The Smell Of Marijuana Should Not Be A Death Sentence

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 22, 2017

    download (1)Philando Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop last year. This week we learned that the officer rationalized his actions by claiming that the alleged smell of “burnt marijuana” made him fear for his own life.  Here is how the officer recounted his actions, in his own words: “I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”

    The reality that law enforcement would make such claims, and then use lethal force based on such misconceptions, speaks once again as to why we need to both reform America’s marijuana laws and reassess the way that police interact with the communities for which they are sworn to protect and serve.

    Too often we hear of violence being perpetrated by officers of the state against our fellow citizens on the basis of similarly irrational claims. Philando Castile is the name we must speak today, but sadly there are countless others, particularly people of color, who have fallen victims to or as a result of this senseless marijuana prohibition.

    Keith Lamont Scott, a 43 year old black man, was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina in September of 2016 after police officers saw him smoking what they described as a “blunt” in his parked vehicle.

    Ramarley Graham, an 18 year old black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 while flushing marijuana down a toilet after police had entered his Bronx apartment.

    Trevon Cole, a 21 year old black man, was shot in the head and killed in 2010 while attempting to flush marijuana down his toilet after police forced their way into his apartment at 9 am during a drug raid.

    These are just a few of the names that have made headlines in recent years, not to mention the hundreds-of-thousands of individuals, disproportionately young people of color, who are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana violations.

    According to the ACLU, Between the years 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million pot arrests in the United States. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested were charged with violating marijuana possession laws. Among those arrested, the ACLU reports:

    “On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

    They continue:

    (T)he War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.”

    Regulating the adult use of marijuana can play a role in reducing some of the drug war’s most egregious effects on our citizens. For instance, we have seen immediate easing of tensions in states that have enacted legalization when it comes to interactions between police and the communities they serve in relation to traffic stops.

    The United States of America and our citizens face tremendous issues, including the long-standing racial tensions held over from the original sin of slavery and its lasting effects, mentalities, and systems of oppression. Legalizing marijuana alone is not going to solve all of these problems, but it will take away yet another tool of the state and law enforcement to oppress those they are sworn to protect.

    Below are additional facts regarding the racial disparity of prohibition:

    *  A 2017 analysis of New Jersey arrest data found that African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws (The American Civil Liberties Union, Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users, 2017)

    *  A 2017 analysis of Virginia arrest data determined that African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as compared to whites and that this disparity is increasing (Capital News Service, The numbers behind racial disparities in marijuana arrests across Virginia). A separate analysis reported that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population (Drug Policy Alliance, Racial Disparities in Marijuana arrests in Virginia: 2003-2013, 2015).

    *  An analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. (The American Civil Liberties Union, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, 2013)

    *  A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Nearly 500,00 Californians Arrested for Marijuana in Last Decade, 2016) A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. (California NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, 2010)

    *  A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino. (New York Times, Race and marijuana arrests) Those percentages have been consistent for several years. (Drug Policy Alliance, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s  Two New Yorks, 2014)

    *  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Colorado police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 3.1 times the rate of whites. (Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado: 1986-2010, 2012)

    *  Prior to the enactment of legalization, Washington police arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 2.9 times the rate of whites.(Drug Policy Alliance, Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington, 1986-2010, 2012)

    *  Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1. (Chicago Reader, The Grass Gap)

    *  Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes. (Washington City Paper, Crime stats show DC leads nation in per capita marijuana arrests)


    65 responses to “The Smell Of Marijuana Should Not Be A Death Sentence”

    1. Evening Bud says:

      Welcome to the American police state.

      • Mark Mitcham says:

        @ Evening Bud,
        The GOP police state, that is.

        This article by Justin Strekal demonstrate that racism and bigotry are incompatible with marijuana legalization.

        Therefore, the marijuana legalization community unequivocally rejects the white-supremacist, KKK-loving bigots Trump and Sessions, along with and including all of their racist Republican enablers and supporters.

        There is no middle ground here.

    2. Julian says:


      Phillip Smith’s take from Alternet.

      Incidentally, is anyone else experiencing issues with this blog? The last time I posted there were five comments and this was the third blog. Now there are no comments posted and its the first blog. Are we going through some updates? Just wonderin.

    3. Fakenews says:

      When you reach for a FIREARM cops have every right to defend their life. THIS VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH SMOKING MARIJUANA

      • Julian says:

        Well, Fakenews youre an appropriately named moniker arent you?
        Theres video eidence he was reaching for his wallet as the officer clearly asked him to do before he was shot in front of a four year old.
        And this has everything to do with marijuana if the cop used the alleged smell as justification for cold blooded murder, you dip$#!+ of hollow-minded uselesness.

      • Julian says:

        Wow. We lost 5 insightful posts and the three we get back on this blog include THIS piece of work?
        Fakenews… such an appropriately named moniker for so such a shallow resovoir of research.
        Okaaay… were gonna spoonfeed you Faky…
        1). The video evidence clearly demonstrates Philando Castille was reaching for his wallet as the officer ASKED him to do, not his weapon.
        2). This case has EVERYTHING to do with marijuana when the officer in question reports the smell of marijuana somehow justifies the cold blooded murder of a man in front of a 4 year old child.

        If you dont want to read, dont write.

      • Joe Bullwhacker says:

        Castile threw his gun over the fence, not aiming at the officer. Officer was so high on adrenalin he was going to kill someone, and he did just as the gun was tossed and the final shot to finish him off.

        Police training is to blame. They are taught to shoot until the suspect does not move or is dead, and when done shooting, stand around several minutes so the suspect can bleed to death – make sure he’s dead.

        Too many chicken shit cops now fear for their life because it is a get out of jail free card and has been forever, and looks like will continue to be.

        No wonder police are now being randomly targeted; sort of like black people randomly targeted.

        New big thing will be targeting the very rich. They don’t help the poor get jobs or better wages or whatever. They just let the profits trickle up to the saving account. We’ve seen that with every tax cut for the very rich so they will be next.

        The inequality between poor and the very well off is too great and will not stand. All cultures with that makeup fail from within.

        Thanks for listening.

        • Mark Mitcham says:

          Another indication of problems with police training is the testimony of the cop saying that it was specifically his police training that qualified him to recognize the smell of both “burnt” and “fresh” marijuana.

          This is not the way to “learn” about marijuana, by amplifying and reinforcing an officer’s reefer-madness mentality. What did they do, burn some in a petri dish at the police station?

          Instead, police officers who have hostile and ignorant misconceptions about cannabis should be flagged as “problem officers” and taken off the streets. They should then be required to spend time in stoner company and society until they pull their twisted heads out of their backward asses.

    4. Julian says:

      All those posts were erased. What happened?

      Anyway the most important one was this:

      Do not tell an officer you have a weapon unless asked or you give permission to search your vehicle.
      If an officer searches your vehicle without consent, you must file a Motion to Supress Evidence, preferably in a court higher than where the officer serves. If its a city cop, file with the county. County cop? File with the state to Federal and so on.

    5. Julian says:

      For your civil suit against the officer… also out of venue (city to county to state and federal)…
      Here are the list of typical charges filed:

      Types of misconduct include coerced false confession, intimidation, false arrest, false imprisonment, falsification of evidence, spoliation of evidence, police perjury, witness tampering, police brutality, police corruption, racial profiling, unwarranted surveillance, unwarranted searches, and unwarranted seizure of property. Others include:

      Bribing or lobbying legislators to pass or maintain laws that give police excessive power or status
      Similarly, bribing or lobbying city council members to pass or maintain municipal laws that make victim-less acts tickettable (e.g. bicycling on the sidewalk), so as to get more money
      Selective enforcement (“throwing the book at” people who one dislikes; this is often related to racial discrimination)
      Sexual misconduct
      Off-duty misconduct
      Noble cause corruption, where the officer believes the good outcomes justify bad behavior
      Using badge or other ID to gain entry into concerts, to get discounts, etc.
      Influence of drugs or alcohol while on duty
      Violations by officers of police procedural policies
      Police officers often share a ‘code of silence’, which means that they do not turn each other in for misconduct. While some officers have called this code a myth, a 2005 survey found evidence that it exists.

    6. mexweed says:

      Re: bicycling on the sidewalk– seems cyclists are rightly concerned about reckless drivers and choose the sidewalk for self-preservation. (Of course, they must abide by a much slower speed so as not to terrorize innocent civilian walker victims.)
      Relevance to cannabis issue: who knows how many cyclists are persons who recently had reasonable tokes and/but are concerned not to be driving a vehicle just then in any case? If cannabis is legalized, will massive overweight rich guy snob luxury car sales drop?

      • Mark Mitcham says:

        @ mexweed,

        I am continually impressed at how grounded you are. I think for some experienced users, tokes provide some lucidity, which helps them see their world more clearly, and can help eliminate the mania which marketing, of all kinds, infuses into our minds.

        Slow down and think about it… Not getting hit by a car, as a priority, is a higher priority than any meeting or function you might have going on that day. So why do we race to work,then hear about the accidents later that night on the evening news? (Unless, of course, it was you on the news!)

        Toke on that, then stay safe out there, my friends!

      • Julian says:

        I can answer one question, Mexweed: if the bicyclists are from Austin theyre ALL stoned! Especially if you see a frisbee-golf disc in their backpack… These people remain high continuously. Its rather impressive. But then, you kinda have to be stoned to ride a bycicle in Austin these days… with all the traffic and drunk District Attorney’s riding around you wanna stay stoned to survive the impact and the ride to the hospital …which could involve another accident.
        The Texas legislature is never going to fix our roads out here either. Too busy passing bathroom bills like suddenly trannies will start using men’s bathrooms or the AT&T center in SA is going to build “mixed gender” bathrooms… instead of passing sensible marijuana reform which would reduce traffic… and byciclist… fatalities. (Now there’s a scary thought… going to see Iron Maiden tonight and mistakenly wandering into the “mixed gender” bathroom. “No! The 80’s hair-band days are OVER and you two will put that lipstick away right this INSTANT!” …lol… ok, Maiden is NOT a hair band, that was a joke, and besides, us Maiden fans are all middle-aged now which is scary enough, so we need to get stoned just to survive General Admission…)
        Actually Mexweed I confess I copied that list of police misconduct from Wikipedia. I thought about replacing the bicycle example with “marijuana smell” but now Im glad I left it in, as it lead to this post. 🙂

    7. TheOracle says:

      What about legal cannabis banking? Cannabis consumers need a place to consume, like Dutch coffeeshops so that if they can’t do it at home or in public that they are not smoking and driving in a vehicle where the driver compartment is separated from the smoking compartment. Party train cars on Amtrak. Adult cannabis clubs and coffeeshops. We all need legal cannabis banking.

      Things like this should not be a death sentence.

      • Julian says:

        @the Oracle,

        Now that it appears that this blog is functioning properly, (Fake news excepted), and now that I was able to adequately respond to the problem in question, allow me to respond to “What about cannabanking.”

        Some banks are complicit in the drug war. We didnt have to watch Scarface to figure that out, we could just ask ourselves where all the DOJ’s secret accounts go? Somebody has to clean all that money for the IRS. So banks are caught in a rock and a hard place for clean cash and even NORML has recently been experiencing rejected accounts from the likes of Bank fuck America who choose not to distinguish legal activist groups from illegal drug trafficking.
        This is for us to make Congress fix. And unfortunately the Dems are not going to win back Congress and fix the broken banks unless the Supreme Court rules against gerrymandering and we take the Republican Crosscheck Program to court and stop voter caging.

        • TheOracle says:

          PNC Bank (NYSE: PNC) it appears also does not choose to distinguish legal activist groups from illegal drug trafficking.


          Big Banking is too big to need cannabis money, a least not without it first being laundered through a CIA asset shell company. You know, the cargo on government affiliated aircraft, the cargo: drugs, guns and money–Cuban-French-Southeast Asia connection,Iran-Contra, pallets of cash money delivered to Afghanistan. Once that cash is off the pallet you pretty much lose track of it so don’t know if it’s going to friends or foes (IS, et al.).

          Smaller banks–banks that are not too big too fail–are going to have to process that cash. Pennsylvania’s governor has as recently as this June (June 2017) told Sessions the state is going forward with implementing legal medical marijuana. That was just before Pennsylvania announced the 12 out of 447 applicants (177 for grower/processor licenses and 280 for dispensary permits).




          • TheOracle says:

            Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law is similar to New York’s in that smoking cannabis is not allowed, thus bud is not sold not even to vaporize, a great big cave-in to law enforcement because it doesn’t matter if you’d got a legal MMJ card, weed still isn’t allowed. As a medical marijuana patient, you can’t get around that by growing your own. You are not allowed to grow your own.

            Weak programs like this are faltering financially and in their purpose. Their purpose is to serve the medical marijuana sector of the cannabis community, but the black market bud is still cheaper than whatever delivery options the state allows: oils, cartridges, and whatever you can make with them, eg. homemade medibles, teas, etc. The state guaranteed cannabis monopoly is keeping pricing high because its costs are not split among a larger group of medical cannabis consumers. Are they even producing cannabis at maximum capacity?

            It’s just too restrictive. Plain and simple, the list of qualifications to get a medical marijuana card is far too tight, and the lack of legal availability of cannabis in seed, clone, and cured retail bud is continuing to force folks to the black market, as most folks won’t or can’t grow their own.


            • Julian says:

              @the Oracle:
              I’ve been witnessing this trend expand; Big Pharma, Project SAM and private prisons just pushed their smokeless mmj market in Florida as well, even though it was written into their amended constituion from their voter initiative.
              Its synthetics vs. whole plant cannabis. Which is why Ive been saying NORML chapters need to keep contact with laboratories to test products for whole plant purity… meaning no synthetic additives, no molds or dangerous chemicals. Were already hearing about fentanyl being mixed with whole plant marijuana. The legal stuff we buy has to be held accountable. Meanwhile we keep fighting in state and federal legislatures and in courts to improve the law.

          • Julian says:

            Thanks for reminding me of the other bank, PNC… theyve been giving NORML chapters trouble as well. But theres always a bank somewhere willing to take our money. As you well observe, if theyre pushing the CIA-mafia’s money than theres a conflict. The way the legal industry is about to grow under California though the banks, the DOJ… and the national street value of weed are about to get a run for their money. The current legal marijuana resistance is epic. And the stakes (and the rebels) could never be higher.

    8. Tom Turgid says:

      What will you all do …when a Tyrant says… I don’t care about science… or facts… or even the truth itself?

      What will you do when a Tyrant says , Do what you are told or go to prison?…Whiny comments won’t matter at all.

    9. Miles says:

      In my opinion, based on the content of this article, the officer that shot and killed Philando Castile is guilty of murder. Extreme ignorance is not a good excuse! He killed that little girls father and should be in prison for it.

      If that cowardly officer was so afraid for his life, just because of the smell of marijuana, there is no way he should have ever been a police officer.

      Once again, for approximately the thousandth time, I wonder when are Americas leaders going to pass sensible legislation regarding the use of cannabis.

      This idiocy has to end. Seriously, do more people have to die first? If so, then how many will it take?

    10. Julian says:

      This is how you win a civil suit against a violent, racist cop;


      “The woman’s mother, Mary Dawes, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, police department and two officers, alleging excessive force against the mother of two.”

      Wake up and sue EVERYbody for police misconduct. And dont be afraid to go federal, no matter what the cost. If you have a good civil trial lawyer they know they can work on retainer. When a four year old has to tell her hand-cuffed mother “dont scream mommy, I dont want you to get shooted…” from the back of a police car after her boyfriend was murdered by an unprofessional adrenaline junkie who goes to court and justifies his violent cowardice on the smell of marijuana?
      Sue his @$$ in Federal court, sue the city, sue his momma for failing to raise a man. We cannot allow this case to stand.