Marijuana supporters in the Bay State secured another victory on Tuesday after a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling stated the odor of marijuana alone is not enough for police to suspect criminal activity and order a person out of his or her car.
The court ruled that the law “provides a clear directive to police departments handling violators to treat commission of this offense as noncriminal,” according to the decision written by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland.
The ruling came in response to a 2008 ballot question where voters opted to decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, citing it as a civil, rather than criminal, violation.
“We conclude that, to order a passenger in a stopped vehicle to exit based merely on suspicion of an offense, that offense must be criminal,” wrote Ireland in the 5-to-1 ruling. “Ferreting out decriminalized conduct with the same fervor associated with the pursuit of serious criminal conduct is neither desired by the public nor in accord with the plain language of the statute.”
There must be additional reasons for the police to suspect criminal activity to justify the search of someone’s car, the court ruled.
The ruling was determined during the case of Benjamin Cruz, a passenger who was ordered to get out of a stopped car by a Boston Police officer after the officer smelled burnt marijuana inside the car.
The officer then asked if Cruz had anything on him, to which he replied “a little rock for myself,” according to an article in The Boston Globe. The police then took the crack cocaine and charged Cruz with intent to distribute and holding a controlled substance in a school zone.
The court ruled that it was allowable for police to approach the car because it was in front of a fire hydrant, but that the police had no right to ask Cruz to step out of the car.
Boston University students said that the law is the first step toward dismantling a nanny state. “I think that’s a great law to have the more we move away from being paternalistic in our government the more we go toward allowing people to do what they want to do in the sense of the government and people,” said Evan White, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
“Personally, I think if we establish better education about drugs and better social standards for it eventually we should work toward not only legalizing marijuana, but with time legalizing all drugs,” White said.
Other students said they believe the police have the right to search citizens who smell of marijuana without a warrant.
“I think it’s a pointless law,” said Josh Nelson, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “It’s unreasonable, the police should be allowed to arrest a person if they smell like marijuana regardless because no one should be driving while under the influence, even while on marijuana.”
The Boston Police Department declined to comment on the ruling.