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Can Police Search Cars For Marijuana Based On Odor Alone?

In Canada, odors in vehicles while driving will count as “reasonable suspicion” for police to request an oral fluid sample at roadside. But what about the U.S.?

Legal cannabis is still a relatively new industry in North America. Complete legalization of cannabis took place in Canada in October 2019. The laws in Canada and the U.S. with relation to legal cannabis continue to differ for the main reason that the U.S. has not yet federally legalized cannabis (it is only fully legal medically and for adult use in 11 states), although over three-quarters of the American public report being in favor of complete legalization. 

In Canada, the annual cannabis illicit and licit market constitutes about $7.6 billion annually, according to Vividata’s National Cannabis Study 2019While Canada’s black market is still popular among 2.4 million Canadians who buy from unlicensed sources — primarily for reasons like lower price point, trusted relationships, convenience and confusion around what’s legal — it is worth noting that 53% of current cannabis users obtained cannabis from legal sources versus the 38who obtained it from the black market   

RELATED: How To Keep Police From Searching Your Vehicle For Weed

Don’t Fall For Fake Law Enforcement Drug Stops – They're Illegal!
Photo by Randy Faris/Getty Images

“Driving while high” remains a concern for advocates of the responsible consumption of cannabis in Canada. Organizations like Responsible Cannabis Use are doing their part to spread knowledge and information around the federal and provincial rules around possession and consumption with respect to driver safety, police-user interactions and other road-testing information.      

RELATED: Don’t Fall For Fake Law Enforcement Drug Stops — They’re Illegal!

While the social acceptability of cannabis consumption in Canada (46%) is higher than tobacco (39%), it still lags behind drinking alcohol (82%), according to VividataHowever, the less social nature of cannabis consumption when compared to alcohol — owing to a mix of recent legalization, persisting levels of stigma, public legal consumption factors, and COVID-19  — make it a better time to consume cannabis than alcohol.  

In Canada, odors in vehicles while driving will count as “reasonable suspicion” for the police officer to request the driver to provide an oral fluid sample at roadside using Approved Drug Screening Equipment (ADSE) or a Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST).  As of December 2018, police do not need reasonable suspicion to request a breathalyzer to detect alcohol. In the U.S., unlike in Canada, the police cannot search cars for marijuana based on odors alone in states where the possession and use of marijuana is legal.   

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