A controversial new drug policy in England and Wales has casual weed-smokers breathing a sigh of relief, while police officers are left scratching their heads.
Officers Advised To Discontinue ‘Cannabis Smell’ Police Stops
Dissension has broken out amongst UK police forces due to recent advice that warns arresting officers NOT to stop and search people simply because an officer smells cannabis.
The change in policy was actually brought to police’s attention last year but was just recently reiterated in a Tuesday report by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The guidance suggests that smell alone doesn’t constitute a stop and search, and other factors, such as behavior, should be considered before any action is taken. The report also noted that frequent stop and searches do not necessarily increase the likelihood of a conviction.
“The APP sets out that the smell of cannabis on its own, with no other contributory factors, will not normally justify a search,” the report said. “More recent research has shown that the inclusion of the smell of cannabis in officers’ grounds for search did not increase the likelihood that a search for cannabis resulted in a criminal justice outcome.”
While this serves as more of a guideline than an actual police mandate, it has caused a level of disconnect amongst police forces, according to a new report from the BBC.
Chief Constable Andy Cooke, of Merseyside Police, for example, said he would not be giving that advice to his teams—despite the memo from the Inspectorate of Constabulary.
He took to social media to vent his frustration with the guidelines.
“I disagree. The guidance in my view is wrong and the law does not preclude it,” Cooke tweeted. “Smell of cannabis is sufficient to stop search and I will continue to encourage my officers to use it particularly on those criminals who are engaged in serious and organized crime.”
Another police officer from North Yorkshire seemed to echo Cooke’s sentiment. He also took to Twitter to express his confusion over the new “rule.”
“If I smell Cannabis on someone or coming from a vehicle then I’ll conduct a search. I don’t think there’s a cop in this land that wouldn’t. Recently not only had that led to me seizing quantities of Cannabis, but also arresting drivers showing with it in their system,” the tweet read.
Final Hit: Dispute Erupts Over New Policy On ‘Cannabis Smell’ Police Stops
Although the report has been met with a lot of scrutiny, there has been no official law change, and most of its findings justified the new approach.
According to the report, of 8,500 recorded stops, 596 were based on the smell of cannabis alone. However, it was concluded that the behavior of the suspects led to more arrests rather than cases based purely on the stench.
“It concluded that a suspect’s behavior should be more important than the smell of cannabis when deciding to conduct a search, because behavior linked directly or indirectly to drugs increased the likelihood of a positive outcome,” the report noted.
The Inspectorate also suggested that most of these stops were a waste of police time, due to the petty nature of the crimes. Additionally, it was concluded that minorities were being targeted far more often than white people. In fact, the report noted that people of color were eight times more likely to be stopped than white people—a discrepancy that heavily factored into the reinforced guidelines.
“Of particular concern is the continuing over-representation of black people in stop and search figures,” the report said. “Forces must be able to explain the reasons for any disparity if they are to enhance the trust and confidence of all communities.”