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NORML Argues Police May Not Question Citizens Based On Marijuana Odors


smell marijuana odor policeBy Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director

NORML filed an “amicus curiae” brief with the Massachusetts Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 18, urging the court to place more limits on police questioning and searches for possession of small amounts marijuana. Attorneys Steven S. Epstein, of Georgetown, and Marvin Cable, of Northampton, authored the brief.

In Western Massachusetts, a judge ruled that based on the odor of raw marijuana an officer could question the defendant about the presence of marijuana and seize a bag of marijuana at the direction of defendant in response to those questions. She reasoned, “a strong odor of marijuana to the officers training and experience triggered a suspicion that there was more than one ounce present.” That suspicion justified asking the Defendant about it and police entering his car to retrieve the marijuana he told them was there.

She further ruled that once police retrieved that bag they lacked the authority to search for more marijuana. She reasoned that a belief the bag was “probably” a criminal amount alone and combined with an officer’s characterization of the odor as “strong” amounted to nothing more than a “hunch.” She ordered the “other bags and the statements subsequently made by the defendant” could not be used at trial. The state appealed.

In its friend of the court brief, NORML reminds the Court of the precarious constitutionality of marijuana prohibition. It then proceeds to ask the Court to rule that: a police officer may not question a person about possible marijuana in his possession or control based only on the officer’s perception of odor, a civil violation in Massachusetts; and, that absent objectively reasonable evidence derived from weighing a bag suspected of containing over an ounce police may not detain, arrest or search a person or their possessions.

NORML argues the citizens of Massachusetts by voting to decriminalize an ounce or less of marijuana do not want police bothering people with anything more than a ticket when there are no articulated facts that a suspected possession of marijuana is criminal in nature. One of the intents of the decriminalization law was to free police to pursue more pressing issues than marijuana possession.

Oral argument in the case of Commonwealth v. Overmyer is scheduled for March 3, with a decision possible before the summer of 2014.

Source: NORML - make a donation


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Johnny Green


  1. That’s disappointing, but I wonder how the DEA would have the authority if it didn’t actually contain cannabis. Oh well.

  2. A number of years back someone attempted to market a perfume named Sinsemilla, with the appropriate fragrance. IIRC, the dea forced them to discontinue the plan due to the reasons you mentioned.

  3. 917—A New York Area Code—are you for real. I could go to any Bodega or Chinese take out place that has delivery, and pick up. Or even order with my Domino’s within 30 mins, or the pizza is free. And their open 24 / 7. Pick another area code for your track phone.

  4. I was once at a festival and a friend gave me an envelope with one bud of the good stuff, it was a very hot day and my sweat soaked the envelope, all day people were telling me I smelled strongly of weed and this was outdoors, you can’t tell how much weed someone has by the smell.

  5. Today’s invention idea: aerosol spray that smells exactly like marijuana, but isn’t. It would be useful in situations like this, at roadside traffic stops and at airports that employ drug-sniffing canines. Just spray some on yourself, your car or your luggage and watch the fun!

  6. If it were a relatively pungent strain and not packaged & secured properly, sure, a lot of people could smell raw weed in or adjacent to a vehicle.

    The real trick is to identify the terpenes present.
    ; )

  7. i don’t know man maybe they are driving high which is not as dangerous as driving drunk it still not cool.

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