The state of Maryland has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana; a 2014 law made possession of less than 10 grams a civil offense that comes with a $100 fine. But according the Maryland Court of Appeals, any marijuana odor is cause for a search of your vehicle, whether police know you have 10 grams or not.
"Simply put, decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization, and possession of marijuana remains unlawful," Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote in a unanimous opinion.
The case stems from three men who had their vehicles searched after police smelled cannabis, leading to the discovery of more drugs. Lawyers for the men had argued that police needed reason to believe that more than 10 grams of marijuana were present before they could conduct a search; the Appeals Court judges disagreed.
"By definition, if law enforcement officers may still seize marijuana, then law enforcement officers may still search for marijuana," the court ruled.
As marijuana laws are relaxed around the country, the issue of marijuana odor and searches will get mired in a gray area. Much will depend on the level of illegality from state to state and what has been written into legalization laws to specifically address the issue. Courts in different states will come to different conclusions and no one out driving will really know what the deal is.
"Unless law enforcement officers were trained to detect by odor alone the difference between less than 10 grams of marijuana and 10 grams or more of marijuana, law enforcement officers would not be able to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles," the court wrote. "This would permit a myriad of crimes to go undetected."
"This would permit a myriad of crimes to go undetected." Using the logic in that sentence, many crimes go undetected because cops don’t go around to people’s houses smelling for marijuana and kicking in doors. This is why full legalization is so important; decriminalization is great but it doesn’t get rid of many of the drawbacks of prohibition.