On Jan. 4, The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that cannabis smell alone cannot justify the search of a vehicle. The ruling, Zullo v. Vermont has implications for all residents of Vermont who consume cannabis.
Leafly reports that Greg Zullo of Rutland, Vermont, was pulled over in Wallingford in March 2014. As Zullo is African American, The Vermont American Civil Liberties Union sued the state after the incident.
The state trooper involved claims that he pulled Zullo over because snow was covering the registration sticker. The police officer smelled cannabis and searched the vehicle even though Zullo refused to allow him to do so. The trooper found a grinder and a pipe with traces of cannabis, so he towed the vehicle even though paraphernalia isn’t a criminal offense in Vermont. It raises lots of questions concerning the reasoning behind the officer’s decision to search and tow the vehicle.
Associate Justice Harold E. Eaton, Jr. ultimately ruled that the smell of cannabis doesn’t constitute searching a vehicle. His reasoning includes the fact that cars that smell like cannabis don’t always have cannabis inside.
Vermont is unique in the sense that recreational cannabis is legal for adults, but storefront locations and cultivation remains illegal. That could all change soon, however, with a bill underway that would create a retail market. Vermont was the first state to legalize recreational cannabis through legislature instead of a ballot initiative, like most other states.
According to Slate, the ruling is a “victory for racial justice.” People of color are much more likely to be arrested for cannabis even though the rates of consumption between black and white people are similar. Zullo was 21 at the time of the arrest and had his whole life in front of him, and shouldn’t be prosecuted for something that is legal.