A judge in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania recently threw out evidence obtained from the search of a vehicle after state troopers used the smell of marijuana as the basis for their probable cause.
For the most part, the circumstances surrounding the arrest are not unique. State troopers pulled over a car for a traffic violation, smelled marijuana, used that smell as probable cause to search the vehicle, and uncovered an illegally possessed handgun under the driver’s seat. The one thing that was unique about this incident is that, prior to the troopers starting their search of the vehicle, the passenger/defendant presented his Pennsylvania medical marijuana card. Despite the defendant being a medical marijuana cardholder, the troopers proceeded with the search, and their basis for doing so shows a concerning misunderstanding of medical marijuana. One trooper testified that the search was justified because he thought medical marijuana had no smell (it does) and the other trooper thought dried marijuana was illegal for medical purposes (it’s not). That misunderstanding led Judge Maria Dantos to find a “clear disconnect between the medical community and the law enforcement community.” She went on to hold that “[t]he smell of marijuana is no longer per se indicative of a crime,” and it was “illogical, impractical and unreasonable” for the troopers to suspect illegal activity once the defendant had shown them his medical marijuana card.
This ruling is a good outcome for medical marijuana advocates (and the defendant), but the fact that the search and the arrest happened in the first place is a stark reminder of how far the industry still has to go when it comes to educating law enforcement about medical marijuana. Be sure to follow our blog where we will continue to report on issues impacting the medical marijuana industry and the marijuana industry as a whole.