Marijuana odor justifies warrantless vehicle search, Court of Appeals rules

Marijuana odor justifies warrantless vehicle search, Court of Appeals rules

Published on 1/23/17

More than half of U.S. States have some type of legal marijuana law, but despite the lax attitude about marijuana that many Americans are moving towards, some places are still trying to crack down. Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled last week that marijuana odor is enough probably cause to search a person's vehicle without a warrant, even though the drug is decriminalized in the state. In 2014 Maryland's General Assembly passed a law decriminalizing under 10 grams of marijuana and the defendants believe that police have no way of knowing if the amount causing the odor is under the decriminalized limit. While states like Massachusetts have ruled the opposite in favor of the drivers privacy, Maryland officials chose to follow other state's example and allow police to continue to search for any amount of cannabis. 

The searches had been previously upheld by trial courts and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but attorneys for the appellants argued before the Court of Appeals that police should be required to cite factors that give them reason to believe the amount they smell is larger than 10 grams. The smell of marijuana indicates only its presence, not its amount, they argued.

The state attorney general's office argued in December that marijuana remains defined under state law as "contraband," which is subject to seizure and enough to provide probable cause that there may be evidence of a crime found in the vehicle.

"By definition, if law enforcement officers may still seize marijuana, then law enforcement officers may still search for marijuana," the court ruled.

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