NJ Court Holds Medical Marijuana Act Doesn’t Preclude Police Searches

September 17, 2015 · by rosenblumlawfirm · in

Drug Possession in NJSince 2010, New Jersey has run a medical marijuana program, but the drug has not been legalized for everyone in the state.  A New Jersey appellate court recently ruled that even though medical marijuana has been legalized, police may still search people or their property without a warrant when they detect the smell of marijuana.

This issue arose in 2012, when George A. Myers was arrested in Cumberland County after a state police trooper said he smelled burnt marijuana in the car. The trooper searched Myers and found a handgun and “a small baggie of marijuana.” Myers was not enrolled in the medical marijuana program at the time of his arrest.

At his trial, Meyers argued that the smell of marijuana is no longer a  sign that a crime is being committed in New Jersey since the state allows some residents to use the drug for medicinal purposes.  He also argued possession of marijuana should be treated like possession of alcohol, which is legal.

The court disagreed, saying unless the person suspected of possessing or using marijuana has a registry identification card, detection of marijuana by the sense of smell provides probable cause to believe the crime of unlawful possession of marijuana has been committed. In addition,  the NJ Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act does not allow someone who can legally obtain marijuana to smoke it in a moving vehicle or to drive a vehicle while under the influence.

According to state Attorney General guidelines, police should not make an arrest when someone in possession of marijuana reasonably appears to be enrolled in the medical marijuana program. This generally means possessing the identification card given to New Jersey medical marijuana patients who successfully enroll in the program and having a doctor’s certification on file. According to state Department of Health statistics, New Jersey officials had enrolled 3,727 patients into the medical marijuana program as of the end of 2014.

After the trial court found that the trooper had lawfully uncovered the handgun and denied Myers’ efforts to have the evidence suppressed, Myers pleaded guilty to second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit. The marijuana charge was dismissed.

When Myers appealed, the state appeals court affirmed the trial court ruling, noting the medical-marijuana program provides enrolled patients with an affirmative defense in case they are questioned by police or charged with a crime, but it does not prohibit police from searching when they smell marijuana.

As  marijuana possession laws across the country are changing, it is more important now than ever to know your rights regarding marijuana in the state. If you have been charged with drug possession  or another drug-related offense in New Jersey or New York, call the Rosenblum Law Firm at 888-979-7551. Do not take chances. Depending on the severity of the drug charge, you can face years in prison, substantial fines, and a criminal record.