Officers can’t use marijuana odor as probable cause to search vehicle

marijuana use in maryland

By: Rachel Duncan

Recreational adult use of cannabis becomes legal Saturday in Maryland, but that’s not the only new law to take effect.

Starting Saturday, law enforcement officers will no longer be allowed to use the odor of marijuana as probable cause to search a vehicle. Officers will still be able to search vehicles if they find probable cause another way.

Lawmakers who passed the bill said that since possession of marijuana will no longer be illegal, then the odor should not be a reason for police to search someone’s car. Gov. Wes Moore allowed the bill to become law without signing it.

Law enforcement agencies are critical of the change, saying it limits officers’ ability to do their jobs.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler predicts there will be an increase in violent crime, saying many of the firearms they take off the streets come from those searches.

“We, as a profession, remove so many illegally possessed firearms from the hands of criminals who are going down the road based on the odor of marijuana,” Gahler said.

According to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, deputies recovered 19 guns since March 2022 in vehicle searches that began as a result of the odor of marijuana giving them probable cause.

Gahler said that while marijuana itself does not cause violence, the criminal element around the black market selling the drug is dangerous.

Criminal defense attorney Brian Thompson said time will tell whether the black market continues and said a big factor will be the 9% state sales tax for adult-use cannabis.

“It’ll be interesting to see how the taxation plays out in that realm, whether they keep the taxes high enough that a black market ensues, because, again, the violence, gun violence, in particular, has increased significantly in the last five or 10 years in marijuana-distribution activities in Maryland,” Thompson said.

How you could still get into trouble under new cannabis law:

How you could still get into trouble under new cannabis law
Among several legal questions on people’s minds, Thompson spoke to the limit on how much cannabis a Marylander can possess and buy in each transaction.

That limit is 1.5 oz. of flower, which is typically purchased at an eighth of an ounce, so you could buy 12. When it comes to concentrated cannabis, which would include vapes, a person can buy 12 g. Then, for the total amount of THC in cannabis products, like chews or gummies, a person can buy up to 750 mg.

While you can have that amount on you, state law says you’re not allowed to sell it.

Thompson said you could have less than the legal limit and still find yourself in trouble with the law.

“If police were watching someone have brief interactions with other people and then stop that person and find an ounce and a half of marijuana broken up into 42 individual 1-g. bags, and that person had a substantial amount of cash in small bills in their pocket, then the police may determine the person still can be prosecuted even for an amount of 1.5 oz. or under,” Thompson said.

Thompson said you could be charged with possession with intent to distribute, which would be a misdemeanor under the new laws.

Duncan (June 2023). Article retrieved from WBAL-TV 11.


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