Virginia Senate Passes Bill Preventing Vehicle Searches Based on Cannabis Odor

The Virginia Senate advanced a measure last week that blocks police from searching vehicles during traffic stops based on cannabis odor alone.

Full story after the jump.

The Virginia Senate on Friday passed a measure that would prevent police from searching drivers and making seizures based on cannabis odor alone, WDVM reports. According to the report, the measure is intended to reduce the number of people of color searched by police during traffic stops.

A 2020 American Civil Liberties Union report found that Black people are three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than a white person in Virginia.

“…No law-enforcement officer may lawfully search or seize any person, place, or thing solely on the basis of the odor of marijuana, and no evidence discovered or obtained as a result of such unlawful search or seizure shall be admissible in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding.” – Virginia Senate Bill 5029 text

Last year, courts in three states – Vermont, Maryland, and Pennsylvania – placed limits on police actions in cases involving cannabis odor. In the Pennsylvania case, it was determined that a search based on odor was illegal because the passenger was a registered medical cannabis patient. In the ruling, Judge Maria Dantos declared that “the smell of marijuana is no longer per se indicative of a crime.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that officers cannot make an arrest based on cannabis odor alone, but the court did not go so far as to prohibit searches based on odor.

Vermont’s Supreme Court ruling prevents officers from initiating a search based on burned or burning cannabis odor. The state legalized cannabis possession and use for adults in 2018.

Several law enforcement agencies in Florida also said last year that they would no longer detain people simply for cannabis odor because it smells the same as hemp, which is legal under both federal and state law.

The Virginia legislation also includes provisions downgrading some common infractions that can spark a vehicle search in the state, including a burned-out license plate, loud exhaust, and window tint.

The measure still requires approval from the House of Delegates and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam before becoming law.

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