Photo Credit Cornell Watson for The Assembly

The Assembly quoted an Emancipate NC amicus brief written by Elizabeth Simpson this month in an article detailing the current status of appellate litigation about the odor of cannabis. Defense attorneys, including Ben Kull, have consistently argued that the mere smell of cannabis can no longer serve as probable cause to search a vehicle – because the smell of legal hemp is identical to the smell of illegal marijuana. 

In State v. Dobson, however, the Court of Appeals upheld a conviction that stemmed from this ambiguous smell, unwilling to grapple with the State Bureau of Investigation’s own warning that the “unintended consequence of [legalizing hemp] is that marijuana will be legalized in NC because law enforcement cannot distinguish between hemp and marijuana and prosecutors cannot prove the difference in court.”

Of course, law enforcement uses the smell of “weed” as a tool for racial profiling. Any time they want to search a car, they can claim they got a whiff. So even as marijuana use rises among white residents, marijuana enforcement stays steady against Black and Brown residents.

Last November, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police beat down a Black couple they suspected of smoking weed – even though it was a legally purchased hemp cigarette with THC-A. Racial disparities are epic in marijuana enforcement in North Carolina and across the country. 

As President Biden announces plans to reclassify marijuana to ease penalties, it is past time for North Carolina to end the racist enforcement of marijuana laws. 

Read more about the state of the law on cannabis at The Assembly