Supreme Judicial Court decision affects pot search, drug arrest

Since our nation as a whole is changing its perspective about the use of marijuana, both for medical and recreational purposes, it is only natural that our state begins to make new judicial decisions concerning laws about the drug. A decision regarding marijuana possession inside a person's vehicle has recently been ruled in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. This new decision has made it illegal for an officer of the law to continue searching a citizen's vehicle and ultimately make a drug arrest based on the smell of unburnt marijuana in the car if a legal amount of the drug has already been found.

In 2008, our state decriminalized having small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Using this law as the basis of their investigation, the Supreme Judicial Court decided to examine a case in a lower court to determine the legality of the police search and resulting arrest. This case concerns the actions taken by police officers after responding to a car accident.

Reportedly, the driver rear-ended another vehicle, so the police were called to the scene. When the officers questioned the man, they claimed to smell unburnt marijuana in his vehicle. The man reportedly cooperated with the officers and showed them a small bag of marijuana that was in his glove compartment. However, the officers still claimed to smell marijuana in the car, so they proceeded to search the vehicle.

After the search, the Massachusetts officers apparently found a criminal amount of marijuana in the vehicle, and they arrested him for drug possession with the intent to distribute. The man argued in court that after showing the officers the small amount of marijuana, they should have had no reason to continue searching his vehicle and to make the drug arrest. Under the new Supreme Judicial Court decision, it has been decided that if a legal amount of marijuana is discovered during a search, then simply continuing to smell marijuana does not constitute a further search of the vehicle. Defendants in other, similar cases may therefore have the chance to challenge the searches in their own situations.

Source: The Boston Business Journal, "State Supreme Judicial Court says police officers' noses aren't up to the job of determining the amount of marijuana in a car", Eric Convey, July 9, 2014

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