The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees your right to be free from “unreasonable search or seizure.” This means police can’t search your vehicle during a traffic stop unless they have reasonable grounds – in legal terms, “probable cause” – to believe that you’re committing a crime.
Over the years, court decisions have shaped what it means to have probable cause. Courts have historically ruled that when police officers smell cannabis in a vehicle during a traffic stop, they have adequate grounds for a search. They reasoned that, because possession of marijuana was a criminal offense, the scent of it provided ample grounds for police to suspect that the vehicle’s occupants were committing a crime.
However, times have changed. Recreational cannabis has been legal in Illinois since 2020. And it’s become increasingly clear how police officers rely on the smell of cannabis to conduct searches that disproportionately impact people of color.
A new law might change things
A proposed law in the Illinois legislature would prevent law enforcement from conducting vehicle searches based solely on the smell of cannabis, whether raw or burnt. If passed, this law would bring the legal framework up to date with the legalized status of cannabis.
However, it’s important to note that there are strict laws regarding how to transport weed in Illinois. Make sure you keep it in a sealed, child-proofed container that’s odor-resistant, and never smoke while driving or even sitting in a parked vehicle. Violating these laws could result in criminal charges, and they could also impact your driver’s license.
As always, if you’re facing drug-related charges of any kind, talk to a knowledgeable Illinois lawyer about your rights and options.