Minorities suffer when the smell of weed is good enough for the GOP
Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly are attempting to repeal a law prohibiting police searches that solely rely on the odor of marijuana in a driver’s vehicle.
Although an effort destined for failure, Maryland Republicans are calling for the return of a draconian drug policy that disproportionately impacts minorities.
Conservatives in the General Assembly touted legislation this week to repeal a law that prohibits police searches that solely rely on the odor of marijuana in a driver’s vehicle, local news outlets reported. Maryland joined multiple other states last year in outlawing the practice.
“The irony is, if we see someone chugging a beer, police can pull them over,” said Sen. William Folden, R-Frederick, who added that the law takes away probable cause when “there is a crime occurring, just because you’re saying, well, you’re not allowed to use your nose anymore.”
The malady that is U.S. drug policy, heavily influenced by the war on drugs that has raged on for more than a half-century, has proven to be detrimental to the livelihoods of people of color.
For example, Black and Hispanic individuals are much more likely to be stopped by police and searched for suspected drug possession, with the same being true for drug charges.
Majority-minority cities such as Baltimore, therefore, are notably impacted.
In their recently resurfaced opposition to the law, conservatives have parroted talking points also shared by right-wing think tanks such as The Heritage Foundation, claiming that it impedes officers' work.
But basing searches on odor is inherently flawed. For one, it relies on the words of the police alone, which is far from reliable in any sense of the word.
In addition, traces of marijuana can remain in one’s system for a month or longer, depending on how much they consume. It’s therefore unreliable in determining impairment — and there’s not even a standard for that to begin with.
As stated in a 2017 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which established the .08% blood-alcohol concentration impairment policy for drunk driving, “there is no impairment standard for drivers under the influence of marijuana.”
“The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, (THC), does not correlate well with impairment,” the report states. “While very high levels of THC do indicate recent consumption (by smoking marijuana) it is very unlikely a police officer would encounter a suspect and obtain a sample of blood or oral fluid within a short enough time for high THC levels to be detected.”
Luckily, Democrats have a legislative trifecta in Maryland, holding control of both chambers with a Democratic governor at the helm. The attempt to appeal the law, therefore, is unlikely to go far.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, said this week that Democrats have no interest in taking steps back when it comes to marijuana legislation.
“I think we’re going to have a cannabis bill this year that sort of does some — I don’t want to call it clean-up — but adjustments to the system that we passed last year,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think you’ll see major changes to the program, but implementation adjustments.”
The law was enacted last year alongside the legalization of adult-use marijuana.
When states such as Colorado and Washington began to legalize marijuana, traffic stops decreased substantially, according to a 2020 study by researchers affiliated with Stanford University and New York University.
However, a gap between the rates at which white individuals and minorities were stopped remained.
“We found that white drivers faced consistently higher search thresholds than minority drivers, both before and after marijuana legalization,” the researchers said. “The data thus suggest that, although overall search rates dropped in Washington and Colorado, black and Hispanic drivers still faced discrimination in search decisions.”
With the harm that drug laws cause to minorities, the Republican Party’s position demonstrates a chasm between their ideologies and those of the general public.
Before Maryland voters overwhelmingly voted for marijuana legalization in a 2022 ballot referendum, Republicans opposed the legislation in the House and Senate to no avail.
Yet polling has shown that the percentage of Americans who support legalization has been steadily increasing for years. Data published in November by Gallup showed 70% of Americans supported it.
The trends show that the attitude toward drugs and the policies that target the most vulnerable Americans is changing, albeit incrementally.
But in the meantime, conservatives on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures will continue to fight against the current, doing everything in their power to maintain outdated, draconian laws.
And that’s what it boils down to: They want to hold on to any remnants of criminalization they can as others attempt to move forward.