Pennsylvania Judge Maria Dantos ruled on Aug. 12 that state troopers weren’t authorized to search a vehicle based on cannabis odor alone. Even when serious crimes are being considered, Pennsylvania law enforcement officers cannot search a vehicle without probable cause that falls within the legal boundaries.
Last November, Timothy Barr, 27, was arrested in Allentown after officers detected the smell of cannabis and searched his vehicle. Officers found a loaded handgun and a small amount of cannabis. Because of a prior conviction, Barr cannot legally possess a firearm. But because Barr held a medical cannabis license, the judge ruled that the officers were not within their legal boundaries when they searched the vehicle.
“The smell of marijuana is no longer per se indicative of a crime,” Judge Maria Dantos wrote in her ruling. “Such actions are merely means of hampering the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”
Dantos went on to say that it was “illogical, impractical and unreasonable” on the part of the officers who were involved in the arrest, because they had already been presented with a medical cannabis card.
The judge acknowledged that the state of Pennsylvania included provisions in its medical cannabis law for this very reason. Medical cannabis in Pennsylvania is clearly marked along with the dispensary that it came from.
The case represents the overall disconnect between the understanding of medical cannabis patients and law enforcement. The next move is up in the air. Prosecutors could appeal the ruling in state Supreme Court or simply move forward without any evidence they obtained while searching the vehicle.
The case represents bigger implications for the medical cannabis community as a whole in Pennsylvania. “This case will put a spotlight on the plain smell doctrine in Pennsylvania which police use far too often to invade citizens’ privacy,” Barr’s defense attorney Joshua Karoly said.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program is continuing to grow in strength. There are now 23 qualifying conditions for a medical cannabis card in the state.