In September 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland made a ruling that said the odor of marijuana was enough to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle. Although this case is almost two years old, I think that many of us are unaware of its reality. In Rasherd Lewis v. State of Maryland the court agreed with the state’s contention that “the officers’ conduct was maximally authorized by probable cause from the start of the encounter based on the scent of marijuana.” In a time where prohibitive laws that restrict individual freedom it’s important that courts react in an appropriate and timely manner to the current zeitgeist.
There are several US Circuit Court of Appeals’ decisions on the matter. Different conclusions were drawn between the fifth, eighth, and the 10th. The similarity in all these cases is that some form of warrantless search is acceptable due to the odor of marijuana during a traffic stop. The scope of the search partially depends on if the smell is coming from the vehicle or the individual. This is an example of courts being slow to react to changes in the system with a new understanding of marijuana’s pros and cons. A Gallup poll found that in 2018 that 66% of all Americans are in favor of legalization. People between the ages of 18 and 34 agree with legalization at a rate of 78%. Even Republicans and people over the age of 55 agree at rates of 53% and 59% respectively.
We live in a time in which entities have more and more power over individuals. From the passing of bills like the Patriot Act by Congress, to the privacy scandals regarding Facebook, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant of our rights. Marijuana is being legalized on a state level relatively rapidly. It should be considered by the courts when making decisions in the future. The stigma around marijuana is being dispelled, but if laws allow law enforcement to continue punishing people who use this medicine in our state it will become more difficult to reach the desired conclusion of many people my age, namely full legalization and expungement of criminal records for possession of marijuana charges.