Police can't search based on pot smell alone, Sask. court rules
A Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling that police can't search a vehicle just because they smell burned marijuana will change how police conduct themselves, a lawyer says.
In December, lawyer Ron Piche successfully defended a La Loche man who was arrested after police found marijuana.
He was charged with possession of marijuana after police pulled over his truck and the officer smelled pot. After a search, police found eight grams of marijuana and a list of names. They also charged him with possession for the purpose of trafficking.
However, he beat the charge when a provincial court judge ruled the arrest and search was unreasonable.
In a 35-page decision released on Dec. 14, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal agreed and upheld the acquittal.
The court said just because an officer can smell burned marijuana, it doesn't mean a suspect smoked the drug just before and it doesn't mean a suspect is likely to be carrying marijuana.
"This case really takes a lot of those powers away from police," Piche said. "The smell of marijuana can't constitute the grounds to arrest someone because marijuana smell means that it's burned. It's gone. It's in the atmosphere. It no longer exists."
Piche believes the ruling will result in a significant change for law enforcement in Saskatchewan.
However, a veteran Saskatoon drug investigator has a different view of the high court ruling.
"It won't make my job any more difficult at all," said Sgt. Dean Hoover.
Hoover says he may not be able to arrest people if he smells pot, but it doesn't stop him from investigating.
"I just have to do a little bit more of an investigation," Hoover said. "I just can't simply detain them and search the vehicle right away. I've got to use my head like any police officer has to do and conduct an investigation."
Saskatchewan's police commission says it wants to review the ruling before formally changing how officers proceed.