Catching a whiff of a weed shouldn’t be enough for probable cause, and South Carolina lawmakers want to make sure it no longer is. That’s the thinking behind a bill offered up by a Democratic lawmaker in South Carolina.
State House Representative Deon Tedder “is pushing for a bill where the scent of marijuana alone would not provide law enforcement with reasonable suspicion or probable cause to support a stop, search, seizure or arrest,” according to local television station WSPA.
“The smell alone is not enough to be considered an illegal act because the accused could’ve been around someone who was illegally using marijuana or legally using hemp and both substances smell the same,” Tedder said, as quoted by the station.
“It’s a fishing expedition is what I call it,” he continued. “It just allows for them to search for things, so I think that this bill will take care of that and stop certain bad actors on police forces from doing a fishing expedition because then they could just go look for anything.”
The station reported that the bill “would stop a person or motor vehicle from being stopped or searched based solely on the scent of marijuana, cannabis or hemp, whether burnt or not,” and that it would not “stop an officer from searching a vehicle if someone appears under the influence.”
Tedder, a Democrat from Charleston, was motivated to propose the legislation because he believes “most people stopped and searched in South Carolina are African American males who were stopped because an officer allegedly smelled marijuana,” according to the station.
The bill might have an uphill climb in the state’s general assembly, where Republicans hold large majorities in each chamber.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, has said that he is opposed to legalizing recreational pot.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” McMaster said last year. “It’s not helpful.”
South Carolina is currently one of only 14 states that has not legalized medical cannabis, although McMaster has said he is potentially amenable to the policy.
“That’s a different story, and there may be some answers there,” he said last summer. “I know there’s a lot of suffering that is helped with medical marijuana.”
McMaster will be up for re-election this year. One potential challenger, Democratic congressman Joe Cunningham, has made it clear that he intends to run on legalization.
“This is going to be a game changer in South Carolina,” Cunningham said last year of legalizing recreational and medical cannabis in the state. “There are so many reasons why we need to do this, and the time is now.”
“People are behind it, and politicians need to get behind it, too,” Cunningham added.
He might have a point.
A poll released last year by the Marijuana Policy Project found that 72 percent of South Carolina voters support “allowing patients in [the state] who suffer from serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it,” while only 15 percent were opposed.
The absence of a medical cannabis law is not due to a lack of trying.
Legislators in South Carolina have taken a stab at medical cannabis bills in recent years. In late 2020, a Republican state senator there introduced the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, which would have legalized medical marijuana for the following qualifying conditions: cancer; multiple sclerosis; neurological disease; sickle cell anemia; glaucoma; PTSD; autism; Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis; cachexia; conditions that cause people to stay home chronically, be chronically nauseous or have persistent muscle spasms; a chronic medical condition requiring opiates and terminal diseases where the patient has a year or less to live.