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Minnesota Supreme Court Determines Marijuana Odor Alone Is Not Reason Enough To Search Vehicles

The Minnesota Supreme Court has issued a ruling in the case of Adam Torgerson v. State of Minnesota, stating that marijuana odor alone is not enough to establish probable cause for a vehicle search. In 2021, during the traffic stop in Meeker County, police officers claimed they smelled weed from Torgerson’s car’s open window and ordered everyone out of the vehicle for a search.

The officers found a small amount of methamphetamine and some paraphernalia during the search. However, a district court ruled that this evidence was inadmissible due to lack of probable cause. The state appealed, but both the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court affirmed the decision, stating that “the odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle, alone, does not provide probable cause to search the vehicle under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.”

For citizens in Minnesota, this ruling brings greater protection to their Fourth Amendment rights. The decision undermines the ability of law enforcement to use marijuana odor as a pretext for unconstitutional searches. Further, it establishes that just smelling weed is not enough reason to search someone’s vehicle.

Background Information

The ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court has important implications for citizens of the state, given that marijuana was partially decriminalized prior to 2021. In certain circumstances, it was legal for medical marijuana patients to possess small quantities of weed, and industrial hemp (which looks and smells a lot like regular marijuana) was also legalized.

This decision is not unique to Minnesota either; courts in other states, such as Colorado since 2016, have also ruled that marijuana odor alone does not establish probable cause to search a vehicle. This ruling brings Minnesota law in line with the precedent set by Colorado and recognizes the rapidly changing legal landscape for marijuana across the country.

Beyond this case, more rulings regarding searches based on marijuana odor will likely come up in the future. As marijuana legalization continues to spread, the laws and precedents surrounding its use are constantly being tested and challenged.

The Court’s Rationale

Justice Anne McKeig wrote the majority opinion in this case, which affirmed that marijuana odor alone was not enough to establish probable cause for a search. She reasoned that the “odor of marijuana should be considered along with the totality of any other circumstances to determine whether there is a fair probability that a search will yield contraband or other evidence.” This means that the smell of marijuana coming from inside a car should be considered, but it is not enough to justify a search without any other evidence.

Chief Justice Laurie Gildea wrote a dissenting opinion in the case, arguing that reasonable and prudent people would agree that there likely would be marijuana in the car if they smelled its odor. While she noted that her opinion was in the minority, she suggested that there might be some evidence that could suggest the presence of marijuana stronger than smell alone. Ultimately, though, her opinion was overruled by a majority of justices who agreed with Justice McKeig’s reasoning.

This ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court is a victory for citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights in the state. The court’s decision affirms that just because law enforcement officers smell marijuana, it does not give them the right to search someone’s vehicle without any other evidence. This ruling reinforces the notion that individuals should be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, even if the police smell an odor they believe to be marijuana.

The ruling also has implications for the future of marijuana legalization across the country. As more states move towards legalizing weed, it is likely that these kinds of cases will come up more often and be used to set a precedent for other states to follow.

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