So what do you think of when you see the word "CANE?"
Most people I spoke with said "sugar cane" or believed it to be a biblical reference. Maybe you thought of the new TV show "Cane" or a walking stick.
Not the folks at the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. They saw a drug reference. As in cocaine.
Local lawyer Dara Goldsmith was shocked when she received a letter stating her personalized "CANE" license plates, which she has had for four years, were being revoked.
DMV had received a complaint, which they won't make public, and forwarded it to a committee of five employees.
Those employees then decided "CANE" was an obvious reference to that white powdery substance often associated with South American drug lords and Las Vegas club bathrooms.
But Goldsmith, who plans on appealing the decision, said it was a reference to her being an alumna of the University of Miami School of Law. Those who attend the university take on the school's name of Hurricanes -- "Canes" for short -- and "Cane" for individuals.
As evidence, Goldsmith points out that letters received from the alumni association address her as "Dear Cane." The license plate frame on her Jaguar states "University of Miami" and "Alumni."
"I thought it was a joke," Goldsmith said about the DMV letter. "My first impression was that my husband, who drove my car for a while, cut someone off and made them angry."
Stacy Moore has also been fighting the DMV after they ruled her plates "XSTACY," could be construed as a reference to the designer drug Ecstasy, even though she's had it for nearly 20 years, well before Ecstasy was popular.
Moore said her plates were a play on her name meant to describe her personality. She appealed the decision and lost.
Moore's lawyer, Rebecca Fuller, has filed for a judicial review in Clark County District Court. If Moore loses, she could appeal on the basis that her freedom of speech has been violated.
Revoking "CANE" would seem to be more of a stretch.
Dana Purcell, the supervisor over special plates at DMV and a member of the committee, disagrees.
She said the committee tries to think about the everyday driver and what would pop into his or her head.
The committee is made up of DMV workers from around the state. After DMV receives a complaint, it is sent via e-mail to the committee members for a decision.
The e-mail does not say what the complaint is. It just states what is on the plate, and the committee members are charged with determining whether it is offensive.
The Nevada Administrative Code states the plate cannot attack race, ethnic heritage, religion, gender or political party. Nor can it connote any sexual, vulgar, derogatory, profane, or obscene use. It can't reference drugs or drug paraphernalia or gangs, or defame a person or group.
And finally, "No combination of letters, numbers or spaces is allowed if it: Is determined by the Department to be inappropriate."
I'm no lawyer, but that last one seems pretty vague.
Questions about plates mostly come up during the application process. When a plate raises eyebrows, it is sent to the committee for review.
A member of the public can also force a review by complaining.
The committee reviews hundreds of plates each year, but the DMV doesn't record how many are rejected, said Tom Jacobs, spokesman for DMV.
If a plateholder challenges a decision, the matter goes to an administrative review hearing. Decisions are seldom challenged.
Jacobs acknowledges it is a subjective process, but added the committee members are just trying to do what the law has obligated them to do.
But I think in the case of "CANE" they were too quick to see the bad.
To be sure, I did some research.
I looked up slang names for cocaine on the trusty Internet, and though I did find "cane" as a reference to the drug, I also found a lot of other names including Charlie, Angie and Aunt Nora.
So I called the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Spokesman Garrison Courtney told me the top six slang names for cocaine are blow, snow, nose candy, snowball, wicky stick and perico, which means parrot in Spanish.
I checked the DMV's Web site and plates with "SNOW" and "PERICO" are being used.
As far as "cane" goes: "We don't even have that in here," Courtney said. Eventually, after digging through the "drug bible," Courtney found "candy cane" as a reference to cocaine.
But most people would probably view candy cane as the peppermint sticks given out at Christmas time.
Wouldn't you? Probably, unless you're a powder-snorting, nose-bleeding coke fiend.
Speaking of "COKE," those plates are also in use, according to the DMV Web site.
I wonder who's driving around with them?
Maybe it's a drug dealer. Or how about a Coca-Cola distributor.
My bet's on the latter.