Searches solely based on cannabis smell are unjust.
A few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that the smell of cannabis in someone's vehicle is enough to justify a search during a traffic stop – giving police permission to search someone on much shakier grounds. We wrote an Op-Ed in the CapTimes last week explaining why this decision is wrong and what it means for our rights. <[link removed]>
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This is detrimental to our civil liberties for a number of reasons. Cannabis smells identical to other perfectly legal hemp-based substances like CBD, making it virtually impossible for police to tell the difference based on smell alone. Additionally, police could believe they are smelling cannabis when they're simply not, or they could misidentify the vehicle where they think the odor is emanating from. It could also be used as a broad pretext to conduct a search, lawful or not, because law enforcement knows there is no way to prove or disprove whether an officer truly smelled cannabis.
We also know that Black and Brown are more likely to get searched, and they are far more likely to be stopped, frisked, and arrested in places like Milwaukee. Given Wisconsin's long track record of discriminatory policing, there's no reason to think the cannabis smell searches won't be disproportionately enforced against people of color.
A search should never rest solely on the smell of cannabis. It leaves too much room for mistakes, wrongful searches, police misconduct, and racially biased law enforcement. Wisconsin should do as several other states have done and change the law to prevent citizens from being searched exclusively because their car smells like cannabis.
We also need to follow the lead of other states and legalize cannabis. By now, most of us recognize that criminalizing cannabis is senseless and does nothing but harm communities across Wisconsin, especially communities of color. The majority of Wisconsinites believe weed should be legal, and it's past time for our government to act.