File Photo – North Chicago Police Department | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

(The Center Square) – Senate Democrats in Springfield have advanced legislation that would prohibit law enforcement from conducting vehicle searches based on the smell of marijuana.

With recreational marijuana now legal in Illinois for roughly the past three years, individuals also would no longer be required to store marijuana in an odor-proof container as they travel.

Senate Bill 125 is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Rachel Ventura.

Supporters of the measure argue it will protect residents from unreasonable searches.

The idea for the legislation stems from a court case in Will County where an officer pulled over a driver whose vehicle smelled of marijuana and the suspect told officers someone had smoked in the car much earlier.

“People – especially people of color – are unnecessarily pulled over far too often,” Ventura told Marijuana Moment.

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“The odor of cannabis alone shouldn’t be one of those reasons. Cannabis is legal in Illinois and it’s a pungent scent that can stick to clothes for extended periods of time,” Ventura said.

Illinois Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk is among the growing number of law enforcement officials speaking out against the measure.

“You can’t have endless marijuana in a vehicle,” Kaitschuk told The Center Square.

“It’s only legal to a certain amount. Are we also going to inhibit the ability to intervene when the smell of burnt cannabis may be coming from the vehicle, when the motorists may actually be impaired?”

Kaitschuk says he also worries such a law could come to hamper officers, ultimately impacting the way they seek to do their jobs.

“I think this bill will have the ability to impact illicit markets in terms of people being able to carry more of the drug than they should,” he said. “Plus, folks may traffic marijuana cannabis to mask other drugs that may illegally be in the vehicle.”

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Kaitschuk said he thinks the bill amounts to a solution in search of a problem.

“We’re not just stopping people because we smell cannabis,” he added. “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.”

The bill is now headed to the Illinois House for debate.