Can Maryland Police Search Your Vehicle if They Smell Marijuana?

Few things are as anxiety-inducing as being stopped by a police officer and having your vehicle searched. While most people know their rights when it comes to unlawful searching by the police, the rules can change when the police suspect illegal activity, such as using alcohol or marijuana. Still, as marijuana has been decriminalized in Maryland, you could still be stopped by the police if they see the signs of marijuana use.  It’s important to remember in this situation that you have rights.

The Law Office of Hillel Traub understands how stressful a police stop can be, especially if they find marijuana or suspect that you have been using it in your car. Despite marijuana being legal to use in Maryland, using it while operating your vehicle is not. We can help make sure your rights are protected.

Police Searches and Maryland Law

Under Maryland law, there are generally four circumstances in which the police may search your vehicle after a traffic stop:

  • You consented to the search of your vehicle.
  • Probable cause, where the officer believes there could be evidence of a crime in the vehicle.
  • A search is deemed necessary by the officer because there may be a dangerous item in the car.
  • You have been arrested, and the search is related to the arrest.

Typically, one who commits a minor traffic offense, such as going a few miles over the speed limit or failing to use a turn signal, will not be asked for their permission to search the vehicle.

If you are stopped by the police, Maryland law has certain protections regarding the search of your vehicle. The law in Maryland follows the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unlawful search and seizure.  Again, the police may search your vehicle if they have “probable cause” of the possession of drugs—marijuana included—or the committing of a crime. However, even if the officer has probable cause, unless they have a warrant to search your vehicle, anything found during their search will likely be deemed as inadmissible.

Marijuana Laws in Maryland

Since 2014, the use of marijuana has been decriminalized in Maryland.  However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be punished if you are found in possession of it. In Maryland, possession of marijuana can carry the following penalties, depending on the circumstances:

  • Possession of fewer than 10 grams carries a maximum $100 fine
  • Possession of at least 10 grams is a misdemeanor with a possible $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail

Furthermore, if you are found to be operating your vehicle under the influence of marijuana or transporting marijuana in your car (which could be construed as trafficking or intent to distribute), the punishments are much harsher. These charges usually carry fines of up to $15,000 and jail time of up to 5 years.

Can Police Search Your Vehicle if They Smell Marijuana?

The answer to this question largely depends on the factors at play. The odor of marijuana has traditionally been considered enough to give the officer probable cause to search your vehicle, regardless of whether you consent. However, recent court rulings have held that the smell of marijuana, on its own, does not permit the police to search your vehicle.

Also, police must get a warrant to search your person, even if they suspect you have been using or are in possession of marijuana. An exception occurs usually if you have been arrested, or the officer feels the need to commence a quick search for weapons based on a “reasonable expectation” that you are armed. However, simply having the odor of marijuana coming from your car does not give police the right to search you.

Consult With an Experienced Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney

The consequences that can arise when a police officer stops your car and claims to smell marijuana can be heavy, but you may be able to stop the consequences of what happens next by enlisting the services of The Law Office of Hillel Traub. With over 20 years of experience defending clients against Maryland’s traffic and drug laws, Former MVA Lawyer Hillel Traub fiercely advocates for you, no matter how dire your case looks.

If you feel you have been unlawfully searched by the police, fill out our contact form or contact us at (410) 580-1100 for a free consultation.

Categories : DUI