Court: Cops can follow their nose

The odor of weed is all police need to search car; house is a bit trickier

KINGMAN - The pungent whiff of dank, skunky bud could wind up getting you searched if you're not legally allowed to possess.

A pair of new court rulings Monday allows the police to pursue a search of your car or house solely based on the smell of marijuana.

Kingman Deputy Police Chief Rusty Cooper weighed in on how KPD will be handling any traffic stops or house calls where the unmistakable scent of burning or raw marijuana fans across the nose of a suspecting officer.

Vehicles and homes invoke different levels of search criteria.

Vehicles and their occupants are more likely to be searched due to mobility and ability to transport illicit drugs.

The smell of pot, burned or not, gives police the ability to act.

"Once they smell marijuana, that's a probable cause reason to search the vehicle," Cooper said. "We will detain the driver and occupants."

If someone has a card for medical marijuana, they better have it with them.

"If we do find marijuana, then we establish who, if anyone, has the marijuana card," Cooper said. "If they are within the administrative allowances of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, they are released."

Current law allows AMMA patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot, in addition to other requirements and limitations.

"If they're outside the allowances, they are not protected by the AMMA and will be arrested and prosecuted," said Cooper.

The officer then has to determine who the drugs belong to, meaning other occupants could be searched.

A DUI investigation may result if the officer smells burnt or burning weed.

"If we smell burnt marijuana and the officer suspects impairment, that is reason to begin a DUI investigation to determine if the driver is impaired," Cooper said. "It would be treated as if it was the smell of alcohol."

How does an officer determine impairment? With the same tests used for alcohol.

"We put them through roadside sobriety tests," he said. "They're meant to measure a person's ability to perform divided attention skills."

Further testing for drug residuals, such as taking a blood sample, will be taken upon determination of impairment.

"Drawing blood is becoming more common for both alcohol and drugs. Blood is more accurate and the evidence is preserved."

What about when the cops come to your house?

"The difference is cars are mobile, homes are not. Vehicles create more of an urgency to begin a search," Cooper said. "Courts have recognized that homes are private and therefore given more consideration.

"Officers would treat a situation with more caution to honor that privacy. In order to search the house, we'd have to obtain a search warrant."

Again, burning or not, the smell is probable cause to apply for a warrant. The occupants could be detained and home secured while officers seek the warrant.

Before AMMA was passed in 2010, possession was a minimum class 6 felony. Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level.

Cooper clarified that KPD will enforce the laws based on court rulings.

"Everything we do is based on case law. Our ability to search is based on case law. We are used to adjusting to how the courts rule."