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

Asked on November 11, 2015 under Criminal Law, California


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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.