Massachusetts Police Cannot Pull Over Drivers for Smelling Like Marijuana
According to a 5-2 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, police officers cannot pull over drivers because they smell like marijuana.
The ruling stemmed from a 2012 case involving Elivette Rodriguez who was the passenger in a vehicle that New Bedford police stopped for smelling like marijuana. The normal driver of the vehicle was previously arrested for possession of heroin, and local authorities were familiar with the vehicle because of its drug-related connection.
A police surveillance team had earlier seen the vehicle stop in front of a “home of interest” for a short time and then drive away, indicating a possible drug transaction.
Following instructions from the surveillance team, Detective Daniel Amaral followed the vehicle and, upon smelling the scent of marijuana, pulled the vehicle over. Detective Amaral observed the driver holding a “marijuana cigar,” searched the vehicle and found a bag containing 60 Percocet pills.
Rodriguez was charged with intent to distribute a class B substance, conspiracy to violate the drugs laws and a drug violation near a school or park.
The court ruled that while Rodriguez was in violation of the law, the evidence obtained in the search was inadmissible.
Essentially, because marijuana possession does not directly relate to public safety or moving vehicles, the rules regarding marijuana stops are different from the rules regarding other simple traffic stops.
Although previous court cases had ruled that the smell of marijuana was enough probable cause to search a vehicle, they all pre-date 2008, the year Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana.
The justices determined that in light of this act, the smell of marijuana is enough for reasonable suspicion, but not probable cause. Without probable cause, Massachusetts law enforcement cannot legally pull someone over for suspecting the smell of marijuana.
“Because stops based on reasonable suspicion of a possible civil marijuana infraction do not promote highway safety … we are disinclined to extend the rule that allows vehicle stops based on reasonable suspicion of a civil motor vehicle,” wrote Justice Margot Botsford. “Such stops are unreasonable; therefore, the stop in this case violated art. 14.”
Although the implications for this case could be far reaching, State Police spokesman, David Procopio, told the Boston Globe that this ruling will not stop law enforcement from issuing citations for marijuana.
“The voters decriminalized possession of less than an ounce. That does not mean that using less than an ounce means you are OK to drive … and this ruling will have no impact on the observations we use to establish probable cause for drugged driving or our determination that a driver should be charged as such.”
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