The Lawletter Vol 40 No 4
In Commonwealth v. Canning, 28 N.E.3d 1156 (Mass. 2015), the court held as a matter of first impression that with the Commonwealth's new medical marijuana law ("the Act") in effect, if the police seek a warrant to search a property where they suspect an individual is cultivating or possesses marijuana, then they must first offer information sufficient to provide probable cause to believe that the individual is not properly registered under the Act to possess or cultivate the suspected substance. The court rejected the Commonwealth's argument that any cultivation of marijuana remained illegal even under the Act. That argument further asserted that to the extent that the Act permits a limited class of properly licensed or registered persons to grow marijuana, the existence of a license or registration is an affirmative defense for a defendant charged with unlawful cultivation to raise at trial—the Commonwealth is not obligated to disprove such a status in, or to conduct a search at the outset of, the investigation.
The court found, however, that the Act effected a change in the statutory and regulatory landscape relevant to establishing probable cause for a search targeting such cultivation. After discussing the purpose and terms of the Act, the court held that a search warrant affidavit setting out facts that simply establish probable cause to believe the owner is growing marijuana on the property in question, without more, is insufficient to establish probable cause to believe that the suspected cultivation is a crime. "Missing are facts indicating that the person owning or in control of the property is not or probably not registered to cultivate the marijuana at issue." Id. at 1165. Because the affidavit in the case before it did not set forth such facts, the court affirmed the order allowing the defendant's motion to suppress.