Cannabis smell as probable cause subject of Illinois Supreme Court case

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(The Center Square) – The Illinois Supreme Court Wednesday heard a case about whether law enforcement can initiate a search of a vehicle just by the smell of cannabis.

The case involves Ryan Redmond, who was pulled over for speeding and then searched and ticked after officers smelled marijuana and found cannabis in the car improperly packaged.

Cannabis is a legal substance for adult use in Illinois since 2020. Now, attorneys for Redmond and others arrested after police pulled over their vehicle and smelled marijuana coming from the car are arguing that that is not enough to force a search.

James Mertes, attorney for the defendant, argued that just a smell is not enough and other factors need to be looked at.

“The possession of cannabis has been legalized in the state of Illinois, and the odor of marijuana is now an aroma of legality,” Mertes said. “The odor of cannabis emitting from a motor vehicle standing alone no longer provides a law enforcement officer with probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.”

Mertes said those other factors include how long the individual has been in the car.

“It’s not just the smell, but for example, in the case of Mr. Redmond, he was traveling from Des Moines to Chicago. How long was he in the vehicle? Does the officer know how long he’s been in the vehicle? There are other factors,” Mertes told the court.

Mitchell Ness, who argued on behalf of the state, said there was evidence that marijuana was consumed in the car and that any reasonable officer would have conducted a search based on the smell.

“If a person smells like cannabis while they’re in a vehicle, then that is good evidence that cannabis was used while in the vehicle,” Ness said. “Cannabis is no longer contraband in every circumstance, but that does not absolve a person from following the laws that are in place.”

No decision was immediately rendered in the case.

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