Virginia: Legislation Bars Police from Using Marijuana Odor as a Pretext for a Search

Marijuana Justice Scales

House and Senate lawmakers have finalized and passed legislation, Senate Bill 5029 and House Bill 5058, during a special legislative session that severely limits the ability of police to engage in warrantless searches solely on the basis of the smell of marijuana.

Language in the bills, which now await approval from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, states that “no law-enforcement officer may lawfully search or seize any person, place, or thing solely on the basis of the odor of marijuana and no evidence discovered or obtained as a result of such unlawful search or seizure shall be admissible in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding.” Separate provisions in the bills also provide limitations on the ability of law enforcement to issue summons for minor traffic infractions.

Lawmakers this spring decriminalized low-level marijuana possession offenses, reducing penalties to a $25 civil fine. That law took effect on July 1.

Commenting on the advancement of the legislation, Jenn Michelle Pedini – NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML said, “While this will certainly decrease non-essential interactions between law enforcement and otherwise law-abiding Virginians, it is only by legalizing the responsible use of cannabis by adults that the Commonwealth can end its failed experiment with prohibition and begin repairing the decades of damage.”