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Greg Francisco On Police Interactions Involving Medical Marijuana


A story about a personal police interaction from MMMA founder Greg Francisco:

I guess it all comes down to how you conduct yourself during the stop.  Let me tell you another story.

A week ago Thursday I was on my way to Jackson to visit Adam. The weather was horrible—single digit temps, gusty wind and snow coming sideways.   As a direct result of my not paying attention, the passenger side, rear window on my Explorer got broken shortly after I left home.   Subsequently, the MSP pulled me over on I-94 near Battle Creek.

They already had their minds made up before they ever walked up to my car.   I on the other hand was going about my lawful business with the naïve confidence that comes with a clear conscience.   I had no idea that I was about to be ambushed.   They asked about the broken window.  I told them how it happened—essentially my own carelessness.   They didn’t believe me. And hence began a 30 minute stand-off on the side of I-94.   In a blizzard.  

I kept insisting that I was telling them 100% the truth.   They kept insisting that I was lying through my teeth.  After going through the story twice I simply refused to go over it again.   Respectfully refused.   When they tried tripping me up on the details—and I had already given them a very detailed account that included names of 2 employee witnesses and the likely locations of surveillance cameras in the Menards parking lot that could verify how the window got broken just 45 minutes earlier—I directly called the MSP on it and told them I was not going to play the “gottcha game.”  “I told you what happened and now I respectfully decline to answer any further questions.”  Repeat as necessary.

I reminded them—several times--that the entire encounter was being recorded and I remained calm, particularly every time they started getting heated and yelling/bullying.  Most of all, I remained in control of myself in the face of their bluster.  Again, I had the confidence that comes from knowing I had a clear conscience and that I was telling the truth. Finally, fully 5 minutes into the encounter, they told me what this was all about--they suspected I had been involved in a hit & run accident because, “there have been hit & runs all over the state today.”   That was the only time I even came close to getting “smart” with them by replying, “ya well, I was physically present in this state in 1975.   Doesn’t make me a suspect in the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance does it?” Other than that I was polite but resolute.  

I asked if I was being detained or was I free to go? They replied that I emphatically was not free to go, that I was the subject of an, “investigatory detention.”   I asked if they had any reports of hit and runs that matched my vehicle? They said reports were still coming in.

When the issue of searching my car came up I turned towards the camera and said, loudly, clearly and calmly, “I do not consent to any searches and you do not have permission to enter my vehicle.”   The senior trooper growled that he was conducting an investigation so didn’t need my permission and he was going to search my car whether I liked it or not.   To which my calm reply was, “I am not going to resist but I do not consent, either.” I did not argue, didn't tell them that a search at this time in these circumstances would be illegal and I did not point out that it was extremely unlikely they would find any evidence INSIDE the vehicle that would help them in their investigation of a hit & run.   I just made sure my refusal to consent was duly noted and recorded and then let them do whatever they were going to do.  

And it worked. Despite several more threats to do so, to each of which I responded in a similar manner, my car never was searched.  

It seemed to last forever.  I figured it was going to end w/ me being detained for hours, my car impounded, while they investigated & verified my story.   But I also knew that in the end, I had a clear conscience.  

I had a roll of quarters in my pocket.   The MSP trooper asked my why.   Well, I was on my way to visit my friend Adam in prison, which is exactly what I told them.   They immediately called me out as a liar and said they strongly suspected that I had the roll of quarters as some sort of crude weapon in the event I was involved in a bar fight.   That was certainly the most Kafkaesque moment of the entire episode.  

Because I hadn’t let them rattle me—too much—I had enough wit left about me to say, “Well the quarters are in my left pocket and I’m right handed so right away that story starts to fall apart, doesn’t it?”  They just shrugged but I wasn’t finished.   “OK, help me out here, I want to make sure I fully understand the situation I find myself in.   You think I’m concocting some wild story about how that window got broken but your working theory here is that it happened when I was in a hit and run accident while fleeing a bar fight?   That’s the theory that you’re investigating?”  

Not surprisingly they immediately started back peddling, “no…well….we didn’t say….” But suddenly (and very briefly) the shoe was on the other foot and I turned the “gottcha game” right back on them.   “But you justsaid…..”  

It just went on and on.   At one point they were playing good cop/bad cop. While the bad (bully) cop was in the car, doing his cop thing, the much younger trooper tried striking up a conversation, gently probing my background.   I didn’t want to say much but eventually he did get the following two things out of me.

I told him that many years ago I been a federal law enforcement officer in the US Coast Guard but I really didn’t care for law enforcement as a career.   See, I went on to tell him, it seemed like too often we got things backward. We would identify a shady character as a bad guy and then try to figure out what he had done instead of first responding to a crime and then trying to deduce who the perpetrator might be.   It took him a minute to realize what my point was, but he got it. And of course I did this in a pleasant, conversational tone with a warm smile so he couldn’t really “slap me down” for saying it

When he asked me what I did for a living I burst out laughing. Told him that ordinarily I would refuse to answer that because it had nothing to do with anything but in this case the irony was so rich that I just had to share it with him.

“Well, I have several income streams, all of them legal, but one in particular is that I put on training seminars and one of them uses a video entitled,  Busted:  A Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters. I teach people what to say, what not to say, how to act when they interact with the police so that the encounter has the best possible outcome.   And, as long as we are on the topic, one of the rock solid, bottom line, non-negotiable rules I teach people is, ‘Never, ever lie to the police.   If they ask you a question that you think the answer to may harm you, then just don’t answer at all.   But never lie’.”   I probably should have stopped right there but I just could not resist and went on to say, “Actually, this whole episode is GREAT, like an advanced lab where I can try out some of the strategies in a real time situation.  You’re helping me hone my skills this afternoon, make me a better teacher.   Thanks.”   But again, I said it with a smile so what could he do?

Eventually it was obvious that they knew they were barking up the wrong tree.   Problem was, how to get out of the situation without losing face?   I had dug in my heels and so had the MSP.   They had emphatically told me several times that I was going to be arrested and my car was going to be seized.   I had just as emphatically told them I had a clear conscience and I was not going to be bullied or cowed.  "Go ahead and impound my car and take me in for further questioning. The worst you can do is inconvenience me because I know that at  end of the  day it will be you who has egg all over his face, not me."  What I did not do was make some stupid threats about filing complaints or going over his head to his supervisors.  Of course I would have done both of those things, in due course of time, but I knew saying so would just inflame things further.  

So there we were.   Neither of us was going to back down.   I was a law abiding citizen going about my lawful business and I wasn’t going to admit to “nuttin.”   In the meantime, their “Spidey-sense” was in overdrive—they knew there was something about me that wasn’t just quite right but they didn’t know what it was and they were not going to stop until, “we get to the bottom of this.”   I wasn’t going to admit any guilt and they were not going to admit they were wrong.   Finally, 25 minutes into the encounter the log jam broke.

The trooper had asked me 4 times if I had any firearms on me or in my vehicle.   I did not and I said I did not.  So he gets right in my face and says, “OK, the tow truck is on its way (which I knew immediately was a lie, I could see it in his face).   Before it gets here I’m going to ask you one more time, are there any firearms or illegal drugs in that car?”   That was the first time in this entire encounter that the subject of drugs had been raised.  

I chose my words very carefully.   “There are no firearms. Any drugs in the car are medicinal in nature and I have the required paperwork that allows me to possess them.”  I took a deep breath and continued, “I am a medical marijuana patient and I have both my card and a small amount of medical marijuana with me.”   This was a calculated risk and I knew it.   But standing on the side of I-94 in a blizzard was not the time or place to engage in a debate with an MSP trooper about the finer points of whether or not med mj is “legal” or “illegal.”   It’s actually quite gray and I didn’t want to give him any excuse.   So I ‘fessed up and at the same time mentally did the math--how long had it been since I had last smoked?   Came up with, “about 10 minutes before I got pulled over,” and realized that maybe, just maybe I was on track to telling my very first fib of the afternoon.   But they never asked the obvious follow up question and I sure didn’t volunteer.   My conscience is clear.

The trooper—of course—jumped on my statement.  

“Where is the marijuana?”

“In the purple bag, on the…..”

Didn’t even need to complete my sentence before he interrupted me, “it’s in the cooler on the passenger seat, right?”  And then he was off and running.   I called after him, “I do not consent to a search,” but that was pure pro forma at that point—it was happening.


Within seconds he was back, my bag in hand.

“How much do you have in here?”

“I dunno, not much.   Maybe ¼ , a half ounce.”:

“Do you have a med mj card?

”I do.   Here it is.”

The trooper literally sprinted to his car.   Three minutes later he was back.

“Here is your card, your license and registration.” Then he handed me my bag--still containing my meds--and said, “Now get out of here.”

Many smart assed retorts went through my mind.   And they all remained unspoken. Instead I took the prudent course and skedaddled.   Adam thought it was the funniest story he had heard in a long, long time.   And every word of it is true.

In hindsight  I believe the med mj was my saving grace—that it got me out of  a bad situation.   The MSP was not going to stop until they found “something.”   They “knew” there was something about me that wasn’t just quite right but they had realized, even though they could not admit it, that they had made a mistake about the hit and run.   That maybe I’m an odd ball but I am not a hit and  run driver (or bar fighter, yee Gods!).   Finding the mj gave them a face saving, “out.”   Once they had confirmed the validity of my card they sure did hustle me out of there fast enough, I’m thinking they wanted done with me as much as I wanted done with them.

Yes, admitting to the med mj was a calculated risk.  At that point the MSP trooper could have insisted on a blood draw with an eye towards making an OUID charge.   I was prepared.   During the entire encounter I never forgot that I was being recorded.   And earlier in the encounter I had deliberately said words to the effect, “I still don’t understand why you pulled me over.  I mean, it’s not like you thought I was impaired or something?   And now that you’ve talked to me, you sure can’t say that I’m somehow impaired can you?”   The young trooper shook his head and mumbled, “no.”  BINGO.  That’s what I wanted to get on tape, just in case.  Later, when the med mj did come to light—and knowing that I already the trooper on tape acknowledging that I did not appear impaired-- I was primed and ready to point out that they had not raised the question of impairment in the first 25 minutes—“a bit late in the game now isn’t it?”  But again, they never mentioned it and I sure didn’t volunteer for a needle prick.

I think this whole encounter had a positive ending for many reasons, among them….
  • I didn’t get belligerent.  I was firm & resolute in standing up for myself and defending my rights without getting loud, profane or making any sorts of threats.   Once I saw what was happening, I went with it.   I didn’t mouth off or make threatening noises.
  • I was not driving drunk at 2:00am
  • I did not resist.   I did not start kicking things when I got frustrated that no one was listening to me. I did not demand special treatment based on my ethnicity
  • I understood that an attorney was not going to just magically appear with the snap of a finger at that very second should I ask for one.   I knew what to do on my own, to wit: don’t act like a fool and don’t say dumb things that are just going to come back and bite me in the donkey later.   I didn’t need an attorney to tell me that.
  • I also understood that even when I clearly and repeatedly said that I didn’t want to answer any questions the cops were still going to keep asking them anyway.   That it was MY responsibility, not theirs, to Shut the F#@% Up!
  • Despite what I see on television I knew that suspects are not routinely appraised of their Miranda rights until arraignment and rarely, if ever, during arrest and processing.   That in the real world cops can and do use any statements a suspect makes against them whether or not that suspect EVER sees/hears a Miranda warning.   I didn’t need anyone to put a form in front of me telling me that I had the right to remain silent.  I already knew.   I also knew that I should not make self-incriminating statements without the police reminding me.   Anyone who does not know these things is not really paying attention.
  • I have never mistaken my med mj card for a shield that would protect me from being held responsible for other unlawful acts I might commit
  • And last of all, if the cops had taken my med mj I knew that expecting to get it back would be just so much wishful thinking.   That if anything, getting into a pissing contest with the cops over a few grams of pot is much more likely to make me a big fat target in the future than it is to get my marijuana returned.   A clear case of, even if you win, you still lose.   Sometimes a little bit of discretion, prudence and just plain walking away is the best policy, even when you are “right.”
I got lucky sure, but I also made my own luck by knowing what to do, what not to do and most of all, not thinking mere possession of a med mj card would somehow immunize me against having to follow laws prohibiting hit & run.  Or for that matter, drunken driving, resisting/obstructing and malicious damage to police property.   Like, DUH!!!!! Somebody had to say it.

Greg Francisco


2 Comments

Photo
flowerspice420
Feb 09 2013 02:37 AM
BINGO!
very helpful, greg, thank you.