Maryland Lawmakers Pass Bill Blocking Police Searches Based On Marijuana Odor, Sending It To Governor
As Maryland’s governor prepares to sign a marijuana sales bill that passed the legislature over the weekend, lawmakers have approved a separate measure to prevent police from using the odor or possession of cannabis alone as the basis of a search.
The legislation from Del. Charlotte Crutchfield (D), which passed the House with amendments last month, cleared the Senate in a 27-20 vote on Monday with one additional revision. It then went back to the House, which concurred with the change and passed it in a 101-36 vote, with just minutes left in the legislative session.
It states that a law enforcement official “may not initiate a stop or a search of a person, a motor vehicle, or a vessel” based only on the smell of burnt or unburnt cannabis, the possession of a personal use amount of marijuana or the presence of money near marijuana without additional evidence of intent to distribute.
Further, the bill says police cannot search certain parts of a motor vehicle for marijuana during investigations into suspected impaired driving, including parts of the car that aren’t accessible to the driver or any areas that aren’t “reasonably likely to contain evidence relevant to the condition of the driver or operator.”
The measure also proposes to lower the fine for public cannabis consumption from $250 to $50.
The Senate amendment that was adopted on the floor and concurred with by the House would additionally clarify that evidence obtained in violation of the law, including evidence collected with consent, would not be admissible in court.
The final vote in the House was contentious, with certain Republican delegates accused of attempting to run out the clock to prevent the chamber from advancing the legislation before a midnight deadline. But the House speaker pushed it through.
Now the bill, along with a broader cannabis commerce measure, have been sent to Gov. Wes Moore (D). The governor’s office told Marijuana Moment on Monday that he intends to sign the marijuana sales legislation.
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The developments are timely, as a voter-approved cannabis legalization referendum is set to take effect at the beginning of July. Now officials will work to prepare for the regulatory implementation.
The sales bill is partly a product of extensive work from bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers who were part of House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup, which was formed in 2021 by Speaker Adrienne Jones (D).
Members have held numerous meetings to inform regulations following Maryland voters’ approval of the legalization referendum during last year’s election, which triggered the implementation of complementary legislation covering rules for basic policies like possession and low-level home cultivation.
In addition to legalizing the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis for adults starting this summer, the legislation will also remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Adults 21 and older will be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.
Past convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law will be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses will be eligible for resentencing. The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute can petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.
Parts of the referendum took effect at the beginning of the year. Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis became a civil offense, punishable by a $100 fine, with a $250 fine in place for more than 1.5 ounces and up to 2.5 ounces.
Adult-use legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature in the 2021 session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing that year on a legalization bill, which followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal.
Maryland legalized medical cannabis through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana with a civil fine of $100 to $500.
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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.