If My Car Smells Like Marijuana, Is That Probable Cause to Search It?

Before marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the smell of marijuana in your car would be probable cause for a police search without first obtaining a warrant. Now, thanks to an opinion released by the Colorado Supreme Court, it seems that police will now have even more power to conduct warrantless searches based on the smell of marijuana, despite the fact that it has been legal for a good while now. And those searches aren’t limited to your car – the smell of marijuana could allow police to enter your home or even search through your other personal property.

Why Does the Smell of Marijuana Give the Officer Probable Cause?

In 2015, an Iowa resident driving through Colorado was pulled over by a Colorado State Patrol trooper and questioned. Before long, the officer conducted a search of the man’s vehicle with a drug-sniffing K-9 unit after smelling marijuana in the vehicle. After being charged with possession of illegal amounts of marijuana and marijuana-derived products, the man’s case went to the courts, where it was ruled that the officer’s warrantless search was illegal and that the marijuana could not be used as evidence, since there’s no way the officer could have known how much marijuana the Iowa man possessed based on the smell.

The Supreme Court overturned the ruling at the end of June, stating that the smell of marijuana, paired with other factors, could constitute probable cause for warrantless search. According to the officer, it was not just the marijuana smell that led to the search, but also the “extreme” nervousness of the Iowa man coupled with the drug dog’s sniff test.

While technically no laws have changed, this ruling may motivate officers to look for other indicators of criminal activity when the smell of marijuana is detected.

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