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Court: Pot Smell Alone Can’t Form Basis for Vehicle Search

Cannabis Search Warrant

By Associated Press

(AP) — A Pennsylvania appeals court reversed a judge’s ruling that state police didn’t have a valid legal reason for searching a man’s car just because it smelled like cannabis, saying the officer failed to weigh other factors that led to the man’s arrest.

The state Superior Court has agreed with Lehigh County Judge Maria Dantos that the smell of marijuana alone is not enough to give police the right to search a car without a warrant.

Lehigh County Judge Maria Dantos wrote that “the ‘plain smell’ of marijuana alone no longer provides authorities with probable cause to conduct a search of a subject vehicle,” because it’s “no longer indicative of an illegal or criminal act.” She said that once Barr presented his medical marijuana card, it was “illogical, impractical and unreasonable” for troopers to conclude a crime had been committed.

For nearly 100 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized an “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, giving law enforcement the right to conduct a warrantless search if there is reason to suspect a vehicle is hiding contraband or evidence of a crime. Police have long used the exception to conduct vehicle searches based on the pungent, distinctive odor of pot.

Increasingly, motorists in states where marijuana is legal in some form are pushing back when police insist on a search, especially if that search yields evidence of a crime.



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