Although possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in Maryland, it is still a banned substance and gives police probable cause to search a vehicle, ruled the Maryland Supreme Court on Friday.
“Simply put, decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization, and possession of marijuana remains unlawful,” Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote in a unanimous opinion issued Friday.
The case was brought on behalf of three men whose vehicles were searched after police officers said they smelled weed.
The searches had been previously upheld by trial courts and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but attorneys for the appellants argued that police should be required to cite factors that give them reason to believe the amount they smell is larger than 10 grams, reported the Baltimore Sun.
The lawyers argued that the smell of marijuana could indicate the presence of weed in a car, but not the amount. This is an important detail in view of Maryland’s decriminalization ruling that possession of less than 10 grams of pot carries a $100 fine.
However the Supreme Court ruling found that the General Assembly [ruling to decriminalize marijuana] did not intend to preclude the search of a vehicle based on the smell of weed.
Although the court in Maryland said their ruling was consistent with the majority of other states where the issue has arisen and declined to follow a Massachusetts ruling that found marijuana does not provide probable cause for a vehicle search.
Why is this significant? The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution
In this time of political insecurity around everything we hold dear, especially the hard-fought battles over legalization of marijuana, it is important for all of us to be keenly aware of our rights.
In this case, the Fourth Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights and was intended to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Unfortunately, the intent of the Fourth Amendment has been eroded over the years by legal exceptions created and handed down by the courts.
For many years now, law enforcement authorities have used marijuana laws to justify searches that would otherwise be Fourth Amendment violations. Cops regularly rationalize that the smell of weed gives them the right to search the passenger compartment of a car, without a warrant.
And, as we know, traffic stops account for the majority of weed arrests.
So, from the unsolicited advice department, please note: It is not wise to smoke pot in your car. However, if you are carrying weed, even small amounts, keep it in a locked container in your trunk. Make the cops get a search warrant. If they don’t smell weed in your car, they probably won’t bother.
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