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Hartford, CT criminal defense lawyer for marijuana possession and DUIThe marijuana laws in the United States seem to be in constant flux. Some states have legalized this drug for medicinal and/or recreational use, while in others, it remains illegal to use, possess, or distribute, and doing so can lead to drug charges. Connecticut residents may be unsure about the state’s marijuana laws, especially since the laws have also changed recently in some nearby states. 

Massachusetts legalized marijuana in 2016, New Jersey voted to legalize the drug in 2020, and it is rumored that New York and Rhode Island are soon to follow. Connecticut’s Governor, Ned Lamont, has stated that marijuana legalization may be on the state’s legislative agenda for 2021, and the taxes generated from legal sales of the drug may help make up the state’s budget deficit. However, until new laws are passed and go into effect, it is important for Connecticut residents to understand how the state’s laws address marijuana.

Marijuana Decriminalization and Medical Marijuana Use

Currently, the recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Connecticut. However, the state has decriminalized possession of small amounts. A person who possesses less than half an ounce of marijuana will not face criminal charges, but they will instead be fined $150 for a first offense and between $250 and $500 for any subsequent offenses. Possession of one half of an ounce of marijuana or more is a Class A misdemeanor, and a conviction can be punished by up to one year in prison and up to $2,000 in fines.

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Connecticut criminal defense attorney for marijuana crimesIn recent years, the recreational and medical use of marijuana has become legal in several states across the country. Currently, 33 states, including Connecticut, permit the medicinal use of marijuana, and 11 states and the District of Columbia allow the recreational use of marijuana for adults. Even just 10 years ago, police could use the “smell of marijuana” as a legitimate reason to search a citizen’s vehicle or person for evidence which could be used to pursue charges for drug possession or DUI. However, times have changed, and some courts have found that this is not an adequate reason to conduct a search.

Is Marijuana Odor Considered Evidence?

Now that more than half of the states have legalized marijuana in some way, lawmakers and law enforcement officials have run into an issue of constitutionality when it comes to using the smell of marijuana as probable cause to search a vehicle or a person. In the minority of states that have not legalized marijuana, a police officer who believes they smell pot has probable cause to search a vehicle in most cases. In other states, however, the line has become blurred, because the smell of pot does not necessarily point to a crime.

“Pot Smell” and the Fourth Amendment

The “automobile exception” has long been recognized by the Supreme Court as an exception to the Fourth Amendment, which states that citizens have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant. In many cases, a vehicle may be searched without the need to obtain a warrant if an officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. Police have long used the smell of marijuana as an excuse to conduct vehicle searches, though it is now being reconsidered whether or not the supposed presence of this type of odor is enough to allow a warrantless search. Courts in many states, such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland, have ruled that marijuana odor no longer gives police the right to search a vehicle.

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