Smell of Marijuana Alone Can No Longer Justify Police Search

Drive around with marijuana in your car? You’re in luck!

Thanks to a 2008 vote decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in the state, Massachusetts police officers can no longer rely on the odor of unburnt marijuana as probable cause to justify a vehicle search, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court said today — even if the smell is “strong’’ or “very strong,’’ justices said.

The court had already decided in 2011 that the smell of burnt marijuana was not in and of itself sufficient evidence to stop pedestrians or search a car, the Boston Globe reports:

The court said in its 2011 ruling that it would be legally inconsistent to allow police to make warrantless searches after they smell burning marijuana when citizens had decided through a statewide referendum question that law enforcement should “focus their attention elsewhere.’’

The court said today it was now extending the same reasoning to cases where the owner has not yet started smoking it. Marijuana, the court acknowledged, generates a pungent aroma, but an odor by itself does not allow police determine if person has more than an ounce with them. Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is not a crime.

“In sum, we are not confident, at least on this record, that a human nose can discern reliably the presence of a criminal amount of marijuana, as distinct from an amount subject only to a civil fine,’’ the justices wrote.

You can read the Globe’s full story here.


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