Drug War

Cops in Cruisers Sniff Out Cars Carrying Pot Smokers


Remember those Pinellas County, Florida, sheriff's deputies who said they could smell marijuana growing inside a house while standing on public property 20 feet away? The claims aroused suspicions that turned out to be entirely justified, since the cops' uncanny marijuana detection powers were due not to superhuman olfactory senses so much as their ability to (illegally) leap backyard fences. Police in Chesapeake, Virginia, may be setting themselves up for a similar embarrassment. The Virginian-Pilot reports that officers "have been pulling over cars on the grounds that they smelled marijuana while cruising down local roadways." How does that work? Officer Barrett C. Ring explained the technique at a preliminary hearing last year:

We drive our patrol car with the vents on, pulling air from the outside in, directly into our faces. Commonly, we'll be behind vehicles that somebody in the vehicle is smoking marijuana, and we can smell it clear as day.

"Before officers pull over a car to search it," The Virginian Pilot adds, summing up Ring's testimony, "they will follow it until there are no other cars in the area and they are certain about the source of the odor."

I don't want to say it is impossible to smell people smoking pot in another car. Suppose they are in a convertible with the top down, and you are waiting at a traffic light behind them with your windows open. But while driving down the street with your windows closed? And these pot smokers continue puffing away while police follow them "until there are no other cars in the area," making sure they have correctly identified the source of the odor? And this happens "commonly"?

Matthew Taylor, a public defender quoted by The Virginian-Pilot, calls the scenario "preposterous." Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, says, "It stretches the imagination that the police can drive down the road and home in on a car."

Suffolk Commonwealth's Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson concedes that "it's pushing the line" to pull a car over based solely on cannabis combustion products allegedly wafting down the road. Robert Wegman, a local defense attorney, is determined to challenge the technique. "If cops can get away with this," he says, "they will have total authority." 

[via the Drug War Chronicle]

NEXT: Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch in Zócalo Public Square on Southern California's Changed Culture 20 Years After the Riots

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  1. “and we can smell it clear as day.”

    Jesus Christ, this man is too stupid to live.

    1. maybe it was skunkweed

  2. don’t want to say it is impossible to smell people smoking pot in another car.

    I smell pot from other cars all the time. It’s really a unique odor when you don’t smoke. I can smell cigarette smoke too while trailing 3 car lengths behind.

    That said, cops pulling people over for smoking pot is bullshit.

    1. I can smell pot from other plantets. The Jupiterians are the worse…not to mention all that loud rock and roll music. And hip swiveling. Just shaking their big, purple, three cheeked asses, all night long. Total debauchery.
      So yeah, I think it is totally plausible that the police can smell that maryjane stuff from miles away going down the freeway at 70mph.

    2. If I’m downwind of people smoking I probably can smell the smoke 50 yards away easy.

    3. Yeah, if I’m near a car and its windows are down, I can smell it. For me it wasn’t the silliness of smelling the pot smoke so much as the ridiculous recitation of the technique they use. Is this so much easier than seeing someone light up? Can these hounds smell pot brownies baking?

  3. If even your pet prosecutor concedes that something is “pushing the line,” in reality it took a running leap over the line, kicked down the line’s door and shot its dog.

    1. …then raped the line in the ass with his billy club in the station bathroom, screaming, “I got your Rights right here, Abner!”, and then charged him with assaulting an officer for resisting.

      I liked your metaphor.

  4. “If cops can get away with this,” he says, “they will have total authority.”

    Given that they routinely get away with murder, I fail to see how this really extends their authority in any meaningful way.

  5. It makes sense if the cops aren’t actually human, but some species of creature with extraordinarily sensitive noses.

    1. Don’t forget about their guts. Their guts can determine if someone is guilty or innocent.

      1. If that’s true, then some of their guts can determine the guilt or innocence of the population of a large holding cell.

  6. But [smelling pot usage] while driving down the street with your windows closed?

    Don’t be so dismissive and cynical, Jacob – we may be witnessing the next stage of human evolution: Cops with the sense of smell of bloodhounds.

    1. And half the IQ?

  7. Here’s a proposal: Let these cops prove their ability. If they can do so, give them a promotion. If they can’t, fire them.

    1. Fire a cop!? WHY DO YOU HATE CHILDRUNZ!?!!?

      1. Because they’re small.

  8. so,second hand smoke whle driving?

    1. Unfortunately, I can see the argument for it in NY and Cali very soon.

  9. I don’t want to say it is impossible to smell people smoking pot in another car

    Dude, I can tell if someone’s smoking 4 blocks away locked in an airtight room while spraying Febreeze after every breath. Its just a 7th or 8th sense or something. Someone driving? ppt. I can tell if they’re approaching from *behind* me. Premonitionally.

    “and we can smell it clear as day.”

    maybe the cops were tripping. You can totally taste the colors, man.

    1. If they’re tripping, just hand them an older stripe billiards ball with a lot of tiny fractures in it. He won’t care about anything else for a good hour.


          make sure no sharp implements are even in the room.

        2. Or TV static. Something that the youth of today will miss out on thanks to digital TV.

          1. Wood tables and doors always kept me occupied for…I have no idea how long.

    2. “The Snozberries taste like Snozberries.”

  10. I think reason has made unreasonable assumption about how hard it is to smell pot. I have smelled it in areas where I would have had to have been over a block away. The smell is extremely strong and I have heard grow houses are over powering if they don’t have a proper ventilation system.

    1. I think Phippsed has confused other smells for “pot.”

    2. I’m sure that under some circumstances many people can smell pot smoke from far away. The problem is that you can’t tell where it is coming from with any certainty.

  11. Robert Wegman, a local defense attorney, is determined to challenge the technique. “If cops can get away with this,” he says, “they will have total authority.”

    With all due respect, Mr. Wegman, that ship sailed years ago.

  12. Hate to side with the cops on this one, but I can smell people smoking in traffic. I’d rate my sense of smell as average at best. THAT and I have seen people do some really, really dumb things in traffic right in front of well marked police cars. I wouldn’t be shocked if some drivers kept smoking while being followed by the police.

    A question worth asking is how windy Chesapeake VA is…

    1. Yep, I’ve smelled both pot and regular cigarettes while driving with my windows rolled up and just the vents on. I’ve also smelled pot while walking down the street, coming from a house that was on the other side of the street. Probably at least 30 ft away.

      That said, I don’t think the smell of pot alone should be enough to pull someone over or search their home. There are other things that smell similar enough that could cause “mistakes to be made”. And, of course, legalization would make the whole issue go away.

  13. It’s not really that far fetched.
    I’m a non-smoker, and I smell cigarette smoke from passing cars on the road all the time.

    1. No, it’s not. I recently quite smoking cigarettes, and my olfactory abilities have reached a mutant level of “Wow!”

      It’s nice being able to smell pleasant odors, like yummy food and other epicurean, discrete scents.

      On the flip side, the more pungent and malodorous emanations are even more prominent (which really stinks in my line of work), and that would include the smell of pot smoke and of course a noted nasal hypersensitivity cigarette, cigar, and pipe tobacco and smoke . One of things I knew would happen is the pleasant smell of burnt combustibles. The smell of a bonfire smells very appealing.

      I can certainly see where the scent of pot smoke to a non-pot smoker would be very peculiar and noticeable even from a distance.

  14. There’s also the tactic of the fake drug checkpoint. Put up a sign saying that there will be a drug checkpoint in a couple of miles (which you wouldn’t do because you can’t close the highway), and see who either throws out drugs or gets off at the next exit.

  15. Must be a sudden shortage of REAL crime to deal with lol.


    1. Amen, Tingo. Amen.

  16. I had noticed an uptick in this a few years ago – I haven’t smelled it recently (asset forfeiture?), but I have smelt pot while driving my car and riding my bike, the people always had the windows open – probably to let some air in should they be pulled over. I can see this happening.

  17. The funny thing about pot is, it really does smell like burning grass.

    Turkey hunting last week, we drove through lots of tall, dry grass. After getting back to the house, the truck smelled like it had just gotten back from a Grateful Dead concert.

    And yes, I know what pot smells like, and no, none was consumed.

    1. Get anything? That’s my favorite kind of hunting but I don’t get to do it down here in MA, even though I was about 5 feet from some toms when I got to work early the other day.

    2. It smells even more like burning sage.

      I’ve thought for a while that weed scented incense would be a great idea to market to stoners. Someone says they smell pot and you can just show them the incense box.

  18. And next…they will stop you for farting in the car, and give you a citation for global warming.

    1. Fart in MY car and you better be able to run at highway speed, because you’re getting out NOW!

  19. How do they know someone didn’t run over a skunk?

    1. Funny you should ask. I actually ran over a skunk once while stoned. I’m pretty sure this skunks dying action was completely emptying it’s scent glands on the underside of the car I was in. You definitely know when this has happened.

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