SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A proposal at the Capitol would change the way law enforcement handles marijuana during traffic stops. It would stop them from searching cars just because they smell it.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2020. Advocates say since people can have it they shouldn’t necessarily be punished just because an officer smells it in their vehicle.

“The mere fact that there may be cannabis inside the vehicle or that somebody inside the vehicle may have the odor of cannabis on their clothing or on their person is not indicative that any criminal activity has occurred,” Ben Ruddell, the director of criminal justice policy at the ACLU of Illinois, said. 

Under the proposal, people would no longer be required to store marijuana in an odor proof container but Ruddell said officers would still be able to search a vehicle if they see a driver is intoxicated or if smoke is coming out of the car.

“It’s not that the odor can never be considered,” Ruddell said. “It shouldn’t be a reason why an officer can take people out of a vehicle and subject them to these very invasive searches which unfortunately, too often traffic stops can result in negative interactions.” 

Law enforcement agencies oppose the bill.

“We’re not just stopping people, because we smell cannabis,” Jim Kaitschuk, the executive director of the Illinois Sherriff’s Association, said. “That’s not a probable cause to stop a car. There has to be some other action or activity that occurred in terms of violation of the Vehicle Code that got us there.”

Kaitschuk said the association is worried about people getting hurt if someone drives high.

“Smelling the odor of cannabis coming from the vehicle, is that enough to give me the ability to be able to make sure that I can maintain that,” Kaitschuk said. “We’ve never been given the appropriate tools, and I guess they’re still developing them, to be able to do a roadside safety check.”

Under the proposal, it would still be illegal for someone to drive under the influence of marijuana.

The measure passed the Senate and is in the House for further consideration.

Senate Democrats say the bill stems from a court case in Will County. In that situation, an officer pulled over a driver whose vehicle smelled like marijuana. The person said someone smoked in the car “a long time ago.”