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The Pennsylvania courtroom dominated that the odor of hashish alone isn’t a motive to seek for a automobile

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ALLENTOWN, PA (AP) – A Pennsylvania appeals court overturned a judge's ruling that state police had no valid legal reason to search for a car just because it smelled of cannabis, saying they had other factors contributing to it that led to the man not balanced arrest.

The Supreme Court agreed with Lehigh District Judge Maria Dantos that the smell of marijuana alone is not enough to give police the right to search a car without a warrant. However, the appeals court overturned their decision to suppress evidence in Timothy Barr's arrest, saying Dantos failed to consider other evidence when weighing the legality of the search, The (Allentown) Morning Call reported Friday.

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Growing case law rejects “smell” as a likely cause

The Pennsylvania ruling is adding to a growing number of local precedents regarding the use of cannabis scent as a likely cause. In states where medical marijuana is legal, judges are increasingly ruling that the smell of cannabis is no longer a likely reason to search for a vehicle or a person.

In 2019, a Maryland appeals court charged a cannabis arrest after police searched a man's pockets based on the smell of burned cannabis from his parked car. "In the post-decriminalization period," the court ruled, "the mere smell of marijuana combined with possession of significantly less than ten grams of marijuana without any other circumstance gives officers no likely reason to arrest and search."

The Pennsylvania man had a medical marijuana card

In the current Pennsylvania case, the appeals court sent the case back to Lehigh County Court for review. Another judge will handle the case as Dantos has now retired.

"The 'simple smell' of marijuana alone is no longer a likely reason for authorities to conduct a search for that vehicle."

– Pennsylvania Court of Appeals

The police search revealed a loaded pistol and a small amount of marijuana in an unmarked plastic bag. Barr, a passenger in the car, was accused of illegally possessing a firearm and a small amount of marijuana. But Dantos suppressed the evidence, finding that Barr had a medical marijuana card.

In her statement last year, Dantos wrote that "the" simple smell "of marijuana alone is no longer a likely reason for authorities to conduct a search for a relevant vehicle" because it "no longer indicates an illegal or criminal act." She said that when Barr presented his medical marijuana card, it was "illogical, impractical and unreasonable" for soldiers to conclude that a crime had been committed.

Prosecutors appealed and the Supreme Court said Danto's decision to suppress evidence on Barr's arrest was not legally sufficient.

Barr's attorney Joshua Karoly called the verdict a victory, "but one that could have been clearer and more robust." He said the appeals court had "expressly rejected" most of the prosecution's arguments.

The prosecutor wants to allow the police officers to search vehicles

Prosecutors argue that the search was legal under Supreme Court precedent.

For nearly 100 years, the US Supreme Court has recognized a "Motor Vehicle Exemption" prohibiting improper searches and seizures through the fourth amendment, which gives law enforcement the right to conduct an unauthorized search if there is reason to believe a Vehicle contraband or hiding evidence of a crime. The police have long used the exception to conduct vehicle searches based on the pungent, characteristic smell of the pot.

Increasingly, if the police insist on a search, especially if that search provides evidence of a crime, motorists in states where marijuana is legal in any form are pushing back.

The Associated Press

The AP is one of the world's largest and most trusted sources for independent news gathering.

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Beth Edmonds