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]