While the possession of marijuana is no longer reason enough to get a person thrown in the slammer in the state of Maryland, the state’s highest court says its magnificent odor remains probable cause for police to search a vehicle without a warrant.
A recent report from the Baltimore Sun indicates the Court of Appeals issued a verdict on Friday that will continue to give law enforcement officers the freedom the conduct random searches as long as they claim to smell marijuana.
In the decision, Judge Shirley Watts wrote, “decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization, and possession of marijuana remains unlawful,” giving cops the power to invade civil society.
In 2014, the Maryland General Assembly passed a decriminalization measure, making the possession of up to 10 grams of weed punishable with a $100 fine. The bill, which was signed into law by then Governor Martin O’Malley, was an effort to prevent non-violent offenders from jamming up the criminal justice system.
But cops have continued their senseless mission to stomp on the necks of the average marijuana consumer – even when no other crime has been committed. This action, no matter how counterproductive to the original purpose behind the decriminalization law, has been widely supported by the state attorney general’s office.
In this particular case, which involved three men brought up on drug charges after a their vehicle was searched based solely on the odor of marijuana, attorneys for the defendants argued that these types of shakedown tactics should not be permitted unless an officer has some kind of proof that what he or she is smelling amounts to more than 10 grams.
The court disagreed wholeheartedly with the stance of the defense, saying, “If law enforcement officers may still seize marijuana, then law enforcement officers may still search for marijuana.”
Unfortunately, the ruling could end up being problematic for those people who will eventually benefit from the state’s medical marijuana program. Once the state opens up dispensaries for those patients with permission to use cannabis products for their respective health conditions, we could see more cases of police harassment, even if the patient is able to provide the proper documentation proving legal possession.
Interestingly, the court did provide a nice argument for full legalization.
The decision said that “Unless law enforcement officers were trained to detect by odor alone the difference between less than 10 grams of marijuana and 10 grams or more of marijuana, law enforcement officers would not be able to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles,” which “would permit a myriad of crimes to go undetected.”
Neighboring District of Columbia experienced a decrease in crime one year after the city made weed legal – even without a retail market to discourage the black market. A report based on data from the Metropolitan Police Department found that arrests for possession alone fell by 98 percent in 2015, while other marijuana-related crimes dropped 85 percent.
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