Skip to main content Accessibility help

Change Is in the Air: The Smell of Marijuana, after Legalization

  • William Garriott


Marijuana continues to be legalized throughout the world. In the United States, a unique approach to legalization is taking hold that focuses on the creation of commercial marijuana markets. This article examines the everyday realities of this approach to legalization through a focus on one of marijuana’s most legally significant attributes: its smell. In the context of prohibition, the smell of marijuana was a key tool of criminal law enforcement. In the context of legalization, its significance has expanded to include nuisance laws governing the presence of unwanted odors and commercial laws that facilitate economic activity in the marijuana market. By focusing on the sense of smell in the context of marijuana legalization, this article shows the implications of the market-based approach for drug policy reform. More broadly, this focus highlights the importance of the senses to sociolegal change and the ongoing construction of legality in the context of capitalism.



Hide All

The research on which this article is based was generously supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. I would like to thank my colleagues at Drake University for their multiple engagements with this piece, particularly those in the Law, Politics, and Society Program, the Drake Law Library, members of the Faculty Writing Project, students in the Senior Seminar, and my research team. I would also like to thank Heath Cabot and the four anonymous reviewers for their generous, constructive feedback. And, of course, I am forever indebted to those in Colorado who were willing to participate in this project.



Hide All
Aviram, Hadar. 2015. Cheap on Crime: Recession-Era Politics and the Transformation of American Punishment. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bedford, Kate, Casey, Donal, and Flynn, Alexandra. 2018. “Keeping Chance in Its Place: The Socio-Legal Regulation of Gambling.” Journal of Law and Social Policy 30: 110.
Bently, Lionel, and Flynn, Leo, eds. 1996. Law and the Senses: Sensational Jurisprudence. London: Pluto Press.
Braverman, Irus. 2013. “Passing the Sniff Test: Police Dogs as Surveillance Technology.” Buffalo Law Review 61: 81168.
Calavita, Kitty. 2010. Invitation to Law and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carroll, Rick. 2015. “Holland Hills Residents: Marijuana Greenhouse Stinks Up Neighborhood.” Aspen Times, March 29.
Chapkis, Wendy, and Webb, Richard J. 2008. Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine. New York: New York University Press.
Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. 2018. “Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado.”
Corbin, Alain. 1986. The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Desautels-Stein, Justin. 2012. “The Market as a Legal Concept.” Buffalo Law Review 60: 387492.
Drobnick, Jim. 2006. The Smell Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg.
Dumit, Joseph. 2012. Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health. Durham: Duke University Press.
Elliott, Charlene. 2019. “Sensorium®: The Splash of Sensory Trademarks.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 34, no. 2: 243–59.
Eltarkawe, Mohamed A., and Miller, Shelly L. 2018. “The Impact of Industrial Odors on the Subjective Well-Being of Communities in Colorado.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16, no. 7: 1091
Epp, Charles R., Maynard-Moody, Steven, and Haider-Markel, Donald. 2014. Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ewick, Partricia, and Silbey, Susan. 1998. The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Felson, Jacob, Adamczyk, Amy, and Thomas, Christopher. 2019. “How and Why Have Attitudes about Cannabis Legalization Changed So Much?Social Science Research 78: 1227.
Fisk, Catherine, and Gordon, Robert W. 2011. “‘Law As …’: Theory and Method in Legal History.” University of California Irvine Law Review 1, no. 3: 519–41.
Garriott, William. 2010. “Targeting the Local: Policing Clandestine Methamphetamine Production in a Rural U.S. Community.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 25, no. 1: 120.
Gelardi, Liz. 2016. “Families Worry Pot Grows Are Near Homes, School.” Denver, February 26.
Geller, Amanda, and Fagan, Jeffrey. 2010. “Pot as Pretext: Marijuana, Race, and the New Disorder in New York City Street Policing.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 7, no. 4: 591633.
Graham, Laura. 2015. “Legalizing Marijuana in the Shadows of International Law: The Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington Models.” Wisconsin International Law Journal 33, no. 1: 140–66.
Hageseth, Christian. 2015. Big Weed: An Entrepreneur’s High-Stakes Adventures in the Budding Legal Marijuana Business. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Hamilton, Sheryl N., Majury, Diana, Moore, Dawn, and Sargent, Neil. 2017a. “Introduction.” In Hamilton et al., Sensing Law, 1–30.
Hamilton, Sheryl N., Majury, Diana, Moore, Dawn, Sargent, Neil, and Wilke, Christiane, eds. 2017b. Sensing Law. London: Routledge.
Hill, Rob. 2016. “Good Chemistry Is Good Business Craft.”
Howes, David. 2005. “Hyperaesthesia, or, the Sensual Logic of Late Capitalism.” In Empire of the Senses, edited by Howes, David, 282303. Oxford: Berg.
Howes, David. 2017. “Law’s Sensorium: On the Media of Law and the Evidence of the Senses in Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Hamilton et al., Sensing Law, 53–72.
Howes, David. 2019. “Prologue: Introduction to Sensori-Legal Studies.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 34, no. 2: 173–89.
Hughes, Caitlin Elizabeth, and Stevens, Alex. 2010. “What Can We Learn from the Portuguese Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs?British Journal of Criminology 50: 9991022.
Hughes, Trevor. 2014. “What’s That Smell? Legal Marijuana Growing in Colorado.” USA Today, August 11.
Huspeni, Dennis. 2013. “Downtown Marijuana Business Draws Smell Complaints.” Denver Business Journal, December 6.
Jackson, Deborah Davis. 2011. “Scents of Place: The Dysplacement of a First Nations Community in Canada.” American Anthropologist 113, no. 4: 606–18.
Kilmer, Beau, and MacCoun, Robert J. 2017. “How Medical Marijuana Smoothed the Transition to Marijuana Legalization in the United States.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 13: 181202.
King, Ryan S., and Mauer, Marc. 2006. “The War on Marijuana: The Transformation of the War on Drugs in the 1990s.” Harm Reduction Journal 3: 6. http://doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-3-6.
Kreit, Alex. 2016. “Marijuana Legalization and Pretextual Stops.” University of California Davis Law Review 50: 741–72.
Levine, Harry, Gettman, Jon B, and Siegel, Loren. 2012. “210,000 Marijuana Arrests in Colorado.” Report prepared for Marijuana Arrests Research Project.,000-Marijuana-Arrests-In-Colorado.html.
Mandiberg, Susan F. 2012. “Marijuana Prohibition and the Shrinking Fourth Amendment.” McGeorge Law Review 43: 2362.
Mandic, Danilo, Nirta, Caterina, Pavoni, Andrea, and Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas, eds. 2015. Non Liquet: The Westminster Online Working Papers Series: Law and the Senses Series: The Smell Issue.
Macaulay, Stewart, Friedman, Lawrence, and Stookey, John, eds. 1995. Law and Society: Readings on the Social Study of Law. New York: W. W. Norton.
Malloy, Robin Paul. 2016. “Law, Market and Marketization.” University of Bologna Law Review 1(2): 166–84.
Mattei, Ugo, and Nader, Laura. 2008. Plunder: When the Rule of Law Is Illegal. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Meares, Tracy L. 2014. “The Law and Social Science of Stop and Frisk.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 10: 335–52.
Meyer, Jeremy P. 2013. “When Pot Smells in Denver, The Nasal Ranger Goes in to Investigate.” Denver Post, November 10.
Morgan, Blayne, Hansgen, Rachel, Hawthorne, Wendy, and Miller, Shelly L. 2015. “Industrial Odor Sources and Air Pollutant Concentrations in Globeville, a Denver, Colorado Neighborhood.” Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association 65, no. 9: 1127–40.
Murray, Jon. 2016a. “Denver Officials Take Aim at Marijuana Growing Odors with New Rules.” Denver Post, April 12.
Murray, Jon. 2016b. “Starbuds Loses License for Denver Marijuana Grow in First Decision of Its Kind.” Denver Post, June 23.
Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Porteous, J. Douglas. 2006. “Smellscape.” In The Smell Culture Reader, edited by Drobnick, Jim, 89106. Oxford: Berg.
Provine, Doris Marie. 2011. “Race and Inequality in the War on Drugs.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 7: 4160.
Rindisbacher, Hans J. 2015. “When the Stink Begins to Rise: Nazi Smellscapes.” In Mandic et al., Non Liquet, 10–31.
Seaborn, Paul. 2017. “Colorado Marijuana Market Report.”
Seaborn, Paul. 2018. “Colorado Marijuana Market Report.” University of Denver.
Silbey, Susan. 2005. “Everyday Life and the Constitution of Legality.” In The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Culture, edited by Jacobs, Mark D and Hanrahan, Nancy, 332–45. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Silbey, Susan. 2019. “The Every Day Work of Studying the Law in Everyday Life.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 15: 118.
Sprow, Michael A. 2000. “Wake Up and Smell the Contraband: Why Courts that Do Not Find Probable Cause Based on Odor Alone Are Wrong.” William and Mary Law Review 42 289318.
Task Force Report on the Implementation of Amendment 64. 2013.
Tomlins, Chris. 2016. “Organic Poise? Capitalism as Law.” Buffalo Law Review 64: 6179.
Valverde, Mariana. 2019. “The Law of Bad Smells: Making and Adjudicating Offensiveness Claims in Contemporary Local Law.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 34, no. 2: 327–41.

People v McKnight, 2019 CO 36 (2019)

Florida v Harris, 568 US 237 (2013).

Johnson v United States, 333 U.S. 10 (1948).

Mendez v People, 986 P2d 275 (1999).

People v Baker, 813 P.2d 331 (1991).

People v Stephenson, 165 P.3d 860 (1975).

People v Zuniga, 2016 CO 52 (2016).

Safe Streets Alliance v Hickenlooper, 859 F3d 865 (2017).

United States v Garza, 10 F.3d 1241 (1993).

United States v Johnston, 497 F.2d 397 (1974).

United States v Leazer, 460 F.2d 982 (1972).

United States v Morin, 949 F.2d 297, 300 (1991).

United States v Neumann, 183 F.3d 753 (1999).

United States v Norman, 701 F.2d 295 (1983).

United States v Pierre, 958 F.2d 1304 (1992).

United States v Pond, 523 F.2d 210 (1975).

United States v Russell, 670 F.2d 323 (1982).

United States v Sifuentes, 504 F.2d 845 (1974).

United States v Taylor, 162 F.3d 12 (1998).

United States v Valen, 479 F.2d 467 (1973).

Boulder, Colo., Rev. Code § Sec. 6-16-8 (2020).

Breckenridge, Colo., Ordinance 38 § 11 (2015).

Denver Retail Marijuana Code § Sec. 6-214(a)(3) (2020).

Fort Collins, Colo., Ordinance 41 (2014).

Pueblo, Colo., Ordinance 8841 § 7 (2015).

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 1970, 84 Stat 922-3.

Change Is in the Air: The Smell of Marijuana, after Legalization

  • William Garriott


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.