Unburnt Marijuana Cannot Justify Vehicle Searches in MA

Unburnt MarijuanaThe Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said Wednesday that law enforcement can no longer rely on the smell of unburnt marijuana to justify vehicle searches. The new ruling is an extension of an initiative from 2008 that decriminalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana throughout the state and removed law enforcement’s authority to arrest individuals for civil violations reports the Boston Globe.

“We have held that the odor of burnt marijuana alone cannot support probable cause to search a vehicle without a warrant…[now] we hold that such odor [of unburnt marijuana], standing alone, does not provide probable cause to search an automobile,’ wrote Justice Barbara Lenk.

Back in 2011 the court said that the smell of smoked marijuana by itself did not provide police with probable cause to stop individuals on the street or search vehicles. Wednesday’s updated legal standard ensures unburnt weed is protected.
Unburnt MarijuanaThe decision stems from the rulings of two cases where officers noticed “a very strong odor of unburnt marijuana” and arrested the drivers of the vehicles. The first was against a guy named Matthew W. Overmyer who was arrested in Pittsfield, MA by police investigating a car crash. They noticed the odor of unburnt pot, searched the car and found a bag of weed in the glove compartment and more in a backpack leading them to charge him with possession with intent to distribute. According to the Globe the court said police couldn’t use their noses alone to arrest Overmyer and ordered the case back to the district court for more proceedings.

In the second ruling, the court threw out criminal charges of illegal possession of ammunition and prescription pills filed against Anthony Craan. In 2010 Craan was stopped in Dorchester, MA at a sobriety checkpoint and ordered to pull over when a trooper noticed the odor of unburnt weed. Police searched the vehicle and found three Ecstasy pills and .38-caliber bullets. They didn’t arrest Craan at the time, but summonsed him to appear in Boston Municipal Court. The SJC said police had no legal basis to search Craan’s car and suppressed the evidence against him.

The court also rejected the argument from law enforcement that local police can use the aroma of weed to stop someone because possession of marijuana is still an offense under federal law.

“The fact that such conduct is technically subject to a Federal prohibition does not provide an independent justification for a warrantless search,’’ Lenk wrote in the ruling.

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