Police in the United Kingdom have been advised by the College of Policing against routinely stopping and searching people for cannabis just because they can smell weed.
This official guidance was first issued to police last year but it was reiterated by a report from the Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMICFRS).
According to the HMICFRS report, the practice of stopping and searching people for drugs if police so much as smell cannabis does not really increase the likelihood of a conviction. The HMICFRS says that the smell of marijuana should not be considered a ground to stop a suspect.
This is why the College of Policing advise police officers to simply walk away if they suspect someone to be using cannabis just based on smell. The official guidance, which helps formulate training for police officers in England and Wales, also states that officers should look into other factors such as behavior.
Many police officers do not agree
Merseyside Police Chief Constable Andy Cooke said he does not agree with this guidance and won’t be requiring his team to follow the advice.
Cooke believes the guidance is wrong and that the law doesn’t preclude it. He argued that the smell of marijuana is sufficient for them to stop and search any individual and that he will still encourage his officers to follow this professional practice when dealing with criminals engaged in serious or organized crime.
Northumbria Police’s Matt Locke shares Cooke’s sentiments. He described the guidance as “inconsistent.”
Another officer, from North Yorkshire Police, said in a tweet that he does not think there is a police officer in the country who would not conduct a search if he or she smells cannabis on someone. He also said that doing just this has enabled him to seize quantities of cannabis recently as well as to arrest drivers who had cannabis in their system.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham contended that while the smell of cannabis may be considered reasonable grounds to stop and search, it will be for the officer to explain. According to him, the guidance encourages officers to look for multiple grounds to do a stop and search, and not just base it on smell alone.
The HMICFRS report came after analyzing more than 8,500 records of stop and search and finding that almost 600 of these were conducted based solely on police officers smelling cannabis.
UK’s cannabis policy and classification
Cannabis is a restricted substance in the UK but is currently classified as a Class B drug. This means that cannabis — in any form — is illegal to grow, distribute, sell, and possess. The maximum penalty for the possession of the substance is five years in jail and an unlimited fine. For small quantities of personal use cannabis (generally less than 1 ounce), a cannabis warning can be issued.
Cannabis was reclassified from Class B to Class C in 2004, which removes the threat of arrest for possession but not for distribution. Moreover, this reclassification was designed to enable the police to concentrate its resources on more serious offences, like those involving harder drugs.
However, in 2009, cannabis returned to Class B, and offenders caught in possession of the substance for the third time is subject to a custodial sentence of 28 days.