What If Police Say They Smell Marijuana?

One of the most common questions we get at Flex Your Rights is how to handle a situation in which police claim to smell marijuana. This can happen whether or not you actually have marijuana and police actually smell it, so it's a situation everyone should be prepared for. 

My latest YouTube video takes a look at this tricky question.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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I was pulled over a few years back before a camping trip....tons of stuff in the back seat and bed of my pickup, which leaks water INTO the cab. So, a week of sitting in the warm April weather, following April Showers, and my car smelled musty. I was pulled over for an intermittent brake light, I was asked to step out and then I was asked where the weed was. I stared into the face of this kid, who surely knew me and was joking....and then I laughed at him. He continued to bully me and the more he did it, the more I laughed (it was not ha-ha laughter, there was laughter in my expression). I think three reasons kept me from having the car searched (MAYBE he would have found roach paper from 20 years ago!) 1. Was that I was incredulous at the line of questioning and my responses were honest. 2. I explained the smell as water that had gotten in and i believe his backup thought that was more likely and 3. I dropped my State Trooper Cousin's name (always in reserve, but never would if there were illegal activity going on) and my boyfriend, from the cab of the truck shouted out HIS father's badge number. 

It was scary....even if they found nothing...I had a lot of stuff they would have pulled out onto the side of the road. 

News flash: Not everyone likes skunk weed

This is a great video, so it's camping out in the top spot in my sidebar for the next few weeks. In Fresno, as in many places in California, a refresher course on what to do during police encounters is timely and super-important.

Why is it important? The first reason is obvious: Non-medical cannabis remains illegal, even in California, so the cops are going to light you up most days of the week if you're growing or carrying large quantities. What's less obvious is the sense of entitlement many patients and growers seem to have these days. "I've got my card and my 99-plant grower's letter, they can't touch me," would be a good paraphrase of that worldview. And when you get too comfortable and/or too cocky about your legal status, you're far more likely to make some really dumb mistakes, like yakking about your medical needs to the cops after letting them into your house.

Bad idea, people. This is 1984 all over again, especially with the feds on the prowl. Learn your rights NOW so you can keep your cool and avoid costly mistakes that will hurt you in court.

Marijuana odor

I have had police claim to smell marijuana on me four times.  None of those times did I have any marijuana or smell like it.  I always denied that I had weed, and they never searched me.  I think they were lying, just to see what I would say.  I think they make a lot of easy busts by getting people to give up with that line.

Nuance about it

You didn´t mention the car aspect in your headline, please be more specific in the future. I don´t drive but they cops came over to me anyway, when I was toking at a park. I was indeed harassed by the cops about the smell of herb. Without thinking I immediately denied smoking it. We both knew the smell was overwhelming. But I told him I didn´t consent to a search. This seemed to make him even angrier and he started to stomp around and curse me. But I kept silent. He finally left. My question is, what if I had admitted to it even in the absence of any cannabis? What could he do? Also, shouldn´t you be cutting a deal with the Magic Flight vaporizer people: no smell.

Thanks, Scott.

Feeling Guilty

I talk about how to deal with law enforcement at my LEAP presentations all the time. The main thing I hear from people when I ask why they let police search, is that they didn't wan't to look guilty.


Never let police search, be polite, don't flunk the attatude test.


Jay Fleming

LEAP Speaker

Probable Cause

I've been in this movie before. I consented to a search once and found out later that toothless cops couldn't do a thing. One way to gain "compliance" is to intimidate and threaten. When you're on a dark, lonely country road with no witnesses (other than an unfriendly gang member of the oppressor you're dealing with), it's easy to cave in to the pressure. Film everything. Hold them accountable, since they are trying to pin a false tail on your donkey, your freedom is at stake, and at the end of their day, they get to sleep in their own beds. Don't be uncooperative, but don't assist them in taking you into a cage either. Make it so that you don't help them to take your freedom away. Don't talk to the officer other than providing required ID if driving and that's it. If driving, lock all your doors and do not let the cop have an opportunity to drop the "probable cause" bomb on you. Don't ever consent to a search, instead, demand a supervisor and a signed warrant if your answer to your question of "Am I free to go now" is not a "yes". If the answer is "yes", GTFO of there stat.

Aroma = probable cause?

Cop smells.. ?pot??

Does the existence of cannabis-scented fragrances preclude police from using the alleged smell of marijuana as "probable cause" to conduct a search, since the purported aroma could come from something legal?

The UK drug-fighting non-profit known as Crimestoppers sent scratch'n'sniff pot cards to entire neighborhoods.

'Innocence by Misty', 'Cannabis Flower' Cologne, Kush Perfume, 'Rich Hippie Marijuana' fragrance, 'Cannabis Santal', 'Cannabis Rose' all are said to smell like marijuana. Too, there are marijuana-scented candles as well.

Peter Tosh's 'Bush Doctor' album was banned from many shops upon its release because of a scratch'n'sniff sticker that carried the pungent aroma of marijuana.

Weed smell in car

They don't have any right to arrest you until and unless they have the proof you smell of weed. However, if you smoke in your car, it's better to take caution and get out the smell of marijuana asap.

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