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More than one year after the legalization of recreational marijuana, New Jersey residents say the smell of weed has permeated public spaces and even their homes, according to a Stockton University Poll released today.
But few said they are bothered by the smell and most seem reluctant to criticize others for using legal weed, the findings show.
A majority of 57% of New Jersey adults reported smelling marijuana in public spaces often (28%) or sometimes (29%). One-third (32%) smell cannabis rarely, and only 9% said they have never smelled weed in public settings.
One of the first questions to be raised was about the smell of cannabis emanating from vehicles on the roadway. Sgt. Ron Miller, who took the lead on answering questions during the event, said, “If we smell marijuana in a car, we can’t do anything.”
The presence of the odor of cannabis is apparently not cause to search a vehicle. The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that searching a vehicle based on the odor of cannabis is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable search or seizure by the government.
A Maryland appeals court has ruled police officers can no longer stop people based on the smell of marijuana alone, further limiting when the distinctive odor can justify police actions.
In a decision issued this week, Maryland's second-highest court found that a whiff of marijuana does not give police a legal reason to stop and investigate someone.
Police need "reasonable suspicion" that a crime is being committed before they can detain someone for even a short period of time.
What would legalization mean for New Yorkers?
New Yorkers would be allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for recreational use. Club-like lounges or “consumption sites” where marijuana — but not alcohol — could be consumed would also be permitted, according to details of the plan obtained by The New York Times.
The police could use the smell of marijuana as a reason to suspect a driver is under the influence, but could not use the odor as the primary justification to search a vehicle.
“I believe it makes our jobs as police officers much more difficult.,” Newton Police Chief Robert Osborn said. “Most concerning though is the fact that if you find a juvenile with alcohol or marijuana, it does not allow our agency to legally tell the parent of this initial contact.”
Another feature of the new law is the spotlight shone on penalties for police if civil rights are violated. Something police have “always known to be aware of,” according to Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto.
New Jersey’s top law enforcement official has released sweeping new guidelines for police in the wake of the state’s decriminalization of marijuana.
Under the guidelines released by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal Tuesday, police are no longer allowed to detain or arrest people for possessing or distributing small amounts of marijuana. Being under the influence of marijuana or possessing related paraphernalia are no longer crimes for people 21 and over.
"They have a golden ticket for a free search of your car," Lomurro said. "The smell of marijuana has been used as a tool to support police investigation for a long time."
That would change under the New Jersey marijuana legalization bill pending in the Legislature. In addition to legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana possession and use for recreational purposes, the bill would officially remove the smell of marijuana — or sight, in most cases — as probable cause for police to search a vehicle.