The smell of marijuana used to indicate there might be illegal activity taking place. With the recent legalization of weed for recreational use in Michigan, things are not as cut and dry as they used to be. The question of whether the smell of weed is enough to search a vehicle in Michigan is important because a search that is conducted without sufficient probable cause is in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Without overly complicating things, keep in mind that presently in 2022, marijuana is still illegal under federal law so a stop and search may well be justified for a violation of the federal drug law.
The Automobile Exception to Searches
Usually, a search warrant is necessary to search someone’s person, home, or vehicle. So says the 4th Amendment to the U S Constitution. Here in Michigan, we have an exception to that rule. An officer is permitted to search your vehicle without a warrant if they have already stopped you and that has a reason to believe something illegal is occurring. Under Michigan law, we criminal attorneys refer to that as “the automobile exception” to the search warrant requirement.
This exception exists because vehicles are easily moveable from one place to another. It is because of that fact that there is less privacy afforded to vehicles. This is not the only part of the automobile exception but it’s the part that is relevant to our present discussion.
How Could This Exception Apply?
Since marijuana is now mostly legal, smelling or seeing marijuana itself can’t be a reason to pull you over, however, there is what is called a “pretext stop”. In Lansing, Ann Arbor, and all over Michigan, cops are able to pull you over for any evidence of unlawful activity. This could be something like the light above your license plate being out, or not having a seatbelt on. And always remember that the legalization of weed has restrictions on age, quantity, impaired driving, and drugged driving. Cops in Lansing, Ionia, Gratiot County, and Lenawee County are well known for making stops for impaired driving.
A pretext stop gives a legal reason for you to be pulled over, but what happens after that can be up to the discretion of the cop. That means if they have a reason to suspect something illegal is going on, they can conduct a warrantless search, under the automobile exception to the search warrant requirement.
So how does the smell of weed impact this? Well, often that smell is enough to be probable cause for a search. Even though marijuana is legal, officers are still on the lookout for drugged driving. The smell of marijuana will make officers suspicious, and you can still be charged with Operating with the Presence of a Controlled Substance (OWPCS).
Unfortunately, there aren’t clear guidelines on when the smell of weed is enough probable cause for a search, so a lot is left up to what an officer does within the specific details of a situation. Officers are taught that the smell of marijuana isn’t enough by itself, but they can couple it with a belief that the person is lying or is under the influence to have enough probable cause.
As you can see, something as simple as having a brake light out can lead to a drugged driving arrest. These pretext stops can happen in Jackson, Midland County, Eaton County, or Lansing, and can lead to big problems.
What Does This Mean For You?
The most important thing for you to do is to remember your rights under the Fourth Amendment. If your vehicle is searched and you don’t believe there was a valid reason for the search, you should seek experienced legal counsel right away to help you fight for your rights.
Since the laws are still so unclear, unfortunately, users of medical or recreational marijuana need to be careful. Our proven criminal defense attorneys are here to defend your case, but we know the best thing to do is avoid charges altogether. Here’s our best advice: do not drive a vehicle after smoking weed or consuming any amount of alcohol.
If you do find yourself faced with drug crime charges or have been subject to a search without consent, we at The Kronzek Firm are ready to defend your rights. We have been helping clients defend against criminal charges for decades. Call us today 24/7 for a free initial consultation at 866-766-5245.