News 12 September 2020

Watchdog tells the Met Police it is wrong to stop & search someone because they “smell cannabis”

12 September 2020

Following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Metropolitan Police have been told that they should not be stopping and searching members of the public because they “smell cannabis”.

The ruling comes after a member of the public complained to the IOPC that his experience being stopped and searched was “degrading and humiliating”.

Mani Arthur was cycling through London in November last year when he was stopped by an officer who claimed to “smell marijuana” and thus conducted a search.

Mr Arthur said, “I was detained and searched by a police officer under the suspicion of ‘smelling’ of marijuana. I was harassed and humiliated in a public space.”

“He asked for my ID and informed me that he smelled cannabis on me during our exchange. As a result, he needed to search me for possession. He searched me by the side of the road. Before the search, I asked him and his colleagues if they smelled cannabis on me. They said yes. After the search, they conveniently said they did not smell cannabis on me.”

No drugs were found by the officers during the search. 

After receiving the complaint and conducting their independent investigation, the IOPC said, “Stopping someone on the single ground of a suspicion of the smell of cannabis is not good practice and it’s right that the officer will have to reflect on this.”

They rejected Mr Arthur’s complaint of racial profiling however and said, “We did not uphold the complaint in respect of discriminatory behaviour, as a review of the officer’s previous stop and search records suggested he used the single ground of the smell of cannabis to stop and search people of all ethnicities and genders. This supported our view that he would benefit from reflective practice as it showed he often uses similar grounds when stopping and searching members of the public.”

“We also recommended the officer would benefit from further reflective practice to consider the impact of the disproportionate use of stop and search on BAME communities, as it appeared the officer did not understand why Mr Arthur had felt racially profiled by him.”

Black ethnic groups continue to be disproportionately represented in stop and search statistics, with black people being 40 times more likely to be searched than their white counterparts.