D.C. police officers told smell of marijuana is no longer a reason to make a stop

The District of Columbia's new marijuana law is official one day old, but there's already lots of confusion when it comes to enforcement. On Thursday, D.C.'s police union began pointing out some of the laws, traps and pitfalls, with the sense of smell officers are no longer allowed to use.

Countless court affidavits on drug arrests in D.C. begin with the words, "I detected a strong odor of marijuana...," but according to a special order issued to all officers, the suspicion of a crime in the District can no longer begin with the odor of marijuana.   

The police union shared the special order, pointing out the wording on page three. Cops on the beat can no longer use the detection of sweet smell of pot as probable cause to make a stop.

"When officers get involved in this, its going to open up a lot of internal investigations because they are going to say the officer used his or her sense of smell, which is not usable for suspicion, and that's going to open them up for discipline internally and possibly some litigation," said D.C. Police Union secretary Marinos Marinos.

Marinos says the law raises other issues as well. How will officers know when someone is possessing more than 2 ounces of pot?

"We are going to need a pocket scale, or a scale, and the issue is--we are getting into the weeds here but--is it going to be calibrated for every tour?" said Marinos. "Is it going to have to be MPD issued? Can the officer purchase his or her own scale to bring in to do his or her job? These questions haven't been answered by the department or the city council."

And here's one more to think about. The new law says you can grow up to six marijuana plants in your home. So what happens when officers find more than that, and multiple people live in the house?

"Is it six plants per person with three mature? So if I have four people in my house? It's really fuzzy, the roll out's been a failure. They should have taken their time and done it the right way."

In a fact sheet released by the D.C. Attorney General's office on Thursday, we also learned that federal law enforcement officers, like uniformed Secret Service or U.S. Park Police, can arrest you for possession of marijuana no matter where you are in the city.

Marijuana possession is still unlawful under the federal statutes.

"Our members are going to be very, very reluctant," said Marinos. "It's just going to be too complicated--too convoluted. I think it was purposely written that way, and our members are not going to want to subject themselves to internal discipline by second guessing management and by possibly being sued civilly."

D.C. police officers are now required to sign onto a special internal website and read more than 50 pages on the new law, and how it should be enforced.

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