For most people in the US, getting in trouble for cannabis feels like a distant memory, almost nostalgic in a way. When I moved to Indiana from California, it almost felt like I was back in high school – picking up weed from a dealer rather than a dispensary, feeling paranoid the whole way home for fear of getting pulled over, and making sure my house never smelled like weed when people stopped by. It was a weird change of pace, but eventually, it became the norm.
Unfortunately, Indiana isn’t the only state that’s so restrictive, and if you wind up traveling through one of the dozen states that still holds on to those draconian views on cannabis use, you may find yourself detained on the side of the freeway in an unfamiliar area and facing criminal drug charges, like I am now as a result of my recent drive through Kansas.
I was heading back home to Indiana from California after a two-week trip of work conferences and visiting with family and friends. It was around midnight, my youngest son was asleep and my oldest was finally starting to settle down as well. I had some chill music playing and was just vibing while trying to get through that monotonous, 2100-mile drive. The next thing you know, I’m on the side of interstate 70 with my kids and dog while a deputy from a county sheriff’s department is searching my car.
How I got to that point, is really just a series of unlucky events for me (lucky for the officers involved). Let me start by mentioning that everything I had was still in its original packaging, altogether in one bag, and stored in the trunk. But knowing that I was traveling with questionable items, I made sure to follow every traffic law. I had the car in cruise control set at a couple miles under the posted speed limit, signaled all my lane changes, stayed right except to pass, the whole shebang. I was a model driver.
I only had a little over 100 miles left before crossing over into safer Missouri, so I had made it roughly 300 miles through Kansas before my bad luck began. As I’m driving on I-70 through Geary county, I pass a police officer who just finished pulling someone over and was working on getting back onto the freeway. As I pass him, he enters the roadway, and then we drive into a construction zone which has the freeway down to one lane.
So we’re on a one lane road, he’s behind me, and about a quarter mile ahead there is another vehicle. The speed limit has now dropped to 60 mph, so I set my cruise control to 58 and I’m making sure to stay square in the middle of my lane. A few minutes later, I catch up to the car in front of me who is going about 20 miles under the speed limit, and then out of nowhere, I see the cherries and berries light up in my mirrors.
For a quick minute there, I honestly thought he was going to pull over the ridiculously slow driver in front of me. I was right by an exit so I pulled off to the side to let him pass and, to my disappointment, he pulled up right behind me. I quickly sprayed my car with the deodorizing spray that I always use when I get pulled over (this wasn’t my first rodeo), and started getting my documents in order.
When he got to the car and asked if I knew why he pulled me over, I seriously did not have a clue. I actually did, it’s because I have California plates and that always makes LEOs in other states a bit suspicious. But driving wise, I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong. He claimed that I was stopped for following too closely, or tailgating, because I was “traveling with a 1 second distance from the car in front of me, but it should be 2 seconds”. This was despite the fact that I had just caught up to the other driver, and they were traveling well below the speed limit.
He told me that I wasn’t going to get a citation for this, just a warning, but I would need to sit in the car with him and answer some questions while he wrote it up. I had been told by another officer some years ago that the “sit in my car” situation is a tactic used to smell the driver, to see if they can detect odors of alcohol, marijuana, or any other smelly illicit substance. At this point, things were obviously taking a turn for the worst. While I’m in the police car, he starts mentioning the fragrance in my car and how it made him suspicious that I might be hiding something, so he called for a K9 unit who arrived just a few minutes later.
The second officer walked the dog in circles around my car, and to my surprise the dog seemed relatively uninterested until he reached the back driver’s side seat where my puppy was sitting. Both dogs were barking at each other, but he still wasn’t pulling towards my trunk where all the products were. Either way, the first officer informed me that since the K9 barked, that gave him authorization to search my vehicle, and he asked if there was anything he should know about.
I got my kids and puppy out of the car, took him to the trunk, and gave him my convention bag which had a total of 16 cannabinoid vapes, some dried amanita pantherina mushrooms, a muscimol disposable vape, and a few mushroom grow kits which included sterilized grain bags and spore syringes.
This is when my traffic stop actually became kind of fun and entertaining. I had just introduced these officers to a whole new array of products they had never seen before. The first words upon opening the bag were “what is all this shit??” And I gladly began to clarify what everything was, and why it was all federally legal. I told them how only mushroom fruiting bodies that contain psilocybin or psilocin are illegal, but spores and everything else needed to grow them are permitted. When he picked up the pouch of amanitas and stated that “these are actual mushrooms so they must be illegal”, I corrected him and explained that those mushrooms contain muscimol, not psilocybin, and therefore are legal in every state except Louisiana.
At this point, the second officer and his K9 had paused their search of my car to stand by and listen to my descriptions of all the goodies they found. Seeming slightly overwhelmed, the first officer said he will look into what I said and get back to me. After some research, he told me I was in fact, right about the mushroom products and he was going to let me keep all that stuff. It honestly felt pretty rewarding to utilize my knowledge of industry regulations in a real-world setting.
Now like I said, this isn’t my first time getting pulled over; nor is it my first time having my vehicle searched, nor is it my first time facing a cannabis-related misdemeanor in a state that’s not my own. It is, however, this first time I’ve had a bag full of work-related items that most people believe are federally legal, taken from me. And while I do understand that alternative cannabinoids, synthetics, and THC-derivatives are all mostly illegal, the way they are sold online and at gas stations and smoke shops all over the country (including Kansas), it’s easy to assume that this is a law that’s being largely overlooked.
Regardless, the law is the law and in Kansas, I was breaking it. And I will say that aside from pulling me over for a frivolous reason, the officers involved in my situation were technically within their scope with everything they did – albeit reaching a bit at times (smell of fragrance, not actual drugs as an excuse to call backup, and their K9 barking at my dog as a reason to search) but in the end, their instincts were correct and they were just doing their job. They bagged up the cannabis products told me that I could possibly get a Class A misdemeanor marijuana charge, although according to the first officer, it’s a “less than one percent chance that this case will be prosecuted”, and they sent me on my way.
An overview of Kansas laws
An easy way to remember what’s legal in Kansas, is to simply think of the word “no”. Is cannabis legal? No. What about medical? No. Any psychedelics legislation in the works? No. Can you have drug paraphernalia like pipes and vaporizers? Also, no.
The possession of pretty much any safe drug (ie – cannabis or hallucinogens), as well as any product “intended or designed for use to consume or ingest illegal drugs” (paraphernalia) is a Class A misdemeanor in Kansas, punishable by up to 1 year in prison and no more than $2500 in fines. It’s one of only 12 states that still does not offer legal medicinal cannabis to its residents.
Cannabis has been illegal in Kansas since the United States first banned the plant back in 1937. Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to legalize it in some fashion, but all have failed. In 2015, the city of Wichita voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, but the ruling was challenged by the state’s then attorney general, Derek Schmidt. In 2017, the city managed to pass their decriminalization measure again.
In 2019, the state passed a law which would allow people to claim medical use of CBD products as a defense in court, so long as the product in their possession contained less than 5% THC. As per SB28, if a person is arrested for possession of any such product, they could get out of the charges if they produce a letter from their primary care physician stating the cannabis oil is being used medicinally. And in 2021, a bill to legalize medical cannabis – SB158 – passed the Kansas House of Representatives but eventually died in the Senate.
As far as hallucinogens go, they’re uniformly illegal in the sunflower state, and it doesn’t seem like that will change anytime soon. Back in 2022, a controversial Kansas lawmaker, Rep. Aaron Coleman (D), filed a bill attempting to legalize up to 50 grams of psilocybin mushrooms. He introduced the bill in January 2022, and it died in committee a few short months later on May 23. The year prior, Rep. Coleman introduced a different bill to broadly decriminalize all drugs in the state, but as expected, it did not advance.
As conservative as Kansas is, getting any type of progressive psychedelic reform in place would be difficult enough coming from a squeaky-clean representative, but with Coleman’s spotty history, it’s unlikely that any legislation introduced by him would ever gain approval. The 22-year-old lawmaker has previous arrests for suspicion of driving under the influence, domestic violence, and abuse/harassment.
Aside from that, no other psychedelics bills have been introduced, and there likely won’t be any in the very near future. One thing that you can do in Kansas is get ketamine treatments, although you need a prescription/physician recommendation, and clinics are quite limited – only two in the entire state.
The complicated legal landscape of alternative cannabinoids
Circling back to my Kansas experience, you may be wondering why it’s ok for police officers to take products that are federally legal. And this would be based on the assumption that because these products are sold at stores throughout the US and can be shipped across state lines, that they are in fact, federally legal. But oddly enough, that assumption is incorrect.
It’s hard to find accurate information on this subject though. Even major media sources like CNN, USAtoday, Forbes, and MSNBC all claim that alternative cannabinoid products, like those containing Delta 8 THC, are legal, and that if said products are made using compounds sourced from hemp, not marijuana, they fall under a loophole in the 2018 farm bill.
But it’s really not that simple, and you need a thorough understanding of how the production of these products works to know why most of these extracts are not legal. Alternative cannabinoids are only found in trace amounts in hemp, so it would take a ridiculous amount of plant matter to extract the compounds needed to make high potency THC products. It’s very impractical, so most companies convert CBD into delta 8 and other THCs. While this process gets you to the same compound, the final product is now a synthetic, making it federally illegal as per the DEA:
“Arriving at delta-8-THC by a chemical reaction starting from CBD makes the delta-8-THC synthetic and therefore, not exempted by the [Agriculture Improvement Act]. Any quantity of delta-8-THC obtained by chemical means is a controlled substance.”
Numerous states have even made the move to expressly ban delta 8 products, just in case federal laws aren’t enough (which clearly, they are not), and even more interestingly, many of these states do allow for adult-use cannabis. Delta 8 THC is banned in the following states:
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island*
- (Delta-8 is also banned in Hawaii, but by an administrative rule, not a law)
There could be a few different reasons for the ban, but mainly it’s because the market is highly unregulated and poor product quality is often a topic of discussion, as well as to prevent competition to state-approved cannabis markets.
“What I am paranoid about is legalizing and using legally stuff that we don’t know anything about. And we know very little about delta-8,” said Daniele Piomelli, the director of the Centfor the Study of Cannabis at the University of California Irvine.
What happened to me in Kansas was unfortunate and inconvenient, but not surprising. The purpose of this article was not to shine a light on Geary County Sheriff’s Department, because again, they really were just doing their jobs. The point is to emphasize how important it is to know the law, because you can’t trust the companies selling these products or any mainstream media outlets to give it to you straight.
If you plan on traveling with alternative cannabinoid products knowing they are most likely illegal, then by all means, good luck to you. But don’t let yourself be caught off guard thinking you’re doing everything by the book when in reality, you’re not. And a word of advice, if you do get caught with stuff, be polite and work with the cops. It does no one any good to escalate a situation like that. The officers appreciated my cooperation, and I was thankful that they were willing to hear me out about the mushroom products. Know your laws, and be safe out there!
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