The winds of change regarding marijuana laws around the country have evoked the lyrics of Bob Dylan when he wrote “The Times They Are a-Changin’” nearly 60 years ago. In fact, a court of law in Maryland quoted those very lyrics during its landmark ruling in a marijuana case in which the police was told they didn’t have “probable cause” to search the appellant just because the officers could smell pot.
This landmark ruling traces its roots to the arrest of Michael Pacheco back in 2016. The 26-year old had been found in his parked car in Montgomery County. The arresting officers testified that they were prompted to act when they sensed the smell of freshly combusted marijuana and they saw a cannabis joint on the car’s console.
These officers then ordered Pacheco out of his car and proceeded to search it. A subsequent body search unearthed some cocaine concealed in one of his pockets.
Pacheco’s legal team argued that the cocaine was found during an illegal search since there was no probable cause to justify the body search. This matter went to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals where Pacheco lost the case and was convicted.
His legal team filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Appeals and this higher court quoted Bob Dilan as they quashed his conviction. The judges were unanimous (7-0) in their decision to reverse the conviction.
In their ruling, the judges observed that the laws governing marijuana had changed in different jurisdictions. For example, the possession and use of less than 10grams of marijuana has been legal for five years in Maryland. Consequently, the officers needed probable cause to suspect that Pacheco had more than 10grams before they could legally search him or his vehicle. This wasn’t available in this case, the judges observed.
The judges also pointed out that the circumstances that can warrant the search of a car may not be sufficient for the police to conduct a body search. This is because someone’s body enjoys a higher expectation of privacy when compared to when that person is in a vehicle.
Another judge on the panel that overturned Pacheco’s conviction noted that their ruling was limited in nature. He explained that driving under the influence of marijuana is a big concern and this ruling shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that the police cannot arrest an individual that they find sitting in the driver’s seat of a car in which there is no other occupant and that individual is smoking marijuana. In such a case, the police may pick interest in that individual under the presumption that he or she may drive under the influence.
Analysts think that this ruling will be welcomed by the marijuana industry fraternity, including participants like Plus Products Inc. (CSE: PLUS) (OTCQB: PLPRF) and SinglePoint Inc. (OTCQB: SING). Similar rulings are likely to be made in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.
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