By Joe Middleton and Isabella Nikolic For Mailonline
Police officers have been told they can’t stop and search suspects just because they smell of cannabis, a watchdog said yesterday.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said that the smell of cannabis on a suspect was not enough by itself to justify a stop and search as they ruled on a case involving an officer stopping cyclist Emmanuel Arthur.
Mr Arthur was stopped on the junction of Woburn Place and Euston Road in central London as he was on his way back home from a group ride at Box Hill, in Surrey.
The ruling has sparked uproar among rank-and-file officers, who believe the move will virtually decriminalise cannabis and hamper them as they try to crack down on drug dealers.
Ex-Met detective chief inspector Mick Neville blasted the decision, telling The Sun: ‘At a time when crime is increasing, the police do not need any more barriers to stop them targeting drug users and dealers.
”If an officer smells cannabis on a person then this should be sufficient reason to conduct a search.
What is the current law regarding cannabis?
Cannabis has been classed as an illegal substance in the UK since 1928. Anyone caught with the Class B drug faces a maximum of five years in prison.
However those caught distributing and intending to supply the drug face up to 14 years behind bars.
Police are able to issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine if you are found with the drug.
Earlier this year police were accused of ‘effectively decriminalising cannabis’ as it emerged two thirds of users in Britain only receive ‘community resolutions’.
Officers are using the informal agreements, which do not result in a criminal record, for 50 to 70 per cent of people caught with the drug, reported the .
The resolutions are used to avoid drawing those with cannabis into the justice system and give police an alternative to formal charges, fines, cautions or warnings.
Their usage by the Metropolitan Police has risen tenfold in three years, up from 3.8 per cent in 2015/16 to 50.7 per cent of users in the first quarter of 2019/20.
”We are reaching the stage where drug users could smoke a spliff in front of police, knowing full well that an officer can do nothing about it.”
The IOPC upheld a complaint made by Emmanuel Arthur, the founder of Black Cyclists Network, who said he was ‘harassed and humiliated in a public space’ during the incident in November last year.
The watchdog found the Metropolitan Police officer’s grounds for the search, under Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, were not reasonable.
Mr Arthur posted a video of the stop and search on Instagram, which has since been widely shared online, where he was seen removing his shoes and being patted down by the police officer.
The officer then admitted he could no longer smell cannabis.
Mr Arthur’s complaint was that he was racially profiled was not upheld because a review of a year of the officer’s stop and search records found he had used the single reason of smelling cannabis to stop and search ‘people of all ethnicities and genders,’ the watchdog said.
Mr Arthur said the officer initially approached him while he was waiting at traffic lights, over the line where cars stop.
He said that when the officer asked him to go back behind the line he refused because it would have been dangerous as it would have meant going into the blind spot of a small HGV behind him.
Mr Arthur then started cycling away when the lights changed but said he was called back by the officer who told him he smelt cannabis on him during their conversation.
He was then searched for drugs.
Alongside the video Mr Arthur wrote: ‘I am very annoyed at having to go through such a degrading and humiliating experience.
‘It seemed to me like a gross abuse of power by an officer who tried to show off to his colleagues and made up a reason as retribution for his failed attempt.’
The officer, who has not been named, has been told to undertake ‘reflective practice’.
IOPC regional director Sal Naseem 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.
‘Our investigation found the officer had used the same approach on other occasions, but with people of all sexes and ethnicities.
‘However, it’s still important to acknowledge that Mr Arthur felt racially profiled.
‘The importance of police officers recognising, and being aware of, the disproportionate impact stop and search has on black communities in particular cannot be understated.’
Mr Arthur is the founder of Black Cyclists Network, a group which aims to connect BAME cyclists, and was on his way back from a group ride when he was stopped.