Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are two terms that we have all heard. Whether it be on the evening news, in the paper or the latest CSI episode, it is repeated time and time again. But do any of us really know what that means and if so what does that mean for the expansion of marijuana legalization from state to state and the laws that follow.
In theory, reasonable suspicion is “a reasonable presumption that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. It is a reasonable belief based on facts or circumstances and is informed by a police officer’s training and experience.” Sounds vague right? That’s because it is. It isn’t even part of the federal constitution. This term was literally created by the court to describe suspicion that is less than that of probable cause. An officer can stop and hold a person for reasonable suspicion (an obscure speculation) of a crime but cannot search or arrest.
Probable cause on the other hand needs more of a concrete sense of a crime happening. “Probable cause is the logical belief, supported by facts and circumstances, that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.” In court to claim probable cause for a search or arrest there has to be concrete evidence that there was a crime being committed.
Since the legalities of the cannabis movement and boundaries after legalization are still being worked out, in many states the discussion of “open container laws” have come up. Generally, an open container pertains to alcohol in certain areas, your car for example and public spaces. The law was put into order to curb drunk driving and public intoxication which is entirely necessary. These same laws have now been applied to marijuana but the fact is the law covers all marijuana substances and creates some issues.
The marijuana open container laws make it illegal to consume or carry the marijuana flower or any of the products infused with cannabis in vehicles and public spaces. Of course, the safety of those medicating and the public should be the main concern but when those of us who have been victims of racial profiling has caused instant apprehension and uneasiness.
Reasonable suspicion has been a cover for shameless racial profiling and outright harassment since its origination. A person can get pulled over or stopped in the middle of the street for “reasonable suspicion” of a crime. The assumption is that the officers have been doing their job for so long that they can determine when something is not right. The reality is that many law enforcement officials’ “suspicion” is based solely on the targeting of certain races and religions that are perceived as the “other,” or criminal by default.
With the phrasing of the new marijuana open container laws this would mean that an officer could have “reasonable suspicion” to stop a driver (really any reason under the sun) and possibly, employ probable cause to search an individual’s car if they see what they think could be a weed brownie sitting out. Driving with food and drinks in the car has now become a risk that many people have to honestly take into consideration if they want to safely avoid police harassment.
The cannabis industry has blossomed into an all-encompassing industry with everything from beverages, to food, to candy, many of which have no discerning aroma. In addition to vehicles, public spaces are also areas where reasonable suspicion can come into play. With that addition this may become the new “stop and frisk” for many of us. It’s no secret that the policing in America and training of those police needs to be addressed. Let us not allow the partial end to the “war on drugs” that claimed many minority lives progress into another avenue of incarceration and discrimination.