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Law Enforcement’s Tough Job with Cannabis

What should law enforcement know about evolving cannabis laws in states across the country?

First of all, I want to say that it’s really important that we have a healthy relationship with law enforcement. Whether we’re in the cannabis industry or law enforcement, these laws and the information around cannabis are evolving and changing. A lot of it has to do with perception and stereotypes.

It’s important that the cannabis industry knows that law enforcement has to uphold the law and manage to enforce laws while these layers of policy are going on at the federal and state level. We want to respect law enforcement. We want to make sure the cannabis industry is doing everything it can to educate law enforcement and work with them.

Because I work with a lot of individuals, families, and patients, I believe it’s important that law enforcement and police officers also understand some basic facts about cannabis, as well as how the evolving laws and interest around cannabis can make enforcement a little complicated.

I serve as an expert witness on cannabis cases. I’m in Massachusetts, where licensed medical patients can possess, grow, and purchase cannabis. The laws here are pretty liberal. A lot fewer people are getting arrested. Certainly, people are not getting arrested for growing cannabis unless they’re growing over the legal amount of six plants. Often, if police find 10-15 plants at a residence they’re using their discretion in terms of assessing whether this person is really breaking the law or just had a few extra plants. They may remove those extra plants and then leave the patient with the allowed amount, which I think is a very reasonable approach to law enforcement.

In other states, specifically Connecticut, we have these evolving cannabis laws and patient needs. Possession with intent to sell is a very common charge for people who have cannabis. For example, if a Connecticut police officer pulls over a driver and smells cannabis they believe that gives them right to search the car – they have a probable cause.

In Massachusetts, however, that has been determined to not be proper probable cause. Just smelling cannabis doesn’t mean that person is impaired. It doesn’t mean that person possesses cannabis. You could work at a legal cannabis facility and drive home from work perfectly sober smelling of cannabis. That does not give police officers in Massachusetts the right to search that driver’s vehicle. In Connecticut, police are still allowed to search in that example.

What happens if a police officer finds three jars of cannabis or multiple vape pens?

Law Enforcement’s Tough Job with CannabisIt’s important that law enforcement uses discretion when determining whether someone is actually in violation of that law and is intending to sell or if they’re just possessing their normal amount. In Connecticut, it’s decriminalized for any adult to possess up to a half ounce of cannabis. For example, I could go to a dispensary in Connecticut and legally purchase a half ounce of cannabis. I could then very simply process that cannabis at home into three grams of cannabis oil – basically concentrated cannabis extract.

Then I could take that cannabis oil and dilute it with a substance that’s completely legal, like coconut oil for example. That oil then gets poured into multiple vape pens with different concentrations. Maybe one pen is for daytime use, one is for evening use, et cetera. Maybe you have 10 vape cartridges or 10 different products.

As far as the police are concerned, they think, “Well, you have 10 of these vape cartridges. That’s nine too many, and so therefore we think that you’re intending to sell your cannabis.” But if that person is in possession of a half-ounce of cannabis, that’s decriminalized. If they process it themselves, they’re not necessarily running a drug factory.

If an individual is under the decriminalized amount of cannabis but gets charged with intent to sell, that’s a felony in Connecticut. That is a possible jail sentence. Police should use discretion in determining whether that person is truly selling something or whether they’re just processing the cannabis product into something they want for personal use.

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