On April 10, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that would prevent police from using the smell of marijuana as a basis for searching a person or vehicle. The measure, House 1071, also lowers the civil fine for consuming cannabis in public to $50.
The bill has been approved by Maryland The House of Representatives voted 101-36 in the closing minutes of the legislative session Monday night after the state Senate passed the amendments earlier in the day. The legislation is now headed to Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s office for consideration.
Pell bans searches based on the smell of cannabis
under House of Representatives 1071Law enforcement officers will be prohibited from using the smell of raw or burnt cannabis as a potential reason to search a person or vehicle. Supporters of the legislation maintain that the bill is needed to achieve the purposes of Question 4, a ballot referendum to legalize recreational marijuana that passed with nearly two-thirds of the vote in last year’s midterm elections. House Bill 1071 also prohibits searches based on the possession of a legal amount of marijuana or the presence of cash in the vicinity of cannabis without additional evidence showing intent to distribute marijuana.
Question 4, which takes effect July 1, authorizes possession of up to 12 grams of cannabis for personal use. Possession of between 12 and 20 grams would be a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $250. Possession of cannabis in quantities greater than 20 grams would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
Because possession of cannabis will still be illegal in amounts greater than 12 grams, legalization advocates say House Bill 1071 is necessary to protect the rights of legal cannabis users. The legislation follows a Maryland Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld police power to detain and briefly search individuals based on the smell of cannabis, despite the state legalizing medical marijuana in 2013. Assistant Maryland Public Defender Michele Hall, who unsuccessfully argued the Supreme Court case She told the House Judiciary Committee last month that police would continue to conduct searches based on the perceived smell of cannabis.
“Legalization alone has not solved this problem,” Hall told the House Judiciary Committee last month. According to a report from Maryland Daily Record.
“As long as the scent supports Fourth Amendment intrusion, Marylanders who legally participate in the cannabis market are at risk,” Hall added. “A claim of cannabis smell alone is nothing more than a blank check for the police to intrude on a person’s right to privacy in hopes of finding something criminal, and the Fourth Amendment requires more.”
Legislation banning police use of the scent of marijuana as a possible cause for search is also supported by the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Stop marijuana smells and searches not only pose a serious risk to people’s Fourth Amendment rights, they enable racial profiling and dangerous and unnecessary interactions with police,” Yannette Amanuel, the branch’s director of public policy, told the Judiciary Committee in March.
“This is why it is so important for the legislature to step up and make sure that the law and police practices are consistent with the reason you all said you support legalizing marijuana and, most importantly, that the law reflects the will of the people,” Amanuel added. “Marylanders should not be afraid of police interactions because of the lingering smell of a now legal substance.”
Meg Nash, partner at cannabis and drug legal firm Vicente LLP, said legislation like House Bill 1071 is needed to ensure the legalization of cannabis is applied equally.
Nash wrote in an email High times Wednesday. “These types of laws are necessary to protect the rights of individuals in states, such as Maryland, that have legalized adult use of cannabis and demonstrate the state’s commitment to addressing the harms of communities disproportionately affected by prohibition.”
House Bill 1071 also reduced the fine for public consumption of cannabis from $250 to $50. After receiving final approval in the closing minutes of the current legislative session Monday night, the bill has been sent to the governor’s office for consideration.