Something smells in Norfolk

It has always been my understanding that science had already proven that a human nose is not nearly as sensitive as a canine’s nose. In Norfolk, Virginia however it seems that a new breed of police officer can smell residual marijuana through car ventilation systems.

The old sniff test now takes on a new meaning when it comes to an officer’s ability to use his own senses. If there is marijuana openly burning in a vehicle then an officer can pursue the issue because the drugs are open and obvious, but in a recent Circuit Court ruling, the definition of open and obvious has become greatly blurred.

In the recent case, a couple of Norfolk police officers stated that they smelled marijuana coming through the ventilation system of their car and were able to trace the smell coming from the car in front of them in traffic. They pulled the car over and during their investigation learned that there was no marijuana in the car, but there had been sometime in the past. Using that allowed them to search the car and the driver which ultimately led them to find a handgun.

The judge supported their proposition that they could detect the residual odor of marijuana from a vehicle ahead of them in traffic. Ironically, a few other Courts in Hampton Roads have heard similar stops by police and ruled them invalid, even in cases where marijuana was found on the driver.

This case could be the beginning of a very slippery slope when it comes to what police use to initiate a traffic stop. If the old standards of actual traffic infractions and reasonably articulable suspicion are going be expanded in scope to such a degree, then we will certainly be looking at an increase in so called traffic stops.

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