Medical marijuana complicates probable cause in Arizona searches

Law enforcement must have probable cause for a search according to the Fourth Amendment. In the past, if an Arizona police officer smelled marijuana, a search was considered permissible. The fact that marijuana possession is against the law makes determining immunity granted by the medical marijuana law complex when it comes to the viability of law enforcement searches and citizens’ rights to privacy.

Two recent apparently conflicting rulings by the Arizona Court of Appeals have been defended by judges as dealing with different situations. One search occurred after an officer smelled marijuana and obtained a search warrant for a building. The panel of judges ruled in that case that the scent of marijuana is not sufficient proof that there is criminal activity.

The defendant in the second case argued that officers should not assume the presence of marijuana indicates illegal activity. However, the judges’ ruling stated that when the officer smelled burnt marijuana during a traffic stop, he was within his rights to search the vehicle. There have been other court rulings regarding marijuana use and the operation of a vehicle.

As legislation is passed in Arizona and other states that change the status of the possession and use of marijuana, courts must consider new precedents when making decisions. When there are apparent conflicts between rulings such as these, many anticipate that the decision will rest with the state’s Supreme Court. An attorney may be able to provide assistance when there is a question over whether a person’s Fourth Amendment rights have been violated.

Source: The Idaho Statesman, “Advent of medical marijuana has Arizona courts at odds,” Paul Davenport, July 23, 2015