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Just Because the Police Smell Marijuana in Your Car Does Not Mean They Can Search It Rules Illinois Judge


marijuana smell from a car police pull you over

Thanks to a ruling by Judge Daniel P. Dalton of the Whiteside Country, patients registered under the state’s medical cannabis program can now make a case for themselves when the police pull them over for cannabis-related searches. They cannot also be arrested if their immediate surroundings, such as their car, rooms, clothes, and so on, smell like marijuana.

The fragrance of cannabis is distinct. Before the approval of medical cannabis programs in legal states, law enforcement agencies established probable causes for cannabis-related searches and arrests through the odor of the person’s immediate surroundings. Many expect that this law ought to have been modified from the moment medical cannabis went into effect, but it hasn’t, which is why this case dragged on for a year.

On December 3, 2020, a police officer on interstate 88 in rural Whiteside County pulled over the occupants of a gray Chevy Impala vehicle, Defendant Vincent Molina and Driver Kayla Cervantes, for speeding.

As the due process goes, both occupants were identified during the traffic stop. At this point, the officer detected and stated the smell of marijuana in the car. The defendant said he had immediately presented his medical marijuana permit to the officers. However, this didn’t deter the overzealous security agents from searching the vehicle. Like most medical marijuana patients who frequently have their products with them, Molina was found to possess 2.6 grams of cannabis. Afterward, the officer arrested the defendant for misdemeanor possession. Even though Molina was in lawful possession of the medically approved products, she was not driving high or intoxicated.

Situations like this are not uncommon. Security agents look for any reason whatsoever to run warrantless searches on cars stopped on the highways. There are countless instances of suspected police officers looking to arrest Illinois residents for charges unrelated to the main reason they were pulled over or stopped.

The last twelve months have been draining for the defendant. The case has dragged on and on, and finally, it has been ruled out.

During the trial, the defense attorneys, James Mertes and Nicholas Rude moved to strike out evidence. According to them, the smell of cannabis cannot be used as a basis to search the vehicle of a medical cannabis patient. They explained that the evidence was obtained through bias means. Because the use of cannabis for medical purposes was recently legalized in Illinois, using the smell of marijuana in the car as an excuse to conduct a warrantless search is no longer acceptable.

The attorneys also established that the defendant had legal reasons to have the drug. They also emphasized that Molina duly presented his use card to the officers when they commented on the smell emanating from the car and its occupants.

Judge Daniel P. Dalton, Associate Judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit, rightly ruled that the police cannot base a warrantless search on the smell of cannabis, especially for patients registered under the medical use program.

He said that the defendant, Molina, provided a medical use card to the officers just before they resolved to go ahead and search the car. According to the judge, the officers had no other reason or basis for the search besides the whiff of raw marijuana, which is in itself unacceptable and insufficient to serve as due cause to perform a warrantless search on cars.

In a cannabis-legal state like Illinois, residents have various harmless reasons for their clothes or vehicles to smell like raw cannabis. Workers in legal cannabis farm sites, for example, cannot avoid smelling like raw cannabis on some days because they are constantly in close proximity to the plant.

Defendant Molina was happy with the outcome of the trial. He told reporters that he was honored to have been involved in such a crucial proceeding. He stated that the trial was about him and all Illinois residents. It was about their right to be exempted from narrow searches even after presenting proof of legal use. He concluded by saying that the case was very important to him, and he was very grateful for being an important part of protecting that right.

This ruling is an amazing win for residents of Illinois. They can now go about their day without the risk of being arrested or searched just for smelling like raw marijuana. The number of warrantless searches, seizures and wrongful arrests will be significantly reduced. Law enforcement would see an all-around improvement.

However, all this could change if the state appeals the decision and wins. Attorneys James Mertes and Nicholas Rude told the press that they would make sure justice prevails if this ruling is appealed. Mertes said they are prepared to defend Molina’s rights should the case get to a higher judicial level. Judge Dalton’s ruling revealed that only the government can decide to appeal. Whatever the state arrives at on this issue, Martes promises to vivaciously protect Molina’s civil rights at the appellate level.

Judge Dalton’s ruling is a historic win that shows the faults in the war on drugs.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, this ruling can have a huge impact on the quality of your defense, especially if the state appeals and the current ruling still stands. No police officer should be able to search residents based on suspicions brought about by the smell of marijuana.

The court’s decision would have a significant impact on policing within Illinois. The smell of cannabis in a vehicle is not a probable cause for an officer to search, as it does not necessarily mean that a crime has been committed.

The legislation has to be modified to state clearly the point at which an officer has probable cause to search the vehicles of individuals with medical marijuana use cards. This would help clarify and determine what is indicative of illegal activity. It would also prevent residents from working their way around the laws. Other states that have also ruled that cannabis odor is not a probable cause for warrantless vehicle searches are Massachusetts and Colorado, both of which have medical marijuana legislation.

 

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