Limiting Law Enforcement Encounters

The Best Law Enforcement Encounter is the One that Never Happens

Fortunately, many patients and caregivers never encounter law enforcement problems. Those that do fairly regularly report successful interactions with local and county police. Many municipalities offer strong protection to medical cannabis patients. However, even in friendly jurisdictions, patients are still being harassed and arrested for medical cannabis, even if they present a valid medical cannabis ID card.

If applicable, carry your medical cannabis ID card or doctors recommendation at all times, but do not present it to law enforcement unless accused of a cannabis-related crime.  Dealing with criminal charges and/or getting your medicine back can be stressful and costly, and may cause you to be "outed" as a medical cannabis patient.  That's why we say that the best law enforcement encounter is the one that never occurs.  If you follow these tips, you will be less likely to be harassed by law enforcement.   

*Disclaimer: Medical cannabis law is continually evolving and medical cannabis remains illegal under federal law. If something in this August 2013 manual appears out of date or inaccurate, please consult with an attorney or contact ASA at 202-857-4272.


Patients and caregivers should educate themselves about medical cannabis and understand the benefits and potential side effects of their medicine. If you are new to using medical cannabis, or are trying a new strain, strength, or route of administration, it might be best to do so when you have no other responsibilities or plans.  New routes of administration in particular may cause somnolence, or tiredness.  By being a sensible medical cannabis user and making informed decisions, you can be as healthy as possible and help change the way people think about medical cannabis use, and also limit your chances of a law enforcement encounter.

Guidelines for avoiding problems:

  1. Always listen to the advice of your doctor and use good judgment when using medical cannabis.
  2. Carefully determine the amount of cannabis that is right for you. Start with a small amount and slowly increase your dosage to find the proper level for symptomatic relief.
  3. Be informed about the side effects of cannabis. It is important to be aware of the possible risks of using medical cannabis. 
  4. Think about the benefits of cannabis and relief that its use provides you. Being able to explain your use of medical cannabis can help you be an effective advocate, and you can be an example that helps your friends, family, and community form their own opinions of medical cannabis. 
  5. Avoid medical cannabis use that puts you or others at risk, such as using it while driving, at work, or in public places. Remember, you can still be arrested for cannabis use and penalties can be stiff. As with any other medication, it remains illegal to drive while under the influence.
  6. Always carry your patient or caregiver registry ID card when in possession of medical cannabis.

A common cause of trouble for both patients and caregivers is complaints from neighbors. This problem might manifest itself in the form of an unpleasant personal confrontation or the neighbors may report concerns about nuisance and safety to landlords or police. Subsequent investigations can lead to the arrest of patients and caregivers.

Neighbors and nearby businesses may or may not share your opinion about medical cannabis, but they will be much more likely to respect your right to safe access if you are not causing them problems. By being conscious of neighbors' rights, privacy, and property, patients can establish and maintain harmonious relationships.

Other issues with your neighbors can lead to law enforcement encounters. Domestic disputes, loud music, illegal parking, barking dogs, and other nuisances should be kept to a minimum. Police are required to investigate these reports and they will come to your location. When neighbors complain to law enforcement, citations or criminal charges for nuisance violations can be difficult to deal with, and investigation into these types of charges may lead to charges related to your medical cannabis use. Being a good neighbor can help you avoid these types of encounters.


Any patient or caregiver can become the target of a law enforcement action. Each person who decides to use medical cannabis, or helps a patient to do so, should be prepared to successfully maneuver through these encounters. You might not be able to avoid arrest in each instance, but chances of successfully fighting charges are greatly improved by education and careful planning.

There are many measures you can take before legal problems occur. You should carefully study the Law Enforcement Encounters section of this manual and, if possible, attend an ASA Know Your Rights training, or other similar training in your area, to most effectively learn this detailed information. You should also stay on top of the basics, maintain a current medical marijuana registry ID card, and have a clearly defined patient/caregiver relationship if applicable. Keep your medical marijuana registry ID card in your wallet or purse at all times. You may want to memorize your physician's and lawyer's phone numbers, or write them down to keep with your identification.

It is very important to inform the people in your life, such as family, friends, and roommates, about your medical use of cannabis. They should be prepared to assist if you are harassed or arrested. They should also be educated about their legal rights (see the "know your rights" information), as they may be questioned in an investigation about your cannabis use. Also, be aware of how to get out of jail if you are arrested. You may want to make a plan for bail, bond, or being released from jail on your own recognizance. You may want to protect and organize your personal belongings and financial data and make a plan for emergency child, pet, and plant care. Lastly, always stay alert for signs of surveillance and be aware of potential conflicts with the neighbors to avert problems early.


Consider safety when you choose to medicate; cannabis smoke and vapor have very distinctive smells. You will attract less attention if you do not consume cannabis in plain view or near open windows.

Do not drive your car while smoking. If law enforcement officers smell cannabis smoke, they can search your vehicle. If you are going somewhere, medicate after you arrive, or bring your medicine in edible form. Please note that Alaska’s medical marijuana laws won't protect you from charges of driving under the influence of cannabis or smoking in public.

Although it may help with dosages and rationing, packaging your medicine in eighth- or quarter-ounce baggies looks suspicious. Cannabis actually stores better in glass jars or airtight plastic containers in cool dark places.

If you have permission to cultivate, fewer plants attract less attention from thieves and others who may wish you harm, so be realistic about the amount of cannabis you will need.

Try to limit the amount of cannabis you have with you at any given time.  While you may seal your medication in airtight containers, there is still a distinctive odor that is hard to prevent and can lead to law enforcement encounters.  The less medicine you have with you, the less smell there is. 


Have Your Paperwork Together

If it is legal to cultivation medical cannabis in your state, make sure you are properly registered, followed all regulations,  and have a copy of your registry ID card  or paper work prominently displayed at any place where cannabis is cultivated. Keep a copy of all of your paperwork at an off-site location; if a raid occurs, your paperwork may be destroyed or seized.

In the Garden

Don't be sloppy. Compost or eliminate trash off site. The larger the garden appears, the more likely you are to attract the attention of thieves or others who wish to cause you harm. Cultivating indoors is generally considered safer because it helps avoid nosy neighbors and reduces the risk of theft. Use extra odor control methods during harvest to avoid offending neighbors. The plants smell especially pungent at this time, as they are particularly resinous, and you may find the smell lingering in the air, on your clothes, and in your hair.

Be Smart: Be discreet 

Be mindful about hauling grow equipment, tools, and plants into your home or grow site in view of neighbors.  In the same vein, as tempting as it may be, tell as few people as possible about the location of the site.

If You Are under Investigation

In the event of a law enforcement encounter, don't talk to law enforcement officers beyond showing them your identification and medical marijuana registry identification card. Keep relevant records near your garden and have an attorney to call right away. If you are determined to talk to law enforcement officers without an attorney, get your affairs in order first and prepare to do some prison time.

Talking to Your Attorney about the Garden

You may talk to your lawyer about your garden, as Alaska law protects patients and their caregivers who cultivate cannabis. Be careful discussing your financial situation and never make reference to selling cannabis as that is forbidden by Alaska law. If your attorney is unfamiliar with medical marijuana law, be prepared to educate him or her or ask him or her to contact ASA.


"Security Culture" refers to the importance of developing unbreakable unity within the medical cannabis community. If everyone involved maintains this unity, the entire community will be safer. Law enforcement agents frequently aim to turn people against each other and disorganize or disband the community.

Implement a Security Culture

Take care of yourself and your community. Don't gossip, brag or ask for compromising or unnecessary information about medical cannabis operations and activities. Although such behavior may be entertaining, it puts you at greater risk of arrest and law enforcement officers may use personal splits to divide the community. When you are about to discuss your personal involvement in medical cannabis operations, consider the following:

(1) Would this person repeat what you are about to tell them to anyone else? When you share information about your involvement in medical cannabis, you are sharing information that may be used against you in court if this person is ever interrogated as a witness. You should also be cautious of theft—patients and providers have been robbed so it's best to limit the dissemination of sensitive information.

(2) Would you want this person to have to perjure (lie under oath) him or herself? Think carefully: you may be giving people information that may cause harm to you or to them.

If someone you know is giving out sensitive information, talk to him or her in private about why such talk can be hazardous. Someone who repeatedly engages in gossip, bragging or seeking unnecessary information about inappropriate topics after repeated educational talks is a grave risk at best, and a police agent looking to provoke or entrap others at worst.

Keeping an Eye Out for Surveillance

Take precautions. Assume you are under surveillance if you are in any way involved in providing medical cannabis to patients. All licensed medical marijuana business can be surveyed by the state at any time. Be cautious with whom you discuss sensitive information. Keep written materials and lists of individuals in a secure place. If you are arrested, law enforcement officers may investigate all your contacts. Law enforcement officers not only have the right to go through your phone book, they can answer any calls made to your phone.  Keep in mind that electronic data such as emails and text messages still exist even after they've been deleted, and your phone company or ISP may be willing to turn them over to law enforcement without even being subpoenaed. 

Adapted from "Security Culture," Slingshot Issue #72,

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