We all know weed stinks something awful, right? Any third grader could identify the source of that funky, loamy, chemical smell in a matter of seconds.
But one man’s fetid pile of trash is another man’s sweet-scented rose garden. A court in Oregon ruled in August that that the notorious eau de marijuana is not the same as rotting garbage, spoiled eggs, or other truly noxious odors.
The case arose from civil complaints filed by non-smokers who said their neighbors’ cannabis habits really stunk up the place, creating a “physically offensive” aroma under the language of Oregon’s disorderly conduct law.
A three-judge panel on the state’s Court of Appeals disagreed. Some people find the smell obnoxious and unpleasant, sure, the judges said, but many people don’t. Plenty of folks even dig the sweet, sticky odor.
Marijuana smoke is not “physically offensive”
“We are not prepared to declare that the odor of marijuana smoke is equivalent to the odor of garbage,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “Indeed, some people undoubtedly find the scent pleasing. An odor that is very intense and persistent could reasonably be regarded as offensive even if it ordinarily might be considered quite pleasant – perfume, for example, or pungent spices.”
In other words, grass is in the nose of the beholder. You don’t have to tell that to anyone who smokes up on a regular basis. The mere smell of weed can conjure intense emotional responses and spark happy daydreams, even when there’s no chance to toke the stuff.
The smell of weed is subjective
After announcing the decision, the Court of Appeals tossed out the criminal conviction of a man whose apartment was searched following a smell complaint. Jared William Lang was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief after police found graffiti paraphernalia on his property.
Officers visited Lang’s home in 2012 following a complaint of a “physically offensive smell” of marijuana. That, they told him, might be enough to constitute disorderly conduct. Weed was legal at the time only for medicinal use. Officers used their interpretation of the law as grounds to conduct a search – a search the appellate court ultimately declared illegal.
The judges said they simply couldn’t decide whether weed creates a “physically offensive” aroma. The determination is too “subjective,” they said, and depends on the “intensity, duration, or frequency” of each smoker’s weed consumption.
The ruling means Oregonian potheads need not worry that cops will harass them over the pungent odor of toking. It also makes it harder for unhappy neighbors to get revenge by calling the law.
Sadly, though, the decision only applies in Oregon. Marijuana is currently legal there, as it is in Washington, Alaska, Colorado, and the District of Columbia. But in most states, the smell of burning weed is, in itself, grounds for a criminal search warrant.