Would Missouri allow someone to drive legally under the influence of pot? We hope not. | Guest Commentaries

A lawmaker’s proposal to ban warrantless searches based on the odor of marijuana would bring Missouri in line with commonsense drug reform seen in other states. But language of the prefiled bill will need some work when the General Assembly reconvenes next month.

“The odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a motor vehicle, home, or other private property,” reads a bill sponsored by state Rep. Ian Mackey, a Democrat from the St. Louis area.

There is no co-sponsor of the bill but Mackey expects bipartisan support. Missourians overwhelmingly approved the use of marijuana for medical reasons in 2018.

No one should be subjected to warrantless searches based on their medication, Mackey said. He’s right. Tens of thousands of Missourians use legal medical cannabis. Why should police officers be allowed to search their vehicles or property without probable cause that a crime has been committed? The easy answer: They shouldn’t.

Don’t think it’s possible for someone to end up on the wrong side of the law because of an abstract legal argument? Consider the case of Jamie Wilson, a Trenton, Missouri, man authorized by the state to use marijuana. He was also medically exempt to cultivate pot. Yet, he was jailed for weeks in Daviess County for felony marijuana possession after a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper stopped him in 2019 for a traffic violation after Wilson overtook a semitractor-trailer on a highway in the county.

The patrolman, using the smell of pot as probable cause that a crime had occurred, discovered 2 ounces of marijuana in Wilson’s pickup during a search. Another 6 ounces of pot was found in a backpack near Wilson’s 4-year-old grandson, according to court records.

Wilson was charged with illegally possessing pot — a felony — and child endangerment, among other misdemeanor charges. He did not have his medical marijuana card with him when he was pulled over. But the case was dismissed last year after a lengthy legal challenge.

There are many more people like Jamie Wilson fighting for their freedom in Missouri because of ambiguous medical marijuana laws in the state. Law-abiding Missourians have the right to travel freely with their medicine. A bill that allows police to use the smell of burned marijuana to conduct criminal searches is understandable. But no one should be against protecting the rights of those in possession of authorized medicine.

About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

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