Medical marijuana, the smell of pot – and law enforcement

Having a medical marijuana doesn't necessarily mean your car won't be searched in a traffic stop.
Photo Courtesy of BioTrackThc.

Whether it’s for medical purposes or just recreational use, the marijuana industry is rapidly growing in the United States of America. 

Thirty-three states now have some form of marijuana legalized. With that growth, comes confusion on where it can be used or how the law reacts to its presence.

Just recently a man in South Florida claims his car was illegally searched during a traffic stop because of a marijuana smell which resulted in his arrest. Victor Chavez is now fighting this arrest because he says he is the owner of a medical marijuana card and the smell of marijuana alone should not have been enough to search his car.

The lawyer representing Chavez wrote in a motion that his client’s rights were violated.

“The legalization of marijuana for a rapidly growing number of Floridians and businesses means that marijuana odor, in and of itself, is no longer an indication of criminality in Florida,” Assistant Miami-Dade Public Defender Fan Li wrote.

Chavez may not have a strong argument because an entire stash of marijuana was found in the trunk of his car, but it raises the question of what should be done nonetheless.

The Leon County Sheriff's Office says that it hasn’t been an issue they have come across, but they would follow the law if the situation appears.

“Smokable marijuana isn’t legal in the state but we would do our best to handle the situation in any manner,” LCSO public information officer Dave Teems said. for

Damon Miller is the PIO for the Tallahassee Police Department, and he talked about the difference between medical marijuana and how TPD would approach the situation.

“Our supervisors have a compassionates list to show who is a card carrier, but if the THC level is high enough that would invalidate the situation,” said Miller. “It also wouldn't be a felony if it was under 20 grams.”

The situation could get a little stickier if Florida lawmakers decide to legalize smokable marijuana. The new governor, Ron DeSantis, has publicly backed the motion to remove the ban so it could be happening soon.