When it comes to the newly implemented marijuana laws in Massachusetts, it can be tricky as they relate to impaired driving. It is well settled law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that a motor vehicle stop may only last as long as necessary to effectuate the purpose if the stop, namely, a motor vehicle traffic violation. In order to expand the stop with inquiries and prolonged detention, for reasons unrelated to the reason for the motor vehicle stop, the officer must reasonably believe that there is further criminal conduct occurring, based on “specific and articulable facts, and the specific reasonable inferences which follow from such facts, in light of the officer’s experience.” When conducting a motor vehicle stop, the officers are not required to ignore what they see, smell, or hear, even if such observations are unrelated to the reason for the motor vehicle stop. Officers can then permissibly inquire about those observations. However, in order to justify an “exit order,” meaning a proper reason to order the operator out of the vehicle, the officer must believe that the safety of the police or other persons was in danger and/or the operator was engaged in criminal activity. If the police have no reasonable suspicion to believe that the operator was engaged in criminal activity, and had no reasonable belief that the safety of the police or others are in jeopardy, then an exit order is not legally justified.
This is where it gets tricky. The odor of marijuana alone, whether burned or unburned, is insufficient to justify the warrantless search of a vehicle. That is because the possession of marijuana is no longer illegal, as long as it’s within the legal amount. Also, the odor of marijuana alone is insufficient to indicate that the operator is engaging in criminal activity, or that the safety of an officer or the public is in jeopardy, because the odor of marijuana does not mean that the operator is impaired while driving. While probable cause that contraband is present in the vehicle can justify a warrantless search of the vehicle, the officer must have probable cause that there is a criminal amount of marijuana in the vehicle. Without evidence of criminal activity and/or public safety concerns (ie: impaired driving or possession of marijuana above the legal limit), an officer cannot order an operator out of the vehicle and search the vehicle based on evidence of marijuana in the vehicle.
If you find yourself in need of a competent OUI Drugs lawyer, your search can end here! Attorney Bowser recently won a powerful Motion to Suppress, which resulted in a dismissal of the case, based on odor of marijuana. Call us today at (888) 517-3482 for a free consultation on the newly enacted marijuana laws and how our office can help you!