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Maryland senators took up two GOP-led marijuana bills on Friday: one that would let police search vehicles based on the smell of cannabis and another that’s meant to protect gun rights for medical marijuana patients.
Members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee discussed the legislation during a hearing, listening to testimony in support and opposition, but did not vote on the proposals.
Sen. William Folden (R) is sponsoring the bill to authorize law enforcement searches based on marijuana odor, a measure he said attempts to “correct a wrong, an error, that the legislature made” when it passed reform legislation that was enacted last year to specifically prevent such searches given that the state has legalized marijuana.
If the smell of cannabis is emitted from a car, that’s a “strong indicator that person is in violation of law and potentially impaired at the time,” Folden said, adding that “this strong odor is definitely discernible by law enforcement and those in the community.”
Two county prosecutors also testified in favor of the measure. But drug policy reform advocates, including ACLU of Maryland Public Policy Director Yanet Amanuel, defended the current policy that bars police from conducting cannabis odor-based searches.
“The proponents of SB 396 have said that banning odor stops and searches will impede law enforcement ability to investigate incidents of impaired driving, but that’s simply not true,” she said. “The law makes it explicit that the odor of marijuana can be considered as part of the totality of circumstances to support the officer’s observations of suspected impairment. The odor of marijuana simply cannot be the sole basis for a stop to investigate driving under the influence.”
“What police do is use the alleged odor of marijuana to justify racial profiling,” Amanuel said. “Diligent law enforcement can and should be used to solve crime using honest-based initiatives and techniques without relying on a potential basis such as the odor of marijuana for stopping and searching Black and brown people.”
Last November, the Maryland legislature’s Joint Republican Caucus previewed their push to undo the prohibition on odor-based searches, claiming the law has put motorists at risk and taken away an important tool used by law enforcement to seize people’s firearms.
At Friday’s hearing, members also briefly considered a separate proposal from Sen. Mike McKay (R) that would protect the rights of registered medical cannabis patients to buy, own and carry firearms under state law.
The issue has been raised in multiple state legislatures and federal courts in recent years, as marijuana and gun rights advocates challenge the constitutionality of the federal ban that currently prevents cannabis consumers from owning firearms.
Just last month in neighboring Pennsylvania, a district attorney filed suit against the Justice Department over the ban that he says violates the Second Amendment rights of medical cannabis patients such as himself.
The issue was previously raised in the Maryland legislature around this time last year, with the House Judiciary Committee holding a hearing on a separate but related measure to ensure medical marijuana patients’ gun rights are protected.
Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Meanwhile, overall sales of marijuana in Maryland set a new monthly record in December, with nearly $96.5 million in combined purchases between the state’s medical and adult-use markets, the latter which launched last July.
Lawmakers in the state are separately considering a new proposal to create a task force to study and make specific recommendations about the best path forward to legalize and regulate certain psychedelics.