NORML Argues Police May Not Question Citizens Based on Marijuana Odors

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director February 25, 2014

    NORML filed an “amicus curiae” brief with the Massachusetts Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 18, urging the court to place more limits on police questioning and searches for possession of small amounts marijuana. Attorneys Steven S. Epstein, of Georgetown, and Marvin Cable, of Northampton, authored the brief.

    In Western Massachusetts, a judge ruled that based on the odor of raw marijuana an officer could question the defendant about the presence of marijuana and seize a bag of marijuana at the direction of defendant in response to those questions. She reasoned, “a strong odor of marijuana to the officers training and experience triggered a suspicion that there was more than one ounce present.” That suspicion justified asking the Defendant about it and police entering his car to retrieve the marijuana he told them was there.

    She further ruled that once police retrieved that bag they lacked the authority to search for more marijuana. She reasoned that a belief the bag was “probably” a criminal amount alone and combined with an officer’s characterization of the odor as “strong” amounted to nothing more than a “hunch.” She ordered the “other bags and the statements subsequently made by the defendant” could not be used at trial. The state appealed.

    In its friend of the court brief, NORML reminds the Court of the precarious constitutionality of marijuana prohibition. It then proceeds to ask the Court to rule that: a police officer may not question a person about possible marijuana in his possession or control based only on the officer’s perception of odor, a civil violation in Massachusetts; and, that absent objectively reasonable evidence derived from weighing a bag suspected of containing over an ounce police may not detain, arrest or search a person or their possessions.

    NORML argues the citizens of Massachusetts by voting to decriminalize an ounce or less of marijuana do not want police bothering people with anything more than a ticket when there are no articulated facts that a suspected possession of marijuana is criminal in nature. One of the intents of the decriminalization law was to free police to pursue more pressing issues than marijuana possession.

    Oral argument in the case of Commonwealth v. Overmyer is scheduled for March 3, with a decision possible before the summer of 2014.

    14 Responses to “NORML Argues Police May Not Question Citizens Based on Marijuana Odors”

    1. Thank you norml
      Were on our way to legalizing it completely =]

    2. Janet says:

      A “smell of marijuana” is a euphemism for “we will search your car and person” because we feel like it. Or because you have long hair or because you have another case pending.

    3. Mark I says:

      Cannabis prohibition has stolen the lives of too many americans. Law Enforcement has donated its trust for a balanced budget based on a war against fellow americans. How long will people continue to send unregistered funds out of country to cartels battling a war to continue prohibiton? How many more prisons will be built while the schools contiue to be destroyed? What are we giving our grandchildren to inherit? Do we really need slaves instead of free thinking independents? Are we a democracy or a police state?

    4. TheOracle says:

      I read on cannabis news sites that the banks are still not doing business with cannabusinesses. Well, the U.S. Postal Service is in need of money, and not too long ago I recall reading something or seeing something in the news about the Post Office offering banking services. Pretty much anywhere in Western Europe you can bank at the Post Office at a Postbank, for example in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium or Germany or wherever. The postal bank accounts are not cross-border accounts, so a Postbank account in The Netherlands is not the same account as in Germany, not the same account number or same account bearer.

      If you could get Congress to permit the U.S. Postal Service to do banking, without telling them that the intention is for them to do business with the cannabis community of course, then you would have a federal agency saying it’s okay to do cannabis banking with a federal banking institution run by the U.S. Postal Service. The U.S. Postal Service would have a guaranteed lock on the profits from cannabis banking, a virtual monopoly, because the private banks, to their own detriment, still don’t want anything to do with cannabanking. Much later on the private banks will want to do cannabanking, but right now they have no interest (pun intended).

      Are there any people with banking experiences who are marginalized and sympathetic to the cannabis community, even if they themselves are not cannabis consumers? Are there any women bankers sick of the glass ceiling? Are there any GLBTQ bankers out there who are willing to set up cannabanking in Colorado and Washington? The cannabis money in their banks ought to give them more power and influence to get equal rights for the GLBTQ community. The only way the prohibitionists will legalize cannabis or legalize gay marriage is if they have no other choice.

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