Is the Smell of Weed Probable Cause in Arizona?

With the passage of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), proponents of marijuana had high hopes that the bill would ease the pressure on recreational marijuana-users. In 2016, the Arizona Court of Appeals legitimized these hopes when it ruled that police officers couldn’t use the smell of marijuana as probable cause, though the ruling was limited to certain situations.

Unfortunately, the jubilation was short-lived as the Arizona Supreme Court quickly overturned the Court of Appeals ruling. Consequently, Arizona law still allows the smell of marijuana to be used as probable cause for a search warrant.

The Cases in Question 

Two cases prompted this groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling. In 2013, Tucson police responded to an overpowering aroma of marijuana at a storage facility, and obtained warrants to search two units where they discovered hundreds of marijuana plants, cultivation equipment and paraphernalia; their owner was then arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to 3.5 years of incarceration.

Police in Maricopa County pulled over a vehicle for having tinted windows which exceeded state regulations, whereupon officers immediately detected an overwhelming odor of marijuana from inside. After searching, officers discovered drugs and paraphernalia which led them to arrest the driver; who was later sentenced to one year of incarceration.

In both cases, attorneys for defendants argued that police unlawfully obtained search warrants based solely on the smell of marijuana; under AMMA this source of probable cause had been eliminated by lower courts; so these attorneys filed appeals in both instances.

The Arizona Court of Appeals Ruling

Here is where things become intriguing: while the Court of Appeals upheld and sentenced one defendant in Maricopa County, in Tucson it overturned them both and instead instituted an “smell-plus” test to require police officers evaluating marijuana odor in combination with other factors when establishing probable cause.

The Arizona Supreme Court’s Ruling

As the Tucson and Maricopa County cases were in direct contradiction to one another, attorneys appealed their cases to the Arizona Supreme Court. Both times, this court upheld their original decisions that evidence of marijuana was sufficient probable cause to warrant search warrants – an important precedent set by Supreme Court rulings must be treated similarly as legislation from state legislature.

Chief Supreme Court Justice Scott Bales issued the Opinions in both cases and found that although AMMA offers some protections to qualified patients, designated caregivers, and dispensary agents – but this only accounts for a portion of society. Furthermore, those covered by it still are bound by strict rules and regulations; authorized persons could still break laws even when protected. Finally, even patients with medical marijuana cards shouldn’t possess enough to create an overwhelming smell of marijuana which could constitute probable cause to obtain a search warrant.

What Effect Does This Have on You?

Arizona law permits qualifying patients to possess and use medical marijuana legally, however just the smell of it alone does not provide sufficient probable cause for law enforcement officers to search someone or something without prior warrant or evidence of illegal activity.

If you possess a valid medical marijuana card and find yourself subject to a search due to the scent of marijuana, it’s typically best practice to provide it to law enforcement as soon as possible. Although doing so won’t always stop searches from happening without warrants in place, presenting your card can still provide valuable evidence against further searches taking place.

If you find yourself with more marijuana than is allowed under Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), or without a valid medical marijuana card, do not consent to a search without first consulting with an attorney first. In cases where law enforcement obtains a search warrant based on probable cause, comply with it while not admitting or providing information that can lead to unlawful behavior – just identify yourself.

What to Do If You Are Arrested 

When arrested, it is essential that you exercise your rights immediately. You are entitled to remain silent and only provide basic information such as your name and address. Furthermore, it is your right to consult an attorney prior to speaking with the police; if an attorney is too expensive for you to afford then ask the officer for help in finding a public defender in your area.

After being booked into jail, you have the right to make one phone call within an acceptable amount of time; calling an attorney instead could enable them to reach out on your behalf directly to family and friends or contact authorities as needed. Consultations with an attorney may also help negotiate better bail terms with the court.

Before making any significant decisions pertaining to your case, such as agreeing to a plea bargain or confessing, it is wise to consult with a criminal defense attorney first. Any deal offered by law enforcement should still be available once your attorney is present.

Overall, it is vitally important that you remember and exercise your rights fully. Seek legal advice immediately so as to safeguard your interests throughout the criminal justice process.

Receive Help With Marijuana Possession Charges in Arizona

If you’ve been charged with marijuana possession in Arizona, a resourceful defense can work to get your charge dismissed or reduced to the minimum penalties. Even if you’re a first-time offender, navigating your course is complex, and without help, you could quickly lose your chances of success in court.

Let the defense lawyers of JacksonWhite Law help minimize the impact of your drug possession charges today.

To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call our criminal defense team today at (480) 418-4281.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 418-4281 to discuss your case today.

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