As Maryland prepares for the implementation of adult-use marijuana legalization, the governor has allowed a bill to become law that prevents police from using the odor or possession of cannabis alone as the basis of a search.
This comes about a month after the legislature passed the measure from Del. Charlotte Crutchfield (D) and sent it to the desk of Gov. Wes Moore (D).
The legislation 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, which is set to take effect as of July 1, will also lower the fine for public cannabis consumption from $250 to $50. And it clarifies that evidence obtained in violation of the law, including evidence collected with consent, would not be admissible in court.
It’s not clear why the governor chose to allow the bill to be enacted without his signature, as he’s signed other cannabis reform proposals in recent weeks.
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Last week, the governor signed a bill to make it so the lawful and responsible use of marijuana by parents and guardians will not be construed by state officials as child “neglect.”
At the beginning of the month, Moore signed into law a measure to regulate marijuana sales, setting the stage for statewide legalization.
Legislators have worked quickly to get the cannabis regulatory legislation in place before the state’s voter-approved legalization law takes effect in July.
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.
The police odor bill that’s going into law accomplishes something that lawmakers in several states have worked to enact in recent years.
In 2020, a Virginia bill to stop police from searching people or seizing property based solely on the smell of marijuana became law. Legislators in Illinois and Mississippi have pursued similar reform.