Cannabis Stop & Search – Know Your Rights

Club News Harm Reduction

By Charli Knights

Under Section 23 of The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the rather outdated and draconian statute that police are forced to govern in the UK they have the ability to stop, question and search you in the street. To do this they must follow a set of procedures – and they will do this if they suspect that you may have some plant matter by the name of cannabis in your possession.

It’s not uncommon for the police to stop and question someone on the street that they suspect as suspicious, they can question the person but if they believe that there is reasonable suspicion further investigation may be needed and this means they can carry out a full stop and search of your body. Recently in Crawley of West Sussex a young man who we will call Matthew was approached by two police officers while waiting for some friends ready for an evening out.

“There is a very strong smell of cannabis around here, Do you have anything on you you shouldn’t have….?

“No… I haven’t got anything, I am just waiting for a friend” Matthew, 25 nervously answered.

He was waiting for someone to join him before heading off to the pub. He’d been standing there for around 5 minutes and he could also smell the sweet, earthy aroma that was product of one thing, and one thing only.

The Police Officer looked quizzically at him, and then to the female officer waiting alongside the pavement.

“Well, I can’t be sure of that now can I?  Doesn’t look good does it? Loitering about in the street. What have you been doing here?”

“Nothing officer, I haven’t done anything. I am just waiting to go to the pub with my mates”

“Mates? Thought you said you were waiting for one person?”

“I am waiting for one person here, but then we are going off to meet others… at the pub.”

“I can smell strong cannabis in the air, and I suspect it has been you smoking it, and so I am going to carry out a stop and search OK?”

“erm.. Yeah ok officer, no problem”

Thirty-five minutes later, Matthew arrived, handcuffed at his local police station to have a full body search carried out upon his person. He was arrested under the suspicion of possession of a class b drug under the misuse of drugs act.

This detainment should never have taken place. Matthew was not smoking cannabis, and he did not have any on his person. After a full cavity search was carried out at the station, they put him into a holding cell for around an hour before releasing him without charge – because they couldn’t find anything, because there was nothing to find!

This is approximately 3 hours of Matthew’s life in which he will never get back, and though he was not officially charged with anything, the serious violation and humiliation he was put through is not something he will forget, and all over a smell in the air, and Matthew not knowing what you do and do NOT have to tell the Police when they question you.

Let’s be honest if you can smell cannabis in the air the likelihood that it is going to be concealed up the anus of the person in suspect is pretty slim – don’t you think?

When speaking to Police Officers, the general first rule of thumb is Don’t.

You do not have to tell the Police who you are, where you live or show them any identification should they ask for it. Matthew was lured into conversation with the officer, because he was instantly made to feel guilty. It is human nature when we are accused, or we suspect we are being accused of something to defend ourselves. The Police constantly use this trick to their advantage.

They say things that will make you want to defend your actions, after all – You are doing nothing wrong! It still is not worth letting yourself give away any information to the police which is not required of you.

There is a saying – How does a fish get caught? He opens his mouth…. The more information you give to the Police, the more information they have to try and use against you. When the officer approached Matthew, and asked him if he had anything he shouldn’t have, the correct response would have been –

“Am I obliged to answer that question?”

If the officer tells you that you are in fact obliged to answer that question, ask them under what law is that required, and what is the wording of that law? In order to hold you accountable for a crime, a police officer must know the law he is holding you against, and know the exact wording of that law.

A good police officer will have absolutely no problem with you asking them this, and will be more than happy to explain to you what the law is and why they are holding you under it. If a police officer cannot tell you the wording of the law, or tell you they don’t need to know it, then follow this procedure.

“Are you charging me? Am I being detained? Am I free to go? I am leaving now” – Don’t pause between questions, say it to the officer attentively, and then walk away. Again, if they tell you that you are being charged, ask them for the wording of the law that they are holding you under.

If you are female there needs to be a female officer present there for you to be able to have a search, it cannot be carried out by a male police officer.

Stop & Search Causes Unnecessary Inequality

Over zealous use of stop and account, and stop and searches have lead to civil unrest in some areas of the country in recent years. The London riots of summer 2011 were largely caused by the hugely disproportionate rates of stop and searches being carried out on young black men in certain London boroughs such as Croydon. One teen said he was stop and searched four times in one morning in the weeks leading up to the riots and had been searched over 20 times that month – the worst thing about this is he has never used cannabis or another drug.

Figures from Release the human rights and drug charity show that despite while people being more likely to use drugs more often black people are profiled by the police more, stop and searched more, prosecuted and charged more than white people.

Releases Figures Show A Clear Racial Disparity In Police Enforcement
Releases Figures Show A Clear Racial Disparity In Police Enforcement

Please arm yourselves with the necessary and best available knowledge and advice on Police Stop and Search proceedures by visiting Release and printing off a copy of their Y-Card.


Don’t forget to check out Crawley Cannabis Club on Facebook and find your nearest Cannabis Social Club to get involved and help stop the injustice.



2 thoughts on “Cannabis Stop & Search – Know Your Rights

  1. I believe that male officers can legally search females in the same way that female officers can search males although most if not all force policies prohibit male officers from searching females.

    1. There is no law about gender searching, it is only best practice of police forces/policy where practicable. If nobody of the same gender is available then it is considered not practicable and opposite gender will search.

      Police have a statutory power to stop and ask you to account for yourself (eg, what are you up to)

      You are not obliged to give your details at this point and can walk away.

      Smell of cannabis is not grounds on its own for a search, however along with behaviour and demeanour such as walking off, failing to give details can (and probably will) formulate the grounds for a s23 search.

      Police can use reasonable force to conduct the search. You more the person resists the more reasonable it becomes to use more force.

      A cavity search is not carried out by police, a ‘strip’ search is, this cannot be in a public place (even a back of a prison van with the doors shut is still considered a public place for s23). A search cannot remove anymore than outer clothing in a public place. A strip search will take place in private such as a police station and will not involve touching genitals or penetration.
      If an officer suspects you are concealing drugs in a anus or vagina, you will be arrested and placed in a dry cell until either it comes out naturally, in extreme cases a qualified medical practitioner may be involved to remove it, but this is in cases where it may cause serious health implications for the subject.

      Failing to provide name and address for a suspected criminal offence (s23) will meet the criteria for an arrest (PACE Code G s2.9) under

      A police officer must explain to the subject the grounds for the search, the objective of the search, warrant/collar number if they are not in uniform, the station they are based, that you are detained and that you are entitled to a copy of the search (this may only be available from a police station within 24 hours). They do not need to inform the subject in any perticular order. However if they fail to do any part of this (except warrant number if they are uniform) then it is not a lawful search and therefore they do not have the power to use reasonable force… unless you run off before they get the chance… in which case expect to be chased/taken to the floor etc

      My advice is; don’t take the above article as the law, If you genuinely have not anything on you that you shouldn’t have then be polite, ask the grounds and objective of the search, if they are wearing bodywork video cameras ensure/ask them to switch it on before they explain everything to you. Ask for your receipt afterwards and then contact the force to complain, the receipt will have the officers warrant/ID number. In your complaint explain if the officers video recorded it, this will be reviewed.

      Remember; if you are swearing, shouting or waving your arms around or your demeanour is aggressive it will reinforce the officers reasonable suspicion you may have a controlled drug on you! It will not look good in any complaint that you make.

      Officers that do not comply with the law must be reported via a complaint, the same with officers that are rude (unless you are rude, in which case they may use language in a manner that you will understand… if you swear and shout, so can they!)

      Generally officers couldn’t give a careless about cannabis, there are much bigger issues elsewhere, it takes too much time to deal with associated paperwork, and much prefer to deal with cannabis by offering words of advice; however… if it is close to a school, in public view, drug related driving or subject to complaints from the public then officers will act!

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