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Maryland's Governor Approves Law Limiting Police Search Based on Marijuana Odor Ahead of Recreational Use Legalization

Cop searching a mans car

In anticipation of the commencement of recreational marijuana legalization, Maryland's governor has approved a legislation that bars law enforcement officers from initiating a search solely based on the scent or possession of cannabis. This development comes approximately a month after the bill, sponsored by Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield (D), was passed by the state's legislature and forwarded to Governor Wes Moore (D).

The law asserts that the mere odor of cannabis, whether burnt or raw, the possession of a personal quantity of marijuana, or the presence of cash alongside cannabis, without supplementary evidence of distribution intent, is insufficient for a police officer to instigate a stop or a search of a person, vehicle, or vessel. The law also restricts police from searching specific areas of a vehicle during impaired driving investigations, including areas unreachable to the driver or spots unlikely to hold evidence pertaining to the driver's state.

The legislation, scheduled to become operative on July 1, will also reduce the penalty for public consumption of cannabis from $250 to $50. The law further stipulates that any evidence obtained in contravention of this rule, even if collected consensually, is inadmissible in court.

The governor's reasons for letting the bill become law without his signature remain uncertain, given his track record of signing other cannabis reform proposals in recent weeks.

A week ago, Moore signed a legislation ensuring that responsible and lawful use of marijuana by parents or guardians won't be interpreted as child "neglect" by state officials. Earlier in the month, Moore approved a bill to regulate marijuana sales, thereby paving the way for statewide legalization.

In a rapid move to establish the cannabis regulatory legislation before the state's voter-endorsed legalization law comes into force in July, legislators legalized the acquisition and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis for adults from this summer onwards. The law also eradicates criminal penalties for possessing up to 2.5 ounces. Adults aged 21 or older can grow a maximum of two plants for personal consumption and present cannabis as a gift without compensation.

The proposed law entails automatic expungement of past convictions for actions now legalized, and those currently serving time for such offenses will be eligible for resentencing. Individuals with convictions for possession with the intent to distribute can request expungement from the courts three years post-incarceration.

Certain sections of the referendum became effective at the start of the year, transforming possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis into a civil offense, punishable by a $100 fine. Possession exceeding 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces carries a $250 fine.

The police odor bill's enactment is an achievement that mirrors efforts by lawmakers in various states in recent years. In 2020, Virginia implemented a law that prevents police from initiating searches or confiscating property based solely on the scent of marijuana. Legislators in Illinois and Mississippi have also sought comparable reforms.