sense and left me more confused than before. The sheriff said he needed my blood, and if I didn’t comply I’d be prosecuted automatically. Terrified, and now on the brink of tears, I complied. They took my clothes and my belongings and left me in a jail cell for the next five days.
Until that point, my view of Colorado was one that was shaped entirely by living in Denver just for the past several months. In Denver, marijuana is everywhere. A 7-leafed emblem decorates signs on every street corner in every part of town. People smoke in public, openly, even though it’s technically illegal. One head shop owner I spoke to said the police never cared. “Unless you’re toking it up next to a bunch of