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Despite holding valid medical marijuana cards, many Arizona patients still make an effort to hide the smell of their stash, in order to avoid potential encounters with local cops. But a recently established ruling suggests that law enforcement groups in the state will not be able to use “smell of marijuana” reasoning, when obtaining a search warrant.

“The police are no longer going to be able to base a search just off of the odor of marijuana,” said Russ Richelsoph, a lawyer from Davis and Miles law firm. “They are going to need something else to indicate a crime is occurring.”

Promoting Weed Rights

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The Arizona Court of Appeals was in charge of overseeing the ruling, and the judges referred to the 2010 Medical Marijuana Act to support their decision. The ruling now requires an officer to provide a secondary reason for the issuance of a search warrant, other than the presence of cannabis odor. It’s important to consider that patients are still not allowed to light up a joint in public, or while driving a car. Many individuals, including Steve White (a board member at Harvest of Tempe), viewed the decision as a win for the community.

Ultimately, the state Supreme Court still has to decide on the full implementation of the ruling. For now, officials are divided on the issue with the Phoenix division of the state Court of Appeals leaning towards allowing the smell of marijuana to be used as a reason for a search warrant. The Tucson division contradicts the group’s conclusion, with its requirement for local cops to furnish other types of evidence not related to cannabis odor.

Tucson Case

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Tucson judges explained that with medical marijuana laws in effect, the smell of marijuana should no longer be associated with illegal activities. This reasoning stemmed from a controversial case that involved several search warrants for growing houses in the county. Police officers, accompanied by a SWAT team, obtained a search warrant from the local magistrate based on strong cannabis odors from a warehouse located in South Tucson. It took two raids on multiple warehouses to find the cultivation center.

Ronald James Sisco, the individual responsible for operating an illegal weed growing house, challenged the search warrant’s validity under the 2010 Medical Marijuana Act. Even though Sisco was not a medical marijuana patient, the court favored his argument. The case was pushed back to trial court, where officials were unable to follow through with the hearings, due to invalid evidence from the search warrant.

“In the absence of such data, and given that hundreds of Arizonans and scores of dispensaries now have permission to lawfully cultivate or store marijuana, the magistrate had no basis to assume that most warehouses currently containing marijuana in Arizona do so illegally,” said Peter Eckerstrom, chief judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals (Division 2), and Michael Miller.

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