In a move to disallow police to manufacture probable cause for an automobile search by claiming they detect the scent of marijuana, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that the smell of pot is not enough for an officer to violate drivers’ privacy.
A series of rulings issued by the court Friday stem from the case of Antonio L. Pacheco, who had his car, which was parked in a handicap spot, searched after a state trooper said he detected the scent of marijuana. The search yielded a small bag with less than 1 ounce of pot on the floor mat behind the passenger seat and a handgun in the car’s trunk.
Because the State decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2008, prosecutors attempted to slap Pacheco with a distribution charge, punishable by two years’ imprisonment, arguing that the man had shared pot with his passengers.
“An officer smelling freshly burnt marijuana inside a stopped vehicle, and an occupant surrendering a noncriminal amount of marijuana, did not, without more, support probable cause to believe that a criminal amount of marijuana would be found in the vehicle,” Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly writes in the high court ruling. “Absent articulable facts supporting a belief that any occupant of the vehicle possessed a criminal amount of marijuana, the search was not justified by the need to search for contraband.”