The Supreme Court in Arizona ruled that the smell of marijuana alone is enough to justify police obtaining a search warrant and the ability to search a vehicle. While the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) has been in place since 2010, the herb is still illegal for recreational use in Arizona. Therefore, a marijuana smell may point to a crime being committed under Arizona law. The court specifically said, “The odor of marijuana in most circumstances will warrant a reasonable person believing there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime is present.”
How This Ruling Impacts Medical Marijuana Patients
Patients who possess a doctor approved medical marijuana card are allowed to possess up to 2 and a half ounces of marijuana and, if they live more than 25 miles from a dispensary, they are allowed to grow up to 12 plants. Officers would still be allowed to search a patient’s home or vehicle if they believed the patient was not complying with the medical marijuana regulations. Having said that, the court said, “Because probable cause is determined by the totality of the circumstances and marijuana possession or use is lawful when pursuant to AMMA, a reasonable officer cannot ignore indicia of AMMA-compliant marijuana possession or use that could dispel probable cause.”
This basically implies that an officer should be reasonable and use common sense when dealing with someone who has a medical marijuana card. Mason Tvert, who is a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “It can present a burden for some patients but it is not going to affect those qualified patients from losing any of their rights.” He affirmed that the ruling doesn’t ultimately affect the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
The First Incident Leading to the Ruling
The ruling related to 2 separate incidents where people who did not possess medical marijuana cards were found guilty after the parties were searched based on a marijuana smell. One incident involved Ronald Sisco, who had hundreds of plants growing at a storage facility in Tucson in 2013. Nearby residents complained about a strong smell of fresh marijuana. When police arrived they discovered the same scent. They were able to get a search warrant based on smell.
Another Case of Marijuana Smell Resulting in Arrest
The second incident involved Ian Cheatham, who was pulled over on suspicion of having illegal window tinting on his car. When officers spoke to Cheatham they discovered a strong burnt marijuana smell coming from the car. They searched the car and found a small amount of marijuana under the driver’s seat. In both cases the Supreme Court ruled that the searches were warranted, based on smell. The court said “if Arizona did ‘decriminalize’ the possession or use of marijuana generally, our analysis and conclusion in this context might well be different.”
Arizona will vote on whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana in this November ballot. Prohibitionists are working to block the initiative in any way that they can, but have been unsuccessful so far. If Arizona legalizes adult us, it will join Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and D.C., in partaking of what has become a billion dollar industry. Arizona will not be the only state voting on whether or not to legalize this year. California, Nevada, Maine and 4 other states will also be voting this November on whether or not to make the move.