Cannabis smell still a sticking point for some

Cannabis smell: cannabis branches hang to dry in greenhouse.

Connoisseurs love the smell of cannabis, but not everyone does. There are products formulated to control the aroma of cannabis plants and others to remove the scent after taking a puff.

This aversion to smelling like pot isn’t based solely on personal preference. The aromatics of the flowering plant and burning buds are an easy tell for law enforcement, landlords, and regulators of prohibition.

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Recently in Washington DC, 73-year-old Thomas Cackett was taken to court by his neighbor for smoking too much in his basement apartment, as reported by WUSA9. The neighbor, a health researcher, occupies the two floors above Cackett.

The neighbor claimed that his consumption led to cannabis “fumes” in her apartment, causing her to have headaches. Cackett smokes cannabis for pain relief and says that edibles take too long to kick in and give him stomach aches.

Courts rejected the case after its initial filing in 2020, but the DC Court of Appeals saw merit in the argument. As a result, last week, a judge ordered that Cackett could never smoke cannabis in his apartment again. If he does, he will be in contempt of court–a charge that gets up to six months in jail, a fine, or both.

This is one of the first times local courts got involved in a patient’s at-home consumption habits. But local courts have seen cases regarding cannabis odors before, just with an industrial twist—cannabis odor is one of the first industry regulation considerations made by local jurisdictions following legalization.

Odor used to ban local cannabis operations

Many cities or counties will impart laws on indoor cultivation and processing facilities regarding odor control systems, a lesson learned from Colorado. The state didn’t consider cannabis aroma in the bill upon legalizing it in 2014, and complaints rolled in quickly once operations commenced.

NPR coverage of how Colorado handled the issue shows that city complaints about the smell of cannabis come from residents living around grow facilities, according to reports from multiple outlets.

In Kansas City, MO, there is a grow operation across the street from a rehabilitation facility where 100 men working on sobriety live and commute to work from. The facility owners reported to FOX4KC that the aroma of flowering plants triggered residents, challenging their recovery.

Complaints in other towns aren’t about their sobriety: they just don’t like the smell. The New York Post reported on a coastal California town called Carpinteria in 2018, where more cannabis cultivation licenses are for greenhouse operations.

A greenhouse is open to the elements, making it hard to fully contain the plant’s pungent perfume. But farmers were required by updated regulations to submit odor abatement plans– measures that became common in legalization bills that followed.

The smell is distinct, but so is that of a cow farm or the aromas coming off of industrial operations–and there are lots of towns in America that smell like those. Nampa, ID and Greeley, CO, are a couple. Despite this fact, the odor remains a common reason municipalities ban or restrict zoning for cannabis operations.

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But with few complaints from rapidly growing Nampa, it’s worth asking, is it because of the smell or the stigmatized plant it’s coming from?

Cannabis smell used to harass individuals

Law enforcement has long used the smell of weed as probable cause to search a vehicle. Many argue that this tactic is a means to racially profile people. This became especially topical after the murder of Philando Castile. In response, states are introducing new laws or memos that cannabis aromas don’t give a probable cause.

New York Police Department issued a memorandum shortly after the state legalized cannabis, sharing that smelling burnt flower was no longer a reason to search a vehicle. Maryland is seeking the same protections with HB 1071, which passed the House in March of this year. The bill prohibits law enforcement from searching because they smell cannabis.

The bill also includes a Racial Equity Impact Note, stating that data indicated Black and African citizens made up 60 percent of traffic stops despite comprising only 29 percent of the population. The Note continued that the bill was a measure to ensure cannabis odor doesn’t provide law enforcement an opening to racial profile Maryland residents.

Cannabis flowers have a complex, layered smell with nuances that speak to the region they come from–the same is true about the perception of these aromas. The unique smell of weed is something connoisseurs cherish, but it’s also an ultimate tell for anti-cannabis neighbors and cops hungry to search a vehicle or property.

Based on the current landscape, though normalization efforts are gaining steam, it might be best to use odor-blocking technology for now.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.