Decriminalized Marijuana Possession Not Criminal Defense Against Search in Maryland

- Lotze Mosley

Maryland is one of the jurisdictions in the U.S. that have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. This means that under Maryland law, possession of less than ten grams of marijuana is no longer punishable by imprisonment, but only by a fine.

Does decriminalization of marijuana possession in small amounts automatically make its possession legal? A recent court of appeal decision tackled this issue and ruled that decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization of marijuana in Maryland.

Smell of Marijuana as Probable Cause for Search

Sometime in October 2014, a defendant was charged with possession of at least ten grams of marijuana, possession of oxycodone, and of drug paraphernalia before a Maryland district court. The defendant then filed a motion to suppress all evidence that law enforcers had seized from the defendant’s vehicle. During the hearing on the motion to suppress evidence, the arresting officer testified that he had noticed the overpowering odor of fresh marijuana emanating from the defendant’s vehicle. This prompted the arresting officer to search the vehicle where sixteen small bags of marijuana and an oxycodone pill were found.

Criminal Defense of Accused

The defendant argued that since possession of marijuana had already been decriminalized in that jurisdiction, the alleged smell of fresh marijuana could not constitute probable cause for the police officer to search the defendant’s vehicle, making the search illegal and the results of the search, inadmissible in evidence.

The circuit court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress and eventually found the defendant guilty of possession of at least ten grams of marijuana. The court of special appeals confirmed the lower court’s decision, saying that the decriminalization of marijuana possession in small quantities does not make marijuana a legal substance. Further, it ruled that the marijuana odor can form the basis of probable cause for the law enforcer to search the defendant’s vehicle.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision and also ruled that a law enforcement officer has probable cause to search a vehicle where the law enforcement officer detects an odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. It said that decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization.

Court Ruling

That despite the decriminalization of possession of certain amounts of marijuana, the possession of marijuana in any amount still remains illegal in that jurisdiction. Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Despite the decriminalization of possession of less than ten grams of marijuana, possession of marijuana in any amount remains illegal in Maryland.

If you or someone you know has been charged with possession of marijuana or other prohibited substances in Maryland or in Washington, D.C., call the offices of experienced criminal defense attorneys of Lotze Mosley, LLP. Our firm will aggressively advocate for you to help you obtain favorable outcomes in your case. Call us today at (202) 393-0535 to arrange for your free initial consultation.