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Smell like weed? Maryland police can stop you and investigate, Court of Appeals rules

The ruling comes after police frisked a 15-year-old in a group that smelled of weed in a Capitol Heights apartment and found a loaded gun, resulting in charges.

MARYLAND, USA — A person in Maryland who smells of marijuana can now be stopped and "briefly" investigated by police, according to a recent ruling by the state's Court of Appeals.

Although possession of fewer than 10 grams of weed is not a crime in the state - it's a civil offense that can incur fines - the court decided that the smell provides enough reasonable suspicion for an officer to investigate.

The court stated that the stop must be quick and non-intrusive, but they stopped short of giving a time limit for how long the search can be, as that is to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

"We emphasize that such detentions must be brief, especially in light of the reality that many individuals who choose to possess marijuana do so under the criminal threshold of 10 grams," stated Hon. Jonathan Biran in the concurring opinion.

The ruling comes after a 15-year-old, along with four others, was detained by Prince George's County police after the officers said they smelled weed on them in a Capitol Heights apartment in November 2019. While frisking the boy, an officer found a loaded gun in his waistband, they said. Someone had called in to report the smell of the drug and loud music, which is what initially brought police to the scene, according to court opinion background information. 

After being charged with firearms offenses, the teen moved to suppress the gun as evidence; however, the Court of Appeals held that "the odor gives rise to reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot, and thus provides the basis for a brief investigatory detention." They ultimately determined the detention did not violate the fourth amendment.

Written in the dissent, Hon. Michele Hotten expressed the view that the smell of marijuana alone does not provide reasonable suspicion to justify conducting an investigatory stop, as determined by other jurisdictions that have previously decriminalized the drug.

"The smell of odor on a person, alone, makes it impossible for law enforcement to determine whether the person has engaged in a wholly innocent activity, a civil offense, or a crime," she wrote.

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