Maryland’s Chief Judge, Mary Ellen Barbera, issued a ruling stating that cannabis smell will no longer be a legitimate basis for searching and arresting a person.
Namely, according to Maryland’s highest court, it does not provide police officers sufficient probable cause for a court proceeding. What’s more, it is a serious violation of one’s privacy.
The decision is rooted in a 2019 ruling issued by the same court, according to which an officer can neither arrest nor inspect anyone purely on the basis of possessing cannabis; that is, possessing fewer than 10g of cannabis since it was decriminalized in 2014.
Nevertheless, one of the counter arguments is that the smell can indeed indicate the amount of cannabis in question, which could provide enough incentive for an arrest.
Interestingly, the 2017 legislation remains unchanged when it comes to vehicle searches as the level of privacy expected in a vehicle is much lower than that of one’s own body, according to court officials. Therefore, cannabis smell is, in fact, still a legitimate cause for inspecting a vehicle.
As reported by David Jaros, the professor of law at the University of Baltimore, vehicle searches are still not regulated appropriately; there are borderline cases where officers stop vehicles for minor traffic misdemeanors only to inspect them for cannabis solely based on smell. In addition, stats showcase that such stops are frequently racially motivated.
Still, according to Chief Judge Barbera, such cases are also being addressed. Officers will have to obtain the information unambiguously, she adds.
For instance, the case of one Rasherd Lewis — a man from Baltimore that was handcuffed inside a store solely based on cannabis smell on Feb 1, 2017.
Prior to the arrest, David Burch, a Baltimore Police officer, was given a tip off that a particular armed man entered a store in West Saratoga Street. The police walked past Lewis, handcuffed him, and then searched him on the basis of smell. What they found was a gun fastened across his chest, as well as a small amount of cannabis.
Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office argued that it was the smell of cannabis that was used as a probable cause for the arrest — despite the decriminalization, small amounts of cannabis are still considered a contraband.
All in all, the new ruling by Maryland’s highest court sent the above-mentioned case back to the Baltimore City court, which will most likely dismiss the evidence (as it was obtained illegally), and thus vacatting the sentence altogether.