In August, Emancipate NC’s Elizabeth Simpson filed another amicus brief about the racist and xenophobic history of marijuana enforcement in a pending criminal appeal, State v.  Dobson. In the case, police searched a Black motorist’s car and all her passengers because he thought he might smell some residual weed, even though the driver denied smoking and the other police officer on the scene did not smell any weed at all. 

In the brief, Elizabeth argues that North Carolina courts need to adopt an “odor-plus” standard for probable cause related to the alleged smell of cannabis, because cops use the pretext of the smell of weed to racially profile drivers, and because the smell of illegal weed is indistinguishable from the smell of legal hemp products. So, the cannabis odor does not necessarily mean something criminal is going on. 

The brief overviews the history of cannabis’s legality over American history and the racist legacy of the current legal regime. 

Marijuana’s pop cultural association with marginalized groups, including Mexican immigrants, Black people, poor people, and “hippies,” has driven a counter-sensical punitive legal regime. Today, that regime imposes painful racial harm. Americans use marijuana at consistent

rates across race and class, with some differences by age and urban/rural geography. Yet, it is overwhelmingly low-income people of color who are searched, arrested, charged, and convicted for its possession. This racial disproportionality in enforcement – an abnegation of our duty to enforce laws neutrally and without favor – is a grave problem for our state’s commitment to equal protection.

Read the full brief here.