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Virginia: Can't Search based on Marijuana Smell

Virginia: Can't Search based on Marijuana Smell

08/29/2020

The odor of marijuana will no longer constitute search and seizures in Virginia once Senate Bill 5029 passes the General Assembly. The state Senate voted Friday on legislation that would prohibit police officers from searching civilians solely based on the smell of cannabis. Marijuana activists are thrilled about the newly passed legislation because they believe that marijuana odor has been used as a policing tool to target black and brown communities. 

According to data collected by the ACLU, black people are three times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white people. Even with the decriminalization of marijuana that occurred earlier in the year, police stops initiated by marijuana strain odor continue to affect minority communities more than their white counterparts. 

Utilizing the odor of marijuana as a reason to stop and detain a civilian is a practice that has concerned our undocumented neighbors. Prior to the passage of this legislation, if an undocumented individual is stopped and accused of smelling of marijuana, it could cost them separation from their families. 

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police opposes the new bill. They believe that this type of legislation promotes operating motor vehicles while under the influence of marijuana. This acts in complete disregard to maintaining Virginia’s safe driving environment. Officers believe that this bill and similar pieces of legislation that reduce traffic violations from primary to secondary offenses make it difficult for them to issue citations and creates risks for other drivers. 

Executive director of Marijuana Justice Chelsea Higgs Wise believes that we still have a long way to go until we reach full marijuana legalization. These steps are small, but they are towards a larger goal. She hopes to see a push for clearing records, releasing people wrongfully imprisoned on marijuana charges, and eliminating the $25 civil penalty charged if caught with up to one ounce of marijuana. 

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