A Maryland appeals court has ruled that law enforcement officers in the state can no longer stop people based on the odor of cannabis alone and that police need “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed before they can even detain someone, according to a USA Today report. The court’s decision hinged on the fact that possession of small amounts of cannabis is decriminalized in the state.
“Because an officer cannot tell by the smell of marijuana alone that a person is involved in criminal activity, we hold that the odor of marijuana, by itself, does not provide reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop.” – Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff, in the Appeals Court opinion, via USA Today
The appeal came in the case of a case in Prince George’s County, during which an officer responded about a group of males hanging out in an apartment complex and when the officer arrived, he smelled a “strong odor” of cannabis and patted down members of the group, ultimately recovering a handgun.
Michele Hall, who defended the then-juvenile in court, successfully argued that “the smell of marijuana is not enough to stop an individual on the street” and claimed that the odor of cannabis is often used as a pretext to justify further investigation, particularly in communities of color.
The Appeals Court in 2019 ruled that law enforcement officers in the state cannot make an arrest based on the odor of cannabis alone but the ruling didn’t go so far as to prevent officers from searching a vehicle based on the odor of cannabis. State case law, the judges determined, dictates there is a reduced expectation of privacy in a motor vehicle and the court’s opinion did not challenge that law.
A subsequent decision by the court last year determined that police could use cannabis odor as justification for a vehicle search but that they cannot search anyone in the vehicle unless they find evidence of a crime which does not include finding a small amount of cannabis.
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