Pot Smell Was Sufficient Cause for Vehicle Search

     (CN) – The smell of marijuana provided sufficient cause for a New Jersey man’s arrest, which in turn led to his conviction for illegal handgun possession, the state appeals court ruled.
     George Myers was at a party in January 2012, when state trooper Matthew Gore asked him about a report of gunshots nearby. He denied seeing or hearing any gunfire.
     Gore talked to the young woman hosting the party, and she said she had heard gunshots. When Gore turned around, he saw that Myers had turned into a nearby driveway and was having an argument with the homeowner.
     When Gore returned to Myers’ car, he smelled marijuana. Myers and two friends were placed under arrest, and Gore found marijuana and a handgun in Myers’ jacket.
     Myers was charged with marijuana possession and second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, but he later moved to suppress the evidence against him, arguing Gore had engaged in an illegal search.
     The court denied his motion, dismissed the marijuana charge, and convicted Myers of the gun-possession charge. He was sent to prison for five years.
     Myers appealed, arguing that due to the passage of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, the smell of marijuana should not have been used to justify the warrantless search.
     The New Jersey Appellate Division disagreed, upholding the verdict in a ruling written by Judge George Leone on behalf of a three-judge panel.
     “Here, defendant does not claim that he or anyone in his car was a qualifying patient who had a registry identification card, or even a physician’s certification,” Leone wrote.
     Leone added that the CUMMA stipulated that possession of a registry identification card is an affirmative defense, rather than an element of the offense.
     “Accordingly, we hold that absent evidence the person suspected of possessing or using marijuana has a registry identification card, detection of marijuana by the sense of smell, or by the other senses, provides probable cause to believe that the crime of unlawful possession of marijuana has been committed,” Leone wrote.

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