Snoop Dogg’s Arrest Provides Lesson on Drug Laws
Fresh off his appearance on the Price Is Right, rapper Snoop Dogg has been charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.
Earlier this month, Snoop—whose real name is Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.—was stopped by Texas border patrol agents, who alleged they smelled marijuana smoke emanating from his tour bus. Upon searching the vehicle, they found several joints. The local sheriff’s office then slapped the celebrity with the misdemeanor charge, which usually entails a mail-in fine of up to $500.
Marijuana laws across the country are rapidly changing as perceptions of the drug’s harmful affects are going up in smoke. Snoop Dogg’s run-in with authorities highlights a couple key issues that are stuck in this expanding legal gray area. First, is a smell test enough for an officer to establish what is known as probable cause to search a vehicle for marijuana possession? Second, does the fact that Snoop is a medical marijuana license holder have any bearing on his case?
The Smell Test
To be able to search an individual’s vehicle, an officer must establish probable cause. Probable cause is usually based on visual evidence, such as signs of intoxication like slurred speech or poor motor skills.
“As a defense attorney, you often hear that an officer saw some sort of movement that they believed indicated criminal activity, such as blowing smoke out the window, looking back and forth suspiciously or making a hand movement with what appears to be a cigarette in their lap,” says Robert Georges, a criminal defense attorney in New York.
Additionally, probable cause can be established after a driver is pulled over for a typical traffic violation, such as speeding or crashing a red light. To be able to visually establish probable cause in these situations, the evidence must be in plain view.
“Plain view means you don’t have to move anything or touch anything to locate the evidence,” Georges says. “That is often how marijuana arrests are made in cars and on people. Otherwise, if the officer asks to look in a concealed area like the glove compartment and does not have a warrant or probable cause, the driver does not have to comply.”
In Snoop’s case, probable cause was not established based on visual evidence but rather on olfactory evidence. Although the evidence of a smell is more difficult to prove in court, experts say it is enough to establish probable cause.
“An officer can pull a car over for not using a signal, and the officer can say he smelled an overwhelming odor of marijuana, which to my understanding would then allow them to search the car,” Georges says. “At a minimum, it’s enough information for them to go and get a search warrant.”
Thomas Simeone, a partner at Simeone & Miller, agrees that smell is “fair game.” However, he notes that an officer establishing probable cause off of smell alone can be problematic for the prosecution.
“If you smell marijuana as a police officer and then you find a lit joint in the vehicle, that’s pretty straightforward,” Simeone says. “But where it is less clear is when nothing was lit, like if it is just in the clothing. Smell can be very subjective.”
License to Smoke
Besides the issue of probable cause, Snoop’s case highlights the complexities of state marijuana laws. Currently, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted some sort of medical marijuana legislation. Yet, what is strange is that these exceptions are in direct conflict with federal law.
“Federal law does not carve any exceptions for licenses, so all these people using and growing marijuana legally under state laws are violating federal law,” Simeone says. “The federal government has not yet enforced it, but it is clearly an issue that needs to be resolved.”
Besides being in direct conflict with federal law, these medical marijuana licenses are not acknowledged in most states. This means those in possession of the drug may face prosecution in any one of these non-medical marijuana jurisdictions.
Most confusing, however, is whether other states with medical marijuana laws recognize medical marijuana licenses from other states. For example, although driver’s licenses are issued by individual states, all states honor one another’s licenses under the full faith and credit clause of Article IV of the Constitution. Simeone says that currently the full faith and credit clause does not apply to marijuana licenses.
“I could see the laws eventually treating medical marijuana growers differently from medical marijuana users,” Simeone says. “With growers, it may end up being more like a professional license, like bar membership, which requires a unique license for each state you do business in. With users, it may be more like a driver’s license where one license is good nationwide.”