May 13, 2021

One Texas Police Department Decides Cannabis Smell Alone Not Probable Cause For Search

May 13, 2021
Picture of the state of Texas in front of a marijuana plant—Texas police departments are at odds on how to handle the scent of marijuana as probable cause for searching vehicles.

In Texas, the Robinson Police Department is changing a policy that previously allowed officers to search a vehicle over the smell of marijuana while other departments within the same county continue to use the scent of marijuana as probable cause for a search.

Distinguishing Between CBD Vs. Marijuana in Texas

Cannabis has a noticeable smell, extremely potent when burnt, and law enforcement frequently uses the presence of this scent to search citizens at traffic stops. This commonly serves as a cover for racial profiling, as police already pull over disproportionate numbers of minorities, leading to disproportionate numbers of cannabis-related arrests.

With decreasing stigmatization of cannabis amongst Americans, this law is facing increasing scrutiny. Among those who are fighting the hardest for change are those who use CBD, which has no noticeable effect on one’s driving abilities but carries an almost identical smell to marijuana.

The only way you can scientifically differentiate CBD and marijuana is by getting it tested in a lab. Unfortunately, most people rarely ever go to this extent to make their case, including police, and CBD consumers have been put in jail for something that was completely legal on their part. The severity of the problem has only continued to escalate as people all across the US are growing more accustomed with CBD products, blurring the lines between legal and illegal traffic stops.

Policing Inconsistencies and Marijuana 

The policy of police officers using the smell of marijuana as probable cause to search a person or vehicle is in serious need of reexamination. A police officer in McLennan County, Texas is attempting to bring greater awareness to this issue. Ann Tamporello, a Waco Police Department officer who also owns a CBD American Shaman shop said, “Even though they look the same, when someone ingests it the effects are very very different.” She is one of the few officers who has taken such a vocal opposition to the status quo, and the rest of the Waco Police Department has not been as open to making policy changes similar to that of the Robinson Police Department.

McLennan County is still encouraging law enforcement officers to use the smell of cannabis as probable cause for a search. Waco Police are still charging people with possession of marijuana, Officer Garen Bynum said, and “We are still operating as normal, and the odor of marijuana is still probable cause to search your vehicle.”

Officer Tamporello explained how the system currently works in Waco. “If a cop were to pull someone over with the smell of “presumably” marijuana, they can legally obtain the specimen and write a report with the information provided to the person, then send it to a lab for testing. If the test were to indicate the specimen as hemp (CBD), it could be returned. However, if the test indicates it is illegal marijuana, the lab would send it back to the police department.” But, this practice has lead to overwhelmed state testing laboratories, and the district attorney’s office in 2019 directed the limiting of testing to felony amounts of marijuana possession only. 

With the help of officers like Tamporello, we can hope that Texas police departments will continue to heed the counsel of informed advocates and experts, using the Robinson Police Department’s policy as a blueprint.

Additional Resources:

At The Weed Blog, we strive to produce the latest online news resources regarding marijuana. We also review various strains of cannabis or other edible counterparts. We are committed to helping you find valuable information about marijuana on our website. With marijuana laws constantly changing, learn from us what you can do to promote activism in your area. Otherwise, consider these other top-tier articles regarding cannabis:

Marlboro-Maker Phillip Morris Looking At ‘Smoke-Free’ Cannabis Options

How Cannabis Companies Use Social Media Platforms Like TikTok To Promote Their Brands

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