Does the smell of marijuana give the police probable cause to search a vehicle?

Asked on November 11, 2015 under Criminal Law, California

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

As a general, probable cause must exist before a search may be done by law enforcement. However, a motor vehicle is exempted from the requirement that a search may only be conducted if a search warrant has been issued. So while the police may conduct a warrantless search of a car, the police still need probable cause. Although, it has been long held that even just the smell of marijuana consititutes such cause.
That having been said, in some states that have legalized marijuana use (for medicinal purposes or otherwise), the police can no longer search (either with or without a warrant) simply because an officer claims to smell weed. Typically, law enforcement would need to smell a suspicious odor has well believe that there was some other evidence of potential criminal activity associated with marijuana.
Since this area of the law is in flux, you are best advised to consult directly with a criminal law attorney in your area.


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