Earlier this year, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act. In doing so, he essentially decriminalized the use and possession of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Governor Murphy also signed S-3454, which clarifies the use and possession of marijuana—and any associated penalties—for individuals under 21.
Once these laws were enacted, police had to modify the way they approach scenarios in which they believe they can smell marijuana. If you live, work, or otherwise spend time in New Jersey, here’s what to know about your rights should officers ever take further action after claiming to have smelled marijuana in your vehicle or on your person:
1. An Odor Does Not Establish Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause
Under the new laws, the mere odor of marijuana, either raw or burned, does not constitute reasonable suspicion. In other words, if police think they smell cannabis, that’s not enough to justify making a traffic stop or otherwise investigating a situation.
If officers have reason to believe someone is operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, however, they may pull them over. While the odor of cannabis alone is not enough to warrant a stop, signs of impairment—e.g., swerving, speeding, or driving erratically—are.
Should officers find the driver isn’t under the influence, though, they’ll have to let them go. Just because they think they smell marijuana does not give them probable cause to conduct a search of the vehicle or of the suspect.
2. A Mere Odor Does Not Justify Any Pedestrian Stops
The new laws make it clear that police cannot question pedestrians whom they believe smell like marijuana. Even those who are under 21 and therefore not technically allowed to use or possess cannabis are protected under these statutes.
3. Suspects Under the Age of 21 Have Additional Protections
If police encounter someone who is under the age of 21 and in possession of marijuana, cannabis, hashish, or alcohol, they may seize it and issue the appropriate warning in writing; however, the new laws grant underage individuals certain rights in such scenarios.
For example, police cannot request consent from those under 21 to conduct a search. What’s more, observing marijuana in plain view does not give officers probable cause to proceed with a search without consent. Finally, police may not arrest or detain those under 21 for violating the new laws, except to the extent that they need to issue a citation or notify a parent or guardian of the situation.
Speak with a Morristown Drug Crime Attorney
If you think your rights were violated under New Jersey’s recently enacted marijuana laws and you’re facing charges as a result, turn to The Law Offices of Joseph S. Scura. Since 2009, attorney Scura has been helping clients fight for lesser charges with reduced penalties, and that’s only when he can’t get them dropped altogether. To schedule a free consultation with this drug crime lawyer in Morristown, call 973-832-0841 or complete the Online Contact Form.