In mid-September, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts handed down a ruling that will help reduce the number of citations for marijuana possession in the state and put an end to unfair profiling. The decision is being hailed as a major victory for supporters of legalizing marijuana use in the state, as it furthers the decriminalization of the drug.
The case that prompted the ruling revolves around Elivette Rodriguez, who was stopped by police in 2012 when the woman passed by a police vehicle with her windows down. Officers detected the scent of marijuana coming from her vehicle and opted to pull her over. The officers discovered heroin in the possession of her passenger and found 60 narcotic prescription pain relievers inside the car, leading them to cite her for drug possession. The issue in the Rodriguez case was whether or not it was legal for the police to pull her over simply because they thought they smelled marijuana.
In a 5-2 ruling in favor of Rodriguez, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts sent a clear message to law enforcement officers in the state-when it was confirmed that it is illegal to pull over anyone in Massachusetts simply because of the suspicion of marijuana usage. While it remains legal to cite a person for marijuana possession if it's found in plain view in a vehicle during an unrelated traffic stop, officers can no longer use suspected possession as an excuse to stop a motorist.
As the basis for their arguments, justices relied on the Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, a ballot measure that state residents voted on back in 2008. The law reduces the penalties for people over the age of 18 who are found to have marijuana in quantities under 1 ounce. The justices felt that the law made it clear that tax payers would rather the police focus their efforts on other matters rather than cracking down on recreational marijuana users.
The justices who did not agree with the majority opinion felt that suspected marijuana possession could indicate that a person was driving under the influence of drugs, making it reasonable for police to stop them. Critics of their stance argue that a person driving under the influence would exhibit other signs that would warrant being pulled over.
This ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts is certainly an important milestone, and advocates for fully legalizing marijuana in the state hope that it's an indicator that the state may be ready for legislation to completely decriminalize cannabis.