Thanks to the state of New York’s recent move to legalize recreational cannabis, laws are going to change across the board. One exciting new development is that the smell of cannabis alone is no longer cause for search and seizure in the state.
As of this week, the NYPD issued a memo to all officers that, now that cannabis is officially legal, more probable cause than just the smell of cannabis is needed for a car to be searched. The memo lays down the new law and explains how it will affect officers’ interactions with folks who may or may not have cannabis legally on their person.
“Effective immediately, the smell of marijuana alone no longer establishes probable cause of a crime to search a vehicle,” the memo explains. “This change applies to both burnt and unburnt marijuana.”
While driving high will remain a crime in New York, like in other legal states, and the small of burned cannabis could be cause for officers to decide a driver is impaired, they will only be allowed to search the passenger compartment, not the trunk of the vehicle, unless there is more evidence that the trunk could contain something illegal. While using cannabis in a vehicle is illegal, transporting legally purchased cannabis back home after purchase is not, as long as the cannabis is sealed and not being used. Therefore, simply smelling of cannabis is no longer a crime.
Other Major Changes In New YorkIn addition to this new, major change, there are also changes about how officers should deal with “hand-to-hand,” street sales of cannabis, in other words, seeing someone on the street sell cannabis to another person. Now that cannabis is legal to purchase from licensed places, and to give away, these crimes are only actionable if officers see money exchanging hands along with the cannabis.
Also, now that cannabis is legal, those on parole will be officially allowed to use the substance, unless their parole specifically states otherwise.
This is a major victory for cannabis advocates and social justice advocates alike, as one of the major reasons the war on drugs gets criticized is because people of color and other marginalized folks are often targeted by police. In the past, it was easy for officers to claim that they were suspicious of cannabis because they smelled it. Now, that excuse will not come so easily.
As legal cannabis continues to take off across the nation, and an end to federal prohibition is even being considered, the struggles of those most impacted by the war on drugs are coming to light. And while many are excited for New York to take off as a hub for cannabis commerce, it’s also important to remember the issues that were prevalent before the industry was legalized.
While it remains to be seen how well these news rules will be obeyed, and how this will affect cannabis arrests in New York, it seems clear that the state is on a more equitable path when it comes to enforcing drug laws.
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