This post updates an earlier post that briefly noted two recent Maryland appellate court opinions discussing when the odor of marihuana emananting from a vehicle would justify the search of a vehicle and/or the frisk of an occupant of the vehicle. With the decriminalization of less than 10 grams of marihuana in Maryland, but with the courts still considering marihuana to be contraband - as one can still be given a civil citation for the possession of less than 10 grams - the police are still authorized to search a vehicle - but the odor of marihuana by itself - at least in Maryland - does not provide a basis for a weapons frisk. My associate, Megan E. Coleman and I prepared a more detailed analysis of how the opinions in Robinson and Norman have addressed these issues. Click below to read our analysis.
In Robinson v. State, 451 Md. 94 (2017) the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the odor of marihuana emanating from a vehicle justified the search of a vehicle for drugs even thought the odor, by itself, did not establish whether the amount of marihuana in the vehicle was over 10 grams and, thus, a criminal rather than a civil offense - and even if under 10 grams, the search was still justified as marihuana in any amount was still contraband and subject to seizure. Three months after Robinson, the Court of Appeals in Norman v. State, 2017 WL 1131907 (3/27/17), now holds that that odor of marihuana emanating from a vehicle does not provide reasonable articulable suspicion to believe that the vehicle's occupants are armed and dangerous and a frisk of the occupants for weapons was not justified. The Court rejected the State's argument that the mere odor of marihuana emanating from a vehicle gives rise to a reasonable inference that all of the occupants are engaged in the common enterprise of drug dealing - which the State argued is often associated with guns. The Court engaged in an extensive discussion of federal and state opinions that reached differing conclusions with respect to this issue. The Court of Appeals specifically rejected the holding by the Fourt Circuit in United States v. Sayki, 160 F.3d 164 (4th Cir. 1998) that permitted a frisk under circumstances similar to those in Norman. The Norman noted that there was no testimony by the officer who conducted the frisk of any furtive movements, nervous behavior, any false information or inconsistent information provided by Norman nor was there any failure to follow the officer's instructions, suggesting that the presence of some or all of these factors, together with the odor of marihuana, may have been sufficient to justify a frisk.