A marijuana joint. Credit: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images
The state's highest court ruled on Wednesday that police officers cannot perform a warrantless search of a car based solely on the smell of unburnt marijuana.
"[W]e hold that such odor, standing alone, does not provide probable cause to search an automobile," the ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court said.
The ruling comes from a case that sought to clarify a 2011 ruling by the court which said because of the state's decriminalization of an ounce of pot, the odor of burnt marijuana alone cannot reasonably provide suspicion of criminal activity. Prosecutors had argued that the 2011 case only specified the odor of burnt marijuana, rather than unburnt marijuana.
"Although the odor of unburnt, rather than burnt, marijuana could be more consistent with the presence of larger quantities, ... it does not follow that such an odor reliably predicts the presence of a criminal amount of the substance, that is, more than one ounce, as would be necessary to constitute probable cause," the court said in its ruling.
The court made a similar ruling in a companion case about a search of a car during a sobriety checkpoint in Dorchester.